"Egypt is the gift of the Nile" wrote the Greek historian Herodotus. "The river rises of itself, waters the fields, and then sinks back again; thereupon each man sows his field and waits for the harvest." Without the waters of the Nile River for irrigation, Egyptian civilization might never have developed at all.
Located in the Sahara Desert, Egypt is completely dependent on the Nile for life-giving water and arable land. The vast majority of country's population of about 76 million people-99% by some reports-live within less than 6% of the country's land area, within a few miles of the banks of the Nile.
One of the two longest rivers in the world, its source was shrouded in mystery and sought by intrepid explorers for centuries. The Nile has two major tributaries: the White Nile, which begins in southern Rwanda and flows north through Tanzania, Lake Victoria and Uganda to southern Sudan, where it joins the Blue Nile on its way from Ethiopia to the Mediterranean Sea. The annual flooding is the result of monsoon rains in Ethiopia.
The Nile has been the lifeline of Egypt's people and culture since the Stone Age; most habitation is within a few miles of its banks. The annual flooding was personified by a god called Hapi and was thought to be controlled by the current pharaoh. In return for the life-giving water, the peasants sang hymns and made sacrifices to Hapi, and sent a portion of every harvest to the pharaoh.
The ancient Egyptians also considered the Nile as a passageway from life to death. Following the daily path of the sun god Ra, the east was a place of birth and growth, the west a place of death. Thus, all tombs were located west of the Nile to facilitate entry into the afterlife.
Travelers on a Nile river cruise can visit many of Egypt's important cities: for example, Cairo, Luxor, Edfu, Kom Ombo, Aswan, Wadi el Seboua, Amada and Abu Simbel.