Ancient Granite Quarry in Aswan, Egypt

One of the first things we visited when we arrived in Aswan was the northern quarry, which contains an unfinished obelisk. Most of the granite that was used in ancient Egypt was mined from the quarries of Aswan and carried up the Nile on boats. It must have been extremely hard work to mine granite by chipping away at it with other stones. The day that we arrived in Aswan it was 114 degrees Fahrenheit (about 44.5 degrees Celsius), which made the thought of conditions that the ancient workers even more oppressive.

Looking Down at the Quarry and the Unfinished Obelisk
Marks in the Granite
The Top of the Unfinished Obelisk

The giant obelisk that remains partially excavated from the granite quarry is quite impressive to see. It was commissioned by the famous female pharaoh, Hatshepsut and would have likely ended up with the other obelisks in the Karnak Temple in Luxor. Had the workers completed the obelisk, it would have been the largest ever created, but a crack in the stone stopped work on the obelisk. It has remained frozen in time as the workers have left it for thousands of years. In the time of Hatshepsut, obelisks were meant to represent the rays of sun, a way for the god Amun-Ra (Sun God) to descent to earth. It was important that obelisks be constructed out of a single stone without any cracks, otherwise the gods wouldn’t be able to travel through them.

One of the Finished Obelisks in the Karnak Temple
The Narrow Space for Workers
Walking Through the Quarry

Probably more interesting than the reason for the creation of the obelisks is the transportation and actual placing of the obelisks in their final positions. After carefully chiseling the obelisks from the hard granite, they would raise them up and transfer them to a ship where they would be transported, standing erect, up the Nile. It must have been an unbelievable sight to the farmers living along the Nile when the ship with its cargo reaching towards the sky when sailing past them. Then, once reaching their location, such as the Karnak Temple, they would have to be transported across ground to their final location, all without breaking these huge structures. It is truly a task to be admired, even in today’s modern world.

Close Up of the Cracked Obelisk
People in the Background Provide Scale to the Obelisk
Ancient Quarry Next to City Buildings

Visiting the ancient quarry with its unfinished obelisk is truly fascinating and should definitely be on your itinerary when visiting Aswan. There is very little shade at the quarry site, so be prepared for the heat and bring plenty of water.  Walking around the quarry will only take about an hour or two, so you should have another destination mapped out for before or after.  During our trip, after leaving the quarry, we continued onto the island of Philae to see the Temple of Isis.