Egypt enjoys a grand position at the top of world culture, particularly in historical and mythical terms. Who hasn’t heard of the Sphinx, the Pyramids, or the Mummy?
Egypt has also earned an important place in the stature of human development. Math, astrology, engineering, and the written language are all contributions from the land of the Pharaohs.
Officially called the Arab Republic of Egypt, the North African country also features prominently in biblical texts, most notable in the story of Moses and the liberation of the Hebrew Nation from slavery.
Then there are the ancient buildings like the Pyramids and the Temples of Luxor, just to name a few. Even so, Egypt is so much more than those historical notes. So here’s a selection of interesting facts about Egypt that will no doubt enrich your appreciation of this historical pillar of human civilization.
Let’s start with the basics, which are suitable to know, especially if you’re planning to visit the most populous country of the Arab world.
Egypt has two coastlines, each bordered by a different sea. To the east, there’s the Red Sea. To the north, there’s the Mediterranean Sea. The two are connected by a man-made canal project known as the Suez Canal, which facilitates critical passage for ships between the Atlantic and Indian Oceans.
Without this canal, ships sailing from the Middle East or Asia would have to travel around Africa to reach Europe.
The capital city of Cairo started out as a small settlement in the mid-600s. By 969 AD, it was designated a city. Today it is the capital of Egypt, with an enormous greater metro population of 22 million people.
Cairo is likely the main city you will visit when in Egypt. For more insight, here’s what you can do in 72 hours in Cairo.
Most countries might say that one desert is enough, but Egypt has three main ones. There’s the Western Desert and the Eastern Desert, whose names speak for themselves in terms of where they are. Then there’s the colorfully-named The Sand Sea, which is actually part of the Sahara Desert. Several other regions can be considered desert, too.
Pyramids are synonymous with ancient Egypt (and modern Egypt, actually). They were constructed as tombs for the rulers of Egypt. According to some reports, more than 110 have been unearthed in Egypt, and it is yet to be known whether there were more that might have been destroyed or undiscovered under the shifting sands of the deserts.
Only about one inch of rain falls in Egypt each year. However, because the Nile River runs through several countries, it brings much-needed water from other regions, especially in summer. Technically, the Nile River floods yearly, but it supplies most of the water needed for crops and irrigation.
Most people consider Egypt divided into two general parts: the Upper (southern) and Lower (northern). It is so named in part because the northern part is “lower” in elevation, with the Nile River running into the Mediterranean from its sources in the south.
There are seven United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage sites in Egypt, all of which are major tourist attractions or are of major scientific interest.
- Abu Mena – a small settlement recognized for its role in bringing Christianity to Egypt.
- Abu Simbel – a site along the Nile where Ramses II had two temples cut into the mountain rock.
- Ancient Thebes – Regarded as a representation of ancient Egyptian culture, the city (called Wase in ancient times) contains many ruins and remnants of the Pharaoh era.
- Historic Cairo -–The medieval section of Cairo, Egypt’s capital city, is one of the world’s oldest Islamic cultural centers.
- Memphis and its Necropolis – The pyramids, tombs, and temples are the most famous feature here. Memphis served as the Old Kingdom’s capital between 3100 BC and 2200 BC.
- Saint Catherine Area – a monastery located at the foot of Mount Sinai, where, according to the Bible, Moses received the Ten Commandments.
- Wadi Al-Hitan (Whale Valley) – This site caused a sensation when fossils were found here that evidently demonstrated a stage of evolution for whales – yes, in the desert! Most remarkably, the fossils suggest that a water-dwelling whale-like creature may once have had legs.
If you’re looking for a few more unusual things to do, try these five not-so-common things to do in Egypt.
One part of Egyptian history that seems to fascinate most is the ancient part. Egyptian civilization is old and well-documented, which makes for an endless well of cultural treasures and facts about Egypt from the past.
Most understand that Egypt has been around for a long time. The earliest settlements known to researchers suggest that people settled in two separate regions (north and south) around 6000 BC. Three thousand years later, a Pharaoh united the regions and initiated the first Egyptian era of empires.
In 332 BC, Egypt was under the rule of Persia. Alexander the Great conquered Egypt and brought with him Greek control over the region. The Pharaohs from this point were regarded as Greek Pharaohs up until the Roman Invasion in 30 BC.
With the above information, scholars have deduced that the most famous Egyptian in history, Cleopatra, would have been a Greek ruler. She was most likely descended from the Macedonian line of Ptolemy I, which was put in place by Alexander the Great. In her defense, Cleopatra was born in Alexandria, so she was, at least by place of birth, Egyptian.
Side Fact: The name Cleopatra is Greek and translates to: “glory of the father.”
The people that lived in ancient Egypt are somewhat intriguing all by themselves. From the worship of gods to everyday life, so much is surprisingly “modern” about “ancient” living in Egypt.
According to the Egyptian calendar, it has been 6264 years since calendar time was first observed. Ancient Egyptians created a 12-month calendar, but no month had 31 days – only 30.
As a result, the ancient Egyptian year is only 360 days long. To “catch up” with the time lost, Egyptians celebrated a five-day festival at the end of each calendar year. Sounds like a wonderful idea.
Based on what the culture has left behind, it can be assumed that Egyptians possessed an extremely impressive knowledge of science and math. Considering their records on astrology, the building of the pyramids, and more, science was very much a part of Egyptian culture.
And, of course, being an architect, I can’t forget mentioning the vital role ancient Egyptian architecture played in the development of this fascinating trade and all the arts related to it. I wrote this post about all the things I would have done if I were an ancient Egyptian architect.
Next time you brush your teeth, remember that toothpaste was first used in ancient Egypt. They also invented the concepts of locks, keys, and paper.
Of the ancient civilizations, Egypt seems to be one of very few that adopted a written form of the ancient language. Today we call it hieroglyphic writing, and they can still be found carved into walls and ancient tombs. The system used symbols, not letters like today, and precedes any modern form of written language.
Most references to ancient times depict societies with specific roles for men and women. In ancient Egypt, it seems society was far more egalitarian than in many other later cultures. For example, both men and women wore makeup as a part of daily life.
Egyptian women could also fulfill many societal roles and take on many of the same jobs as men. They could own property, be doctors, scribes, and even priests, which was considered among society’s highest stations.
Much has been written about the unique relationship between ancient Egyptians and cats. It is true that cats were considered very special – sacred animals, even. That said, they were often kept as a pet as they are today, though with special reverence.
The Nile River and Nile Valley are one of the planet’s most significant landmarks, both geographically and historically. Here are a few facts to further establish its position as “the big one” in Northern Africa.
It makes sense, then, that many claim that the Nile is the largest in the world. There is a caveat to that: it’s technically hard to measure exactly which river is the largest, as the Amazon River does challenge for that title regularly.
We do know that the Nile is probably at least the longest river in the world (at certain times) at just over 4,132 miles vs the Amazon’s 4,000 miles. At least, the Nile is still recognized to this day as the longest river in the world by the Guinness World Record, but if you ask Brazilian researchers, they might say otherwise.
Scientists estimate that the Nile as we know it today has likely been stable for around 30 million years. This was agreed upon in 2009 after a previous estimation put it at only six million years. The Nile has been giving life to this part of the planet since long before humans appeared. For perspective, Homo sapiens only appeared on Earth about 300 000 years ago.
Though the Nile River is most often associated with Egypt, it actually runs through 11 countries! The others are: Tanzania, Burundi, Kenya, Congo, Uganda, Rwanda, Ethiopia, South Sudan, Eritrea, and Sudan.
Ancient Egypt has provided historians and curious readers with volumes of fascinating reading. Egypt’s influence and historical significance are well documented, in part because of the interesting spiritual and societal beliefs held by its people.
Many cultures do put faith in an afterlife, but the Egyptians took it a step further, believing that the body of a deceased person needed to be prepared to prosper beyond. This is why we have the concept of mummification. Egyptians believed that the soul would live on in the afterlife if a body were mummified correctly.
The tombs in which important people were laid to rest also reveal a lot. Lots of items were placed with the bodies for the deceased to use in the afterlife. Food and clothes were left there, as well as pets, money, and treasures.
You’ve probably heard of some Egyptian gods like Ra, the Sun God, but in reality, there were more than 2,000 routinely worshiped by the Egyptians. Like many other old civilizations, the gods were often the subjects of incredible stories meant to convey lessons to the people.
But Egyptian gods were also thought to play an active part in daily life, helping those who revered them by curing sickness or bringing good fortune.
The belief system of the Egyptians underwent some change with the Greek (Macedonian) conquest by Alexander the Great. When Rome took over the kingdom, it underwent further modification. Over this time, the worship of various gods became a mixed bag in Egypt, owing to the influence of the Greek and Roman belief systems.
From around 300 AD onwards, the Roman Empire’s conversion to Christianity under Constantine saw the “old” gods start to phase out. By the sixth century AD, most of the ancient gods had vanished from public life.
After 641 AD and the invasion of the Islamic Empire, Egypt existed as an Arab caliphate until the mid-1500s. Today, about 90% of Egyptians identify as Muslim, with Cairo still regarded as a major city in the Arab world.
With these facts about Egypt, you should be suitably armed to participate confidently in almost any discussion about Egypt. They should also equip you with enough information to consider visiting the country and offer some ideas on what to see.
Looking beyond Egypt, it’s worth noting that Africa has much to offer the curious traveler. Have you considered hiking Kilimanjaro?
For my own story, read my account about how I received a warm welcome to Africa on my first trip there (unexpectedly visiting Uganda).
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