Driving Directions Egypt
EGYPT is a republic in northeast Africa situated between Africa and Asia. The country’s outstanding physical feature is the River Nile, the valley and delta of which cover about 35,580 square kilometers or 13,737 square miles. Although over 90 percent of the Arab Republic of Egypt consists of desert, most of which are uninhabited, the country was the birthplace of one of the most astonishing, ancient civilizations globally, with a written record dating back to about 3,200 years BC.
The development of this civilization was made possible by the presence of the River Nile. Then, as now, the human settlement was concentrated along the Nile banks, whose annual flooding deposited rich alluvial sediments that could be cultivated. At its lower end, the Nile divides to form a fan-shaped delta where the greatest amount of alluvial silt is deposited, making this the most fertile area. However, the Aswan High Dam at the head of Lake Nasser has greatly reduced the silt deposits and led to a consequent loss of fertility. Also, coastal erosion along the country’s Mediterranean shores has resulted in increased salinization of its water supplies.
Egypt’s deserts are far from uniform, varying from the huge Great Sand Sea in the Libyan or Western Desert to rocky, mountainous regions in the Eastern Desert along the shores of the Red Sea and the southern Sinai Peninsula. Mount Sinai or Jebel Musa (2,285 meters or 7,500 feet) is located in Sinai, separated from the rest of Egypt by the Suez Canal. In the Western or Libyan Desert, several areas lie well below sea level, the greatest being the Qattara Depression. Descending to 133 meters or 436 feet below sea level and covering an area of 18,000 square kilometers or 7,000 square miles, it is the lowest place in Africa.
Also in this region are several oases which provide small areas for human settlement. Archaeological evidence has revealed that Egypt’s climate and environment were once more hospitable and widely settled, and the oases are the remnants of this period. Natural vegetation is limited to the Nile Valley and oases and includes the date palm, tamarisk, and acacia. Papyrus, a type of reed used to make ‘paper’ by the ancient Egyptians and was once widespread along the Nile, is now found only near the southern border. Mammal species are relatively few but other wildlife, especially reptiles, birds, and invertebrates, are well represented.
All of Egypt experiences hot summers and mild winters. There is some rainfall in winter on the Mediterranean coast, where sea breezes moderate temperatures. Conditions become drier and more extreme southwards, particularly in the desert, where great fluctuations in daily temperature occur from very hot during the day to freezing at night. Around 99 percent of the population lives in the Nile River valley and delta, and this concentration makes it one of the most densely populated areas in the world. The rich soils deposited by floodwaters along the Nile banks can support a large population, and the delta is one of the world’s most fertile agricultural regions where main tire crops are rice, cotton, and sugar cane, maize, tomatoes, and wheat. The main industries are food processing and textiles.
The discovery of oil has boosted the economy, and there is enough to supply tire country’s needs and leave a surplus for export. Natural gas production is increasing for domestic use, and Egypt has a significant fishing industry, mainly in the shallow lakes and the Red Sea. The Suez Canal, shipping, and tourism (connected with the ancient sites) are also important revenue earners.
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The entire country lies within the wide band of the Sahara Desert. Therefore, most of Egypt’s terrain is a hot desert covering about 96 percent of the country’s surface. Most of the population finds shelter and food in the remaining territory – the long, narrow Nile Valley and its delta – an area of only about 38,850 square kilometers (15,000 square miles).
The four major regional divisions in the country are the Nile Valley and Delta, the Western Desert, the Arabian Desert (Eastern Desert) and Red Sea Highlands, and the Sinai Peninsula. The desert areas provide a habitat for many snakes and scorpions, fennecs (desert foxes), and camels – both the two-humped Bactrian camel and the one-humped dromedary. The Nile River provides a habitat for the Nile crocodile and many waterbird species, including the ibis.
Although most of Egypt lies on the African Tectonic Plate, the Sinai Peninsula lies on the Arabian Plate.
Egypt lies between the Red Sea to the east and the Mediterranean Sea to the north.
The Red Sea is a narrow, landlocked sea that separates Africa from the Arabian Peninsula. It links to the Mediterranean through the Gulf of Suez and the Suez Canal. In the south, the sea links to the Gulf of Aden and the Arabian Sea through Bab el Mandeb’s strait.
The Mediterranean Sea is a larger landlocked sea that links to the Atlantic Ocean through the Strait of Gibraltar.
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The Sahara Desert, which covers 9,065,000 square kilometers (3,500,000 square miles), is the largest globally. It blankets the entire region of North Africa, from the Atlantic coast in the west to the Red Sea in the east. The Sahara borders the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlas Mountains in the north, extending south into Sudan and a region known as the Sahel. Scientists believe that during the Ice Age (about fifty thousand to one hundred thousand years ago), the Sahara was covered with shallow lakes that provided water for large lush vegetation areas.
Constructed between 2700 and 2500 B.C., the pyramids are the last surviving structures of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. The largest of the Egyptian pyramids, which rises over 137 meters (450 feet), was built as a tomb to house the body of Pharaoh Khufu. Historians believe that it must have taken one hundred thousand slave laborers over twenty years to complete it. Another of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, the Pharos Lighthouse of Alexandria, built at about 270 B.C., was one of the tallest buildings of its time. Standing over 122 meters (400 feet) high, it was located on the small island of Pharos just off the coast. King Ptolemy II ordered its construction to help guide sailors through the harbor to the shores of Alexandria. At night, a fire served as the lighthouse’s signal. During the day, sunlight was reflected from a mirror built into the top. The reflected light could be seen up to 50 kilometers (35 miles) away.
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