5 things you never knew about the River Nile

The River Nile provides a lifeline for Egypt, a country largely covered by desert. It carves through the centre of the capital, Cairo, and its banks are dotted with ruins from the ancient Egyptian civilisation.

If you’re planning to take a Nile cruise while you’re visiting the nation, check out our list of unusual facts about this iconic waterway.

Sunset over the Nile River in Cairo - Flickr CC neiljs

1. Less than a quarter of it runs through Egypt

The Nile is most commonly associated with Egypt, but only 22 per cent of the river actually flows through the country – the rest runs through Burundi, Ethiopia, Sudan, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Uganda.

In total, the river is some 6,695 km long and it is often described as the longest river in the world, although there is some dispute as to whether the Amazon in South America is actually longer.

2. There are two main tributaries

The main source of the Nile is Lake Victoria, in Uganda, which is the starting point for the tributary known as the White Nile, so called thanks to particles of clay in the water that give it a cloudy colour.

Meanwhile, the Blue Nile originates in the Ethiopian Highlands and contributes the largest amount of water to the main waterway. The Blue and White Niles merge at Khartoum in Sudan, where they simply become the Nile.

3. The ancient Egyptians called it black

Centuries ago, the Nile was known as Ar, which means black, largely because when the river floods (which it does frequently) it deposits black sediment on the ground. This resulted in the ancient Egyptians giving it this moniker.

In fact, they even referred to the area around the river as Black Land, while the regions further away from the water source were known as Red Land.

4. The Nile Delta supports much of Egypt’s population

The Nile Delta region of Egypt is home to nearly half of the country’s population, with this area beginning slightly down river of Cairo and running all the way to the Mediterranean coast. Alexandria and Port Said are the two biggest cities in the delta, with other large settlements including Zagazig, El Mansura and Tanta.

While only half of the country’s population actually live in the delta, its agriculture supports much of the rest of the nation, as it is the most fertile region in Egypt and is where the vast majority of its food crops are grown.

To help safeguard food production in the region and prevent floods from ruining crops, the Aswan Dam was constructed in the 1970s. This huge structure regulates the flow of water along the final stretches of the Nile, ensuring it is always even and therefore able to support the agriculture in the delta.

5. It helped build the Pyramids

The huge pyramids on the Giza Plateau are widely considered to be the greatest achievement of the ancient Egyptians, and they wouldn’t be standing if it weren’t for the River Nile.

Some parts of the pyramids were constructed using Aswan granite, which meant transporting these giant blocks of stone hundreds of kilometres to reach the Giza Plateau. This was done using barges, which sailed down the Nile to reach the construction site.

It’s estimated that around 45,000 cubic metres of stone was quarried around Aswan between the third and sixth dynasties of Pharaohs.

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