Snapshot: Felucca sailing on the Nile

September 16, 2020

A highlight of any trip to Aswan, Felucca sailing is a fantastic way to soak up city views from the mighty Nile

The city of Aswan has a fascinating history, as it was home to one of Africa’s earliest civilisations. From 2500 BC, the region of Nubia stretched along the Nile from the southern Egyptian city, right down to central Sudan. Over the course of several thousand years, Nubia was led by multiple groups, the most significant being the Kingdom of Kush. Throughout history, they were treated as both comrades and adversaries of the Egyptians, depending on who was in power. Somehow, despite lacking the typical keystones of an empire – namely a written language system, operational capital or any formal bureaucracy – they managed to establish their own dynasty within Egypt.

A view of the sunset over the Nile River near Aswan City, Egypt.
A view of the sunset over the Nile River near Aswan City, Egypt.

Although the Kingdom of Kush ended around 350 AD, Nubian culture has had a lasting impact on both Egypt and Sudan. Many monuments erected during Nubia’s dominant years were influenced by typical Egyptian architecture, due to the historical integration of the cultures. Sadly, the construction of the High Dam in the 1960s led to the flooding of Nubian settlements across Aswan and destroyed many of these sacred structures. While the people were relocated, many of the monuments have been lost forever.

A colourful Nubian Traditional Village in Aswan City, Egypt.
A colourful Nubian Traditional Village in Aswan City, Egypt.

Since antiquity, various groups around the Mediterranean including the Nubian’s, have relied heavily on modest boats (known as feluccas) for work and transport. Typically the vessels were made of wood, with cotton sails. Over the years, their composition has evolved to incorporate other materials, however, their layouts are still highly reflective of the original design - that is, open style wooden decks covered by large mattresses. Classic felucca boats were solely reliant on wind and utilised the technique of ‘tacking’ to travel along the Nile, zig-zagging up the river at whatever pace the breeze enabled. Modern iterations tend to include engines for more efficient transport, however, locals and tourists agree that watching the wind catch in the sail of a traditional felucca is wonderful and so quintessentially African.

A Felucca traditional wooden sailboat on the shore of the Nile River, Egypt.
A Felucca traditional wooden sailboat on the shore of the Nile River, Egypt.

Today, most feluccas are used for leisure, to give tourists a taste of traditional Nile life. Often crewed by local Nubians, felucca rides are a fantastic opportunity to learn more about the culture of the region and its people. From the cushioned deck, you can watch the pastel buildings and towering palms of Aswan drift by, a welcome respite from the typically fast-paced Egyptian lifestyle. To learn more about Nubian culture, pay a visit to Elephantine Island, where you can dine with a local family and explore their customs.

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