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About the beginning of December, when the mud-charged water ceases to run and the water becomes relatively clear, the sluices are closed in a certain order, and the reservoir gradually fills till the first of February. About the end of April, when the water begins to be exhausted, the reservoir discharges the quantity necessary, which goes on till the river rises again.
The river-bed below the dam is divided by cross-walls, so that any portion of it can be drained if it is necessary to examine or repair the dam. The escape of water through the masonry has been infinitesimal. The thickening will make it immensely stronger. It was built six inches apart from the original dam, this interval being left open for two years till the new masonry became as cool as the old, when stones and cement were to be thrown in to fill it up. The new masonry is bolted to the old with thick steel rods.
When I visited the dam in 1907 one entire portion of the river below was drained, so that men might work at this thickening, and at the execution of the immensely long granite apron, built below the dam to stand the impact of the water from the sluices, which cracks the unprotected granite rock. There is far more risk of damage to the apron than to the dam itself.
The leakages only take place in the winter; in the summer the cracks close perfectly. It is a curious sight to see hundreds of men working at the bottom of the Nile on one side of a wall, while on the other side a cataract like the rapids of Niagara is hurling along from a banked-up mass of water which is equally behind both. The force of the current which tears through the open sluices is so great that the water rises in the centre several feet above the level of the banks, and is as white as ostrich feathers. There is a wire ladder down from the top of the dam to the top of this dividing wall. A friend of mine, called Graham, climbed down with a camera and took some admirable photographs of it.
At the western end of the dam is a navigable canal two kilometers long, which contains a series of four locks, that allow the native craft, and even steamers of considerable size, like the stern wheelers of the Sudan Government, to go up and down. These locks are more than two hundred feet long and about thirty feet wide; their doors are respectively sixty, forty-five, thirty-six, and thirty-three feet high. The whole system was constructed by Sir John Aird & Co., under the direction of Sir William Garstin, and the engineer, Sir William Willcocks.
A trolly line runs along the whole length of the dam for the carriage of materials and the use of the engineers. The dam requires an immense staff. Besides the chief, Mr. Macdonald, and his assistant, Mr. MacCorquodale, and three doctors, there are about sixty British, seven hundred Italians, and about twice as many Arabs. The offices are just above the navigation canal on the west side, and have a rest-house beside them. The staff lives on the east side, in what was formerly the bed of the Nile, and is very fertile for gardens when irrigated.
The heat at the dam is alarming. It has been known to rise to 130 in the shade by day and 100 by night. When the new works are completed the waters of the Nile will be driven back for nearly three hundred kilometers, and the water will be twenty feet deeper, though the dam is only fifteen feet higher.
An elaborate system of charts is kept in the offices. From Assuan the height of the river is reported every hour, and also at various stations up the river as far as Roseires on the Blue Nile. It takes the flood ten days to travel from Roseires to Khartům.
When the new dam is completed the roadway will be widened to eleven feet instead of seven. Eighty tons of water per second pass through each sluice, when it is wide open ; the water is marvellously white and pure, and there is a wonderful hole in it where the rocks dip. The roar, the hiss, the seething of those mad waters, white above and buff below, are inconceivable to those who have not heard them. When the new works are completed the banks of the Nile will be flooded the whole way from the dam to Korosko, and the temples of Philæ, Dabud, Tafa, Kalabshe, and Dakka will be affected, but not the superb rock temple of Abu Simbel or the beautiful little temple of Kartassi, which is almost as elegant as the temple at Philæ, called Pharaoh's Bed.
We saw the great dam under very favourable circumstances. An introduction Sir William Garstin gave me to the head of the works resulted in the Government steam launch being sent down to fetch us from the Cataract Hotel up past the rapids and through the navigation canal. Not a soul on board spoke any English, and none of our party spoke any Arabic. But these Arab reises, or river captains, are accustomed to being sent to meet strangers, and, if they receive full directions beforehand, always deliver their human goods safely.
Even in December it was a scorching day, but our launch had a heavy awning.
The scenery as you go up is striking. First you see the remains of fortifications of all conquerors from the Cæsars to Lord Kitchener on the lofty eastern bank, while on the west bank is a hilly desert of glorious golden sand-the most matchless colour I ever saw, crowned, too, in the distance by the castle-like walls of the ancient Coptic convent. The river here is wide, and, in the dusk, from the belvedere of the Cataract Hotel, always seems to be full of bathing elephants and tossing hippopotami. As we passed them now we saw that they were granite reefs rounded and polished and blackened by the Nile flood, with pots on their surfaces like those you get in Scotch mountain torrents.
The foam-bubbles came right down to Assuan, though the dam is six miles above. Soon the banks on either side became steep wilds of granite which had many ancient inscriptions, like the rocks of the turquoise Daiyagawa at Nikko in Japan. The steamer rolled in the swirl, and a rocky island made the channel so narrow that she seemed to be tearing straight into the rocks ahead. But the rapids so far, though they made pretty whirls with their eddies, did not look so formidable as Charybdis. The worst symptom
• Ambra Sama’ân,
about them was that the telegraph wire took a leap hundreds of yards across the Nile so as to be out of flood reach.
In less than half an hour we saw the great dam towering in the distance, like a colossal railway viaduct, except for the masts and rainbow yards behind it. Just before the first lock, the water began to boil and toss our heavy, powerful launch about. Outside the lock the water was as rough and full of waves as the rapids in Japan.
Nubian villages have grown up at its side. From the outside, the locks look like Thames locks, though so high. But inside we had a very different company. There were four Assuan gyassas, with their antique-looking prows and meshrebiya'd poops, red, white, and green, blue or red masts, and gay awnings. The lock took just upon five minutes to fill. Outside there was broken water for all the six miles between Assuan and the dam. At all sorts of points the water cascaded between islands, and often seemed to be going up stream. The series of locks looked like a grim fortress; the great black sluice-gates looked like the entrances of Egyptian tombs. Below the dam there was a fierce sea half a mile wide, broken by black elephant rocks and ribs of yellow sand. On the banks, here and there, the inevitable castor-oil shrub and Dead Sea fruit were growing, and a string of great Nile boats was waiting to enter.
LEPHANTINE, the Egyptian Abu, the Island of
Elephants, is supposed to derive its name from the ivory trade in Pharaonic times. Its name is a Greek translation from the Egyptian; but it is as reasonable to suppose that it was named after its rocks which, especially where they are half submerged, look like elephants. The Arabs have given it just such another nickname--the Oleander Leaffrom its shape. Here stood the first Syene, the Suenet or Sunt of the Egyptians, the Tower of Syene of the Prophet Ezekiel, and the Syene of Herodotus. It is a tribute to the strength and importance of Assuan that, at some early date, the city life was transfered from the island to the 'Swanu or Market on the Mainland. The city of Elephantine, called the Place of the Cataract to distinguish it--whose excavation the fashionable visitors to that city consider the blot upon Assuan-is of great antiquity. Stones of the sixth and even of the fifth dynasty are found in it, including a fine one of the reign of King Pepi I., who is said to have reigned a hundred years-a Pharaoh could do a good deal of building in that time. Only that length of time ago there were two temples standing on Elephantine-one very interesting and perfect, built by Amen-hetep III. Both were destroyed by a Turkish governor who needed stone to build a palace; but the French excavators, who have turned half the green island into a dust-heap, have found an immense number of traces of the Pharaonic town--stone temples, as well as the crude brick walls, which were the scenes of the domesticities of five thousand years ago. The splendid gilt rams of the