Located south of the capital city of Cairo with all of its well-established touristic facilities and approximately 130 km further south of the modern city of Luxor and 65 km north of Aswan, the historic site of Gebel el Silsila (ancient Kheny) occupies both the east and west banks of the River Nile. The area encompasses what can be best described as two sandstone massifs elevated above the River Nile stretching as far back as the village of Kagorge on the east bank and the western desert edge on the west bank (adjacent to the villages of Faris and Nag el-Hammam).
Currently, the east bank is closed to public access and the west bank is restricted to certain parts which predominately lay alongside the River Nile. Due to Gebel el Silsila’s geographic location amongst the ancient established trade routes, the borderlands between Egypt and Nubia, and the narrowing of the Nile, it has naturally provided a place to stop and rest for the ancient traders, armies, scientific expeditions, and curious tourists alike. The very sandstone surfaces are a testament to these early travelers and explorers as they have in turn left their marks engraved in the stone, providing us with a chronological overview of Gebel el Silsila’s visitors over the past few millennia. Today, tourists sail by in their thousands aboard the famous grand Nile cruise boats, taking those romantic holiday photographs from the upper decks while they gently navigate the narrow channel of Silsila’s watery gorge.
For the lucky few however who seek adventure and excitement, the dahabaya (traditional sailing boat) offers them the choice to moor against the banks of the river in a similar manner to those earlier travelers, providing them with an opportunity to explore and walk amongst the grand monuments of Silsila’s west bank at a more leisurely pace. The cenotaphs, the abundance of Nile stelae commemorating various pharaohs’ quarrying expeditions, and of course not forgetting the famous Speos of Horemheb/Hatshepsut are all set within the quarry-scarred landscape that provided the stone for Upper Egypt’s great Temples such as Karnak, Luxor, and Medinet Habu to mention but a few.
Given Gebel el Silsila’s location between the cities of Luxor and Aswan it is somewhat isolated and compounded by the fact that the west bank is the only side open to the public, which in itself does pose some logistical problems regarding access via the desert roads of the west bank. However, once here, the facilities that await the tourist are somewhat basic and limited. The established guardians’ building to the north of the mooring station on the west bank could provide excellent respite from the enduring heat of Egypt. It has the services (electricity, mains water, and telecommunications) to provide more than just a ticket office – possibly a small café or even a gift shop which would greatly enhance the visit for those who have traveled by road or river from either city. The current touristic pathway is somewhat limiting in its access to the site. At present, the pathway for the tourists begins at the Speos and officially ends at the Ptolemaic quarry to the south of the guardians’ house, further restricting access to the remainder of the cenotaphs 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31, and finally 32 – not to mention the 13 Nile stelae for which Gebel el Silsila is so famous for as well as the captivating capstone or Kingfisher Rock, which holds such a significance behind the name of Gebel el Silsila and its legend of the chain.
The Swedish archaeological mission is at present constructing a natural pathway along the Nile side from the capstone to the ancient quay of the aforementioned Ptolemaic quarry. This is a massive undertaking and requires not only substantial man hours and considerable manual labor but also funds, which the mission is happy to provide, in order to maintain and increase the awareness of the site. Not only providing the pathway, but also more importantly enhancing the experience for the tourist and enabling them to view even more of Gebel el Silsila’s amazing, wonderful monuments from a more accessible location while also at the same time allowing those with a more restricted movement (physically) to enjoy the area. The pathway also helps conserve and protect the abundance of epigraphic inscriptions and rock art that currently lay on the very pathway that tourists have to climb to access the remainder of the site. Not only is this harmful to the historical inscriptions, but it is also dangerous as the current pathway is accessed by an ancient rock hewn staircase that has been cut in the natural bedrock and provides no safety precautions. This staircase is not only of great archaeological importance but also does not provide adequate protection for the modern tourist who dares to climb it in order to access the remainder of the site. So to conclude, the new Nile side pathway not only provides a new and exciting visual aspect to the area but also helps conserve and preserve Gebel el Silsila’s antiquity for further generations.
The site can be further enhanced by the creation of signs and information boards explaining not only the historical monuments, but also the quarried landscape and its history, and again increasing the experience of the tourist and helping the tour guides in their exploration of the area. These signs will eventually go hand-in-hand with the Gebel el Silsila guidebook, which the current mission is currently compiling and shall be completed and ready for print by Season 10 (2017).
The mission has provided this season (9) a small three-fold leaflet outlining a brief synopsis of the site and the foundation behind the Swedish mission (Friends of Silsila). On both the east and west banks respectively there is currently no official signage declaring there are turning points to access Gebel el Silsila. On the west bank three signs would be required: one at the junction on the main desert road (to turn east towards the village of Faris); the second to turn north on the agricultural road towards the site and the village of Nag el-Hammam; and lastly to
turn south on to the actual site itself (dirt track leading to main gate). On the east bank one simple sign directing a west turn on the newly laid and watered mud track which runs alongside the main canal, and finally across the small bridge to the established guardians’ station where a motorboat can facilitate the crossing to the west bank would be sufficient. In both cases, the roads approaching the site are inadequate and require further work. Plus signage to welcome the visitors is required, along with official symbols and site tariffs would be extremely useful and add to establishing Gebel el Silsila on the touristic map. The mission is looking at establishing a welcome sign on the east bank next to the guardians’ hut to welcome those visitors who have chosen to visit the site between the Temples of Edfu to the north and Kom Ombo to the south – both of which have been built from the stone extracted from the mountain of Silsila.
The current mission has begun work on a marina (dock) to facilitate the landing and disembarkation of tourists on to the motor boat. Prior to the construction of the marina and staircase, there were no adequate facilitates to allow the tourists to scale the banks of the River Nile on the east bank. We hope this new marina will add to the easement of the site. Currently there are many ancient places of historical importance for tourists to choose from while deciding upon their tour. Gebel el Silsila should be a part of that selection process, given its importance and relevance in the construction of so many of the other sites. Gebel el Silsila would provide the tourist with a link between them – and not only giving them a break between temple sites and their glorious architecture but also educating them and hopefully providing them with a historical background that has, up until now, been remiss from the usual guided tours.
This of course goes hand in hand with not only raising awareness of Gebel el Silsila, but also increasing revenue for the Ministry through ticket sales and increasing the level of potential income for the locals of Gebel el Silsila through expanded and increased tourism in the area, creating stability and growth for the local communities. This is an important and crucial component of the overall conservation and preservation by educating and creating awareness of the site within its own local environment.
Silsila is as diverse with its archaeology as it is its geographical size. Given the amount of recent press and its participation in television shows such as National Geographic (Egypt’s Treasure Guardians) (Unearthed) and international shows, it is paramount that not only the current Swedish mission, but also in full cooperation with the Kom Ombo inspectorate and that of the Ministry together, should take advantage of this extra advertisement and exploit this opportunity to create further awareness of the site and it unique, exciting, and new discoveries from a touristic and importantly, scholarly perspective.
The mission currently has over 60 international and Egyptian scholars participating within the project and with the increasing amount of archaeological material, and understanding of the area, the number of archaeologists, epigraphers, osteologists, ceramicists, etc. will continue to grow. This again, brings awareness through further publications and lectures which will ultimately filter through to the general public, thus creating awareness of the site and its wealth of antiquity. There is a greater need then to continue with the enhancement of the site and for the mission to fulfill its responsibility together with the Ministry and Kom Ombo Inspectorate to create a touristic experience at Silsila that can be shared with everyone and hopefully place it on the established touristic map as a must see. There is so much more to Gebel el Silsila than just her 104 quarries – over 10,000 years of mankind’s history is ready to be viewed by the public. Gebel el Silsila has the opportunity to provide the international and home grown tourist with an experience that will tie all the temples together and hopefully increase tourism within the area.
- Signage 1-32 cenotaphs, Speos of Horemheb/Hatshepsut, three quarry stelae, 13 Nile-side stelae, and 52 quarries (west bank)
- Guidebook and leaflets
- Road signage
- Welcome signs (east and west banks)
- Café, gift shop, and updated toilet facilities
- Increased access to site pathways (marinas and pathways)