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Aswan is a city in the south of Egypt, the capital of the Aswan Governorate. It stands on the east bank of the Nile at the first cataract and is a busy market and tourist center. It contains the island of Elephantine.

Aswan is one of the driest inhabited places in the world; as of early 2001, the last rain there was six years earlier. As of 31 March 2008, the last rainfall was a thunderstorm on May 13, 2006. In Nubian settlements, they generally do not bother to roof all of the rooms in their houses.

Aswan is the ancient city of Swenet, which in antiquity was the frontier town of Ancient Egypt to the south. Because the Egyptians oriented toward the south, Swenet was the first town in the country, and Egypt always was conceived to open or begin at Swenet. It stood upon a peninsula on the right (east) bank of the Nile, immediately below (north of) the first cataract of the flowing waters, which extend to it from Philae.

Swenet is supposed to have derived its name from an Egyptian goddess with the same name, the Eileithyia of the Greeks, Ilithya of the Romans, and of which the import is the opener. The ancient name of the city also is said to be derived from the Egyptian word for trade

The Stone quarries of ancient Egypt located here were celebrated for their stone, and especially for the granitic rock called Syenite. They furnished the colossal statues, obelisks, and monolithal shrines which are found throughout Egypt, including the pyramids; and the traces of the quarrymen who wrought in these 3000 years ago are still visible in the native rock. They lie on either bank of the Nile, and a road, 4 miles in length, was cut beside them from Syene to Philae.

The latitude of city that would become Aswan, located at – 24° 5′ 23″– was an object of great interest to the ancient geographers. They believed that it was seated immediately under the tropic, and that on the day of the summer solstice a vertical staff cast no shadow. They noted that the sun's disc was reflected in a well at noonday. This statement is only approximately correct; the ancients were not acquainted with the exact tropic: yet at the summer-solstice the length of the shadow, or 1/400th of the staff, could scarcely be discerned, and the northern limb of the sun's disc would be nearly vertical.

Eratosthenes used measurements at Aswan (Elephantine) to contest the Flat Earth theory and attempt to determine the circumference of the Earth, using Syene (as the Greeks called Swenet) as the originating point and Alexandria as the terminal point of a measured arc (based upon shadow length at the solstice) to make an accurate estimate of the circumference of the Earth.

The Nile is nearly 3000 yards wide above Aswan. From this frontier town to the northern extremity of Egypt it flows for more than 750 miles without bar or cataract. The voyage from Aswan to Alexandria usually occupied between 21 and 28 days in favourable weather.
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September 2001

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