The Nile has two major tributaries, the White Nile and Blue Nile, the latter being the source of most of the Nile's water and fertile soil, but the former being the longer of the two. The White Nile rises in the Great Lakes region of central Africa, with the most distant source in southern Rwanda , and flows north from there through Tanzania, Lake Victoria, Uganda and southern Sudan, while the Blue Nile starts at Lake Tana in Ethiopia , flowing into Sudan from the southeast. The two rivers meet near the Sudanese capital Khartoum.
The northern section of the river flows almost entirely through desert, from Sudan into Egypt, a country whose civilization has depended on the river since ancient times. Most of the population of Egypt and all of its cities, with the exception of those near the coast, lie along those parts of the Nile valley north of Aswan; and nearly all the cultural and historical sites of Ancient Egypt are found along the banks of the river. The Nile ends in a large delta that empties into the Mediterranean Sea.
The word "Nile"(Arabic: 'nīl) comes from Greek Neilos (Νειλος), meaning river valley, and likely borrowed from Phoenician. In the ancient Egyptian language, the Nile is called Ḥ'pī or iteru, meaning "great river", represented by the hieroglyphs shown on the right (literally itrw). In Coptic, the words piaro (Sahidic) or phiaro (Bohairic) meaning "the river" (lit. p(h).iar-o "the.canal-great") come from the same ancient name.
The drainage basin of the Nile covers , about 10% of the area of Africa.
There are two great tributaries of the Nile, joining at Khartoum: the White Nile, starting in equatorial East Africa, and the Blue Nile, beginning in Ethiopia. Both branches are on the western flanks of the East African Rift, the southern part of the Great Rift Valley. Below the Blue and White Nile confluence the only remaining major tributary is the Atbara River, which originates in Ethiopia north of Lake Tana, and is around long. It flows only while there is rain in Ethiopia and dries very fast. It joins the Nile approximately north of Khartoum.
The Nile is unusual in that its last tributary (the Atbara) joins it roughly halfway to the sea. From that point north, the Nile diminishes because of evaporation.
The course of the Nile in Sudan is distinctive. It flows over 6 groups of cataracts, from the first at Aswan to the sixth at Sabaloka (just north of Khartoum) and then turns to flow southward for a good portion of its course, before again returning to flow north to the sea. This is called the "Great Bend of the Nile."
The source of the Nile is sometimes considered to be Lake Victoria, but the lake itself has feeder rivers of considerable size. The most distant stream—and thus the ultimate source of the Nile—emerges from Nyungwe Forest in Rwanda, via the Rukarara, Mwogo, Nyabarongo and Kagera rivers, before flowing into Lake Victoria in Tanzania near the town of Bukoba.
The Nile leaves Lake Victoria at Ripon Falls near Jinja, Uganda, as the Victoria Nile. It flows for approximately farther, through Lake Kyoga, until it reaches Lake Albert. After leaving Lake Albert, the river is known as the Albert Nile. It then flows into Sudan, where it becomes known as the Bahr al Jabal ("River of the Mountain"). The Bahr al Ghazal, itself long, joins the Bahr al Jabal at a small lagoon called Lake No, after which the Nile becomes known as the Bahr al Abyad, or the White Nile, from the whitish clay suspended in its waters. When the Nile flooded it left this rich material named silt. The Ancient Egyptians used this soil to farm. From Lake No, the river flows to Khartoum. An anabranch river called Bahr el Zeraf flows out of the Nile's Bahr al Jabal section and rejoins the White Nile.
The term "White Nile" is used in both a general sense, referring to the entire river above Khartoum, and a limited sense, the section between Lake No and Khartoum.
The usage of the Nile River has been vastly associated with East and horn of African politics for many decades. Various countries, including Uganda, Sudan, Ethiopia and Kenya have complained about the Egyptian domination of the Nile water resources. The Nile Basin Initiative was one of the most important programs to promote equal usage and peaceful cooperation between the "Nile Basin States." Yet many fear, the Egyptian domination of the waters still causes massive economic obstacles in the area.
The Nile still supports much of the population living along its banks, with the Egyptians living in otherwise inhospitable regions of the Sahara. The river flooded every summer, depositing fertile silt on the plains. The flow of the river is disturbed at several points by cataracts, which are sections of faster-flowing water with many small islands, shallow water, and rocks, forming an obstacle to navigation by boats. The Sudd wetlands in Sudan also forms a formidable obstacle for navigation and flow of water, to the extent that Sudan had once attempted to dig a canal (the Jonglei Canal) to bypass this stagnant mass of water.
The Nile was, and still is, used to transport goods to different places along its long path; especially since winter winds in this area blow up river, the ships could travel up with no work by using the sail, and down using the flow of the river. While most Egyptians still live in the Nile valley, the construction of the Aswan High Dam (finished in 1970) to provide hydroelectricity ended the summer floods and their renewal of the fertile soil.
Cities on the Nile include Khartoum, Aswan, Luxor (Thebes), and the Giza Cairo conurbation. The first cataract, the closest to the mouth of the river, is at Aswan to the north of the Aswan Dams. The Nile north of Aswan is a regular tourist route, with cruise ships and traditional wooden sailing boats known as feluccas. In addition, many "floating hotel" cruise boats ply the route between Luxor and Aswan, stopping in at Edfu and Kom Ombo along the way. It used to be possible to sail on these boats all the way from Cairo to Aswan, but security concerns have shut down the northernmost portion for many years.
More recently, drought during the 1980s led to widespread starvation in Ethiopia and Sudan but Egypt was protected from drought by water impounded in Lake Nasser. Beginning in the 1980s techniques of analysis using hydrology transport models have been used in the Nile to analyze water quality.
The flow rate of the Albert Nile at Mongalla is almost constant throughout the year and averages . After Mongalla, the Nile is known as the Bahr El Jebel which enters the enormous swamps of the Sudd region of Sudan. More than half of the Nile’s water is lost in this swamp to evaporation and transpiration. The average flow rate in the Bahr El Jebel at the tails of the swamps is about . From here it soon meets with the Sobat River and forms the White Nile.
The Bahr al Ghazal and the Sobat River are the two most important tributaries of the White Nile in terms of drainage area and discharge. The Bahr al Ghazal's drainage basin is the largest of any of the Nile's sub-basins, measuring in size, but it contributes a relatively small amount of water, about annually, due to tremendous volumes of water being lost in the Sudd wetlands. The Sobat River, which joins the Nile a short distance below Lake No, drains about half as much land, , but contributes annually to the Nile. When in flood the Sobat carries a large amount of sediment, adding greatly to the White Nile's color.
The average flow of the White Nile at Malakal, just below the Sobat River, is , the peak flow is approximately in early March and minimum flow is about in late August. The fluctuation there is due the substantial variation in the flow of the Sobat which has a minimum flow of about in August and a peak flow of over in early March.
From here the White Nile flows to Khartoum where it merges with the Blue Nile to form the Nile River. Further downstream the Atbara River, the last significant Nile tributary, merges with the Nile. During the dry season (January to June) the White Nile contributes between 70% and 90% of the total discharge from the Nile. During this period of time the natural discharge of the Blue Nile can be as low as , although upstream dams regulate the flow of the river. During the dry period, there will typically be no flow from the Atbara River.
The Blue Nile contributes approximately 80-90% of the Nile River discharge. The flow of the Blue Nile varies considerably over its yearly cycle and is the main contribution to the large natural variation of the Nile flow. During the wet season the peak flow of the Blue Nile will often exceed in latter August (variation by a factor of 50).
Before the placement of dams on the river the yearly discharge varied by a factor of 15 at Aswan. Peak flows of over would occur during the later portions of August and early September and minimum flows of about would occur during later April and early May. The Nile basin is complex, and because of this, the discharge at any given point along the mainstem depends on many factors including weather, diversions, evaporation/evapotranspiration, and groundwater flow.
The Nile (iteru in Ancient Egyptian) was the lifeline of the ancient Egyptian civilization, with most of the population and all of the cities of Egypt resting along those parts of the Nile valley lying north of Aswan. The Nile has been the lifeline for Egyptian culture since the Stone Age. Climate change, or perhaps overgrazing, desiccated the pastoral lands of Egypt to form the Sahara desert, possibly as long ago as 8000 BC, and the inhabitants then presumably migrated to the river, where they developed a settled agricultural economy and a more centralized society.
The river Nile froze twice in recorded history, in 829 and 1010.
During the late-Miocene Messinian Salinity Crisis, when the Mediterranean Sea was a closed basin and evaporated empty or nearly so, the Nile cut its course down to the new base level until it was several hundred feet below world ocean level at Aswan and below Cairo. This huge canyon is now full of later sediment.
Salama (1987) suggested that during the Tertiary there were a series of separate closed continental basins, each basin occupying one of the major Sudanese Rift System: Mellut Rift, White Nile Rift, Blue Nile Rift, Atbara Rift and Sag El Naam Rift. The Mellut Rift Basin is nearly 12 km deep at its central part. This rift is possibly still active, with reported tectonic activity in its northern and southern boundaries. The Sudd swamps which forms the central part of the Basin is possibly still subsiding. The White Nile Rift System, although shallower than Bahr El Arab, is about 9 km deep. Geophysical exploration of the Blue Nile Rift System estimated the depth of the sediments to be 5–9 km. These basins were not interconnected except after their subsidence ceased and the rate of sediment deposition was enough to fill up the basins to such a level that would allow connection to take place. The filling up of the depressions led to the connection of the Egyptian Nile with the Sudanese Nile, which captures the Ethiopian and Equatorial head waters during the latest stages of tectonic activities of Eastern, Central and Sudanese Rift Systems. The connection of the different Niles occurred during the cyclic wet periods. The River Atbara overflowed its closed basin during the wet periods which occurred about 100,000 to 120,000 years B.P. The Blue Nile was connected to the main Nile during the 70,000–80,000 years B.P. wet period. The White Nile system in Bahr El Arab and White Nile Rifts remained a closed lake until the connection of the Victoria Nile some 12,500 years B.P.
Sustenance played a crucial role in the founding of Egyptian civilization. The Nile is an unending source of sustenance. The Nile made the land surrounding it extremely fertile when it flooded or was inundated annually. The Egyptians were able to cultivate wheat and crops around the Nile, providing food for the general population. Also, the Nile’s water attracted game such as water buffalo; and after the Persians introduced them in the 7th century BC, camels. These animals could be killed for meat, or could be captured, tamed and used for ploughing — or in the camels' case, travelling. Water was vital to both people and livestock. The Nile was also a convenient and efficient way of transportation for people and goods.
The structure of Egypt’s society made it one of the most stable in history. In fact, it might easily have surpassed many modern societies. This stability was an immediate result of the Nile’s fertility. The Nile also provided flax for trade. Wheat was also traded, a crucial crop in the Middle East where famine was very common. This trading system secured the diplomatic relationship Egypt had with other countries, and often contributed to Egypt's economic stability. Also, the Nile provided the resources such as food or money, to quickly and efficiently raise an army for offensive or defensive roles.
The Nile played a major role in politics and social life. The pharaoh would supposedly flood the Nile, and in return for the life-giving water and crops, the peasants would cultivate the fertile soil and send a portion of the resources they had reaped to the Pharaoh. He or she would in turn use it for the well-being of Egyptian society.
The Nile was a source of spiritual dimension. The Nile was so significant to the lifestyle of the Egyptians, that they created a god dedicated to the welfare of the Nile’s annual inundation. The god’s name was Hapy, and both he and the pharaoh were thought to control the flooding of the Nile River. Also, the Nile was considered as a causeway from life to death and afterlife. The east was thought of as a place of birth and growth, and the west was considered the place of death, as the god Ra, the sun, underwent birth, death, and resurrection each time he crossed the sky. Thus, all tombs were located west of the Nile, because the Egyptians believed that in order to enter the afterlife, they must be buried on the side that symbolized death.
The Greek historian, Herodotus, wrote that ‘Egypt was the gift of the Nile’, and in a sense that is correct. Without the waters of the Nile River for irrigation, Egyptian civilization would probably have been short-lived. The Nile provided the elements that make a vigorous civilization, and contributed much to its lasting three thousand years.
That far-reaching trade has been carried on along the Nile since ancient times can be seen from the Ishango bone, possibly the earliest known indication of Ancient Egyptian multiplication, which was discovered along the headwaters of the Nile River (near Lake Edward, in northeastern Congo) and was carbon-dated to 20,000 BC.
Despite the attempts of the Greeks and Romans (who were unable to penetrate the Sudd), the upper reaches of the Nile remained largely unknown. Various expeditions had failed to determine the river's source, thus yielding classical Hellenistic and Roman representations of the river as a male god with his face and head obscured in drapery. Agatharcides records that in the time of Ptolemy II Philadelphus, a military expedition had penetrated far enough along the course of the Blue Nile to determine that the summer floods were caused by heavy seasonal rainstorms in the Ethiopian highlands, but no European in antiquity is known to have reached Lake Tana.
Europeans learned little new information about the origins of the Nile until the 15th and 16th centuries, when travelers to Ethiopia visited not only Lake Tana, but the source of the Blue Nile in the mountains south of the lake. Although James Bruce claimed to have been the first European to have visited the headwaters (Travels to Discover the Source of the Nile, 1790), modern writers with better knowledge give the credit to the Jesuit Pedro Páez. Páez’ account of the source of the Nile (History of Ethiopia c. 1622) was not published in full until the early 20th century. The work is a long and vivid account of Ethiopia. The account is however featured in several contemporary works, including Balthazar Telles (Historia geral da Ethiopia a Alta, 1660), Athanasius Kircher (Mundus Subterraneus, 1664) and by Johann Michael Vansleb (The Present State of Egypt, 1678). Europeans had been resident in the country since the late 15th century, and it is entirely possible one of them had visited the headwaters even earlier but was unable to send a report of his discoveries out of Ethiopia. Jerónimo Lobo also describes the source of the Blue Nile, visiting shortly after Pedro Páez. His account is likewise utilized by Balthazar Telles.
The White Nile was even less understood, and the ancients mistakenly believed that the Niger River represented the upper reaches of the White Nile; for example, Pliny the Elder wrote that the Nile had its origins "in a mountain of lower Mauretania", flowed above ground for "many days" distance, then went underground, reappeared as a large lake in the territories of the Masaesyles, then sank again below the desert to flow underground "for a distance of 20 days' journey till it reaches the nearest Ethiopians." A merchant named Diogenes reported the Nile’s water attracted game such as water buffalo; and after the Persians introduced them in the 7th century BC, camels.
Lake Victoria was first sighted by Europeans in 1858 when the British explorer John Hanning Speke reached its southern shore whilst on his journey with Richard Francis Burton to explore central Africa and locate the great Lakes. Believing he had found the source of the Nile on seeing this "vast expanse of open water" for the first time, Speke named the lake after the then Queen of the United Kingdom. Burton, who had been recovering from illness at the time and resting further south on the shores of Lake Tanganyika, was outraged that Speke claimed to have proved his discovery to have been the true source of the Nile when Burton regarded this as still unsettled. A very public quarrel ensued, which not only sparked a great deal of intense debate within the scientific community of the day, but much interest by other explorers keen to either confirm or refute Speke's discovery. The well known British explorer and missionary David Livingstone failed in his attempt to verify Speke's discovery, instead pushing too far west and entering the Congo River system instead. It was ultimately the Welsh-American explorer Henry Morton Stanley who confirmed the truth of Speke's discovery, circumnavigating Lake Victoria and reporting the great outflow at Ripon Falls on the Lake's northern shore. It was on this journey that Stanley was said to have greeted the British explorer with the famous words "Dr. Livingstone, I presume?" upon discovering the Scotsman ill and despondent in his camp on the shores of Lake Tanganyika.
European involvement in Egypt goes back to the time of Napoleon. Laird shipyard of Liverpool sent an iron steamer to the Nile in the 1830s. With the completion of the Suez Canal, and the British takeover of Egypt in the1870s, more British river steamers were sure to follow. The Nile is the natural navigation channel in the area. Access to Khartoum and Sudan was via steamer. The Seige of Khartoum was ameliorated with steamers. Purpose built sternwheelers were shipped from England and steamed up the river to re-take the city. After this regular steam navigation came. With British Forces in Egypt in the First World War and the inter war years, river steamers provided both security and sight seeing to the pyramids and Luxor. Agatha Christie stories indicate the penetration of Nile steamer into the public consciousness. Steam navigation remained integral to the two countries as late as 1962--Sudan steamer traffic was the lifeline as few railways or roads were built. Most paddle steamers have been retired to shorefront service, but modern diesel tourist boats remain on the river.
The White Nile Expedition, led by South African national Hendri Coetzee, became the first to navigate the Nile's entire length. The expedition took off from the source of the Nile in Uganda on January 17, 2004 and arrived safely at the Mediterranean in Rosetta, 4 months and 2 weeks later. National Geographic released a feature film about the expedition towards in late 2005 entitled The Longest River.
On April 28, 2004, geologist Pasquale Scaturro and his partner, kayaker and documentary filmmaker Gordon Brown became the first people to navigate the Blue Nile, from Lake Tana in Ethiopia to the beaches of Alexandria on the Mediterranean. Though their expedition included a number of others, Brown and Scaturro were the only ones to remain on the expedition for the entire journey. They chronicled their adventure with an IMAX camera and two handheld video cams, sharing their story in the IMAX film "Mystery of the Nile", and in a book of the same title. The team was forced to use outboard motors for most of their journey, and it was not until January 29, 2005 when Canadian Les Jickling and New Zealander Mark Tanner reached the Mediterranean Sea, that the river had been paddled for the first time under human power.
A team led by South Africans Peter Meredith and Hendri Coetzee on 30 April 2005, became the first to navigate the most remote headstream, the remote source of the Nile, the Akagera river, which starts as the Rukarara in Nyungwe forest in Rwanda.
On March 31, 2006, three explorers from Britain and New Zealand lead by Neil McGrigor claimed to have been the first to travel the river from its mouth to a new "true source" deep in Rwanda's Nyungwe rainforest. .
Historia da Ethiopia
A Jesuit missionary who was sent from Goa to Ethiopia in 1589 and remained in the area until his death in 1622. Credited with being the first European to view the source of the Blue Nile which he describes in this volume.
Voyage historique d'Abissinie
Piero Matini, Firenze; 1693
One of the most important and earliest sources on Ethiopia and the Nile. Jerónimo Lobo (1595-1687), a Jesuit priest, stayed in Ethiopia, mostly in Tigre, for 9 years and travelled to Lake Tana and the Blue Nile, reaching the province of Damot. When the Jesuits were expelled from the country, he too had to leave and did so via Massaua and Suakin. ‘He was the best expert on Ethiopian matters. After Pais, Lobo is the second European to describe the sources of the Blue Nile and he did so exacter than Bruce’ (transl. from Henze)
Travels to Discover the Source of the Nile in the Years – 1768, 1770, 1771, 1772, and 1773
James Bruce of Kinnaird
J. Ruthven for G.GJ. and J. Robinson et al, Edinburgh, 1790 (5 Volumes)
With time on his hands and at the urging of a friend, Bruce composed this account of his travels on the African continent, including comments on the history and religion of Egypt, an account of Indian trade, a history of Abyssinia, and other material. Although Bruce would not be confused with "a great scholar or a judicious critic., few books of equal compass are equally entertaining; and few such monuments exist of the energy and enterprise of a single traveller" (DNB). "The result of his travels was a very great enrichment of the knowledge of geography and ethnography" (Cox II, p. 389.) Bruce was one of the earliest westerners to search for the source of the Nile. In November of 1770 he reached the source of the Blue Nile, and though he acknowledged that the White Nile was the larger stream, he claimed that the Blue Nile was the Nile of the ancients and that he was thus the discoverer of its source. The account of his travels was written twelve years after his journey and without reference to his journals, which gave critics grounds for disbelief, but the substantial accuracy of the book has since been amply demonstrated
1800 - 1850:
Egypt And Mohammed Ali, Or Travels In The Valley of The Nile
Longman, London, 1834
St. John traveled extensively in Egypt and Nubia in 1832-33, mainly on foot. He gives a very interesting picture of Egyptian life and politics under Mohammed Ali, a large part of volume II deals with the Egyptian campaign in Syria.
Travels in Ethiopia Above the Second Cateract of the Nile; Exhibiting the State of That Country and Its Various Inhabitants Under the Dominion of Mohammed Ali; and Illustrating the Antiquities, arts, and History of the Ancient Kingdom of Meroe
Longman, Rees, Orme, Brown, Green, & Longman, London; 1835
Modern Egypt and Thebes: Being a Description of Egypt; Including Information Required for Travellers in That Country
John Murray, London, 1843
The first known English travelers guide to the Lower Nile Basin
1850 - 1900:
Lake Regions of Central Equatorial Africa, with Notices of The Lunar Mountains and the Sources of the White Nile; being The Results of an Expedition Undertaken under the Patronage of Her Majesty's Government and the Royal Geographical Society of London, In the Years 1857-1859
W. Clowes , London; 1860
Sir Richard Burton's presentation of his expedition with John Speke. Ultimately, Burton's view of the sources of the Nile failed and Speke's prevailed
Travels, researches, and missionary labours, during eighteen years' residence in eastern Africa. Together with journeys to Jagga, Usambara, Ukambani, Shoa, Abessinia, and Khartum; and a coasting voyage from Mombaz to Cape Delgado. With an appendix respecting the snow-capped mountains of eastern Africa; the sources of the Nile; the languages and literature of Abessinia And eastern Africa, etc.etc.
Trubner and Co, London; 1860
Tickner & Fields, Boston; 1860
Krapf went to East Africa in the service of the English Church Missionary Society, arriving at Mombasa, Kenya in 1844 and staying in East Africa until 1853. While stationed there he was the first to report the existence of Lake Baringo and a sighting of the snow-clad Kilimanjaro. Krapf, during his travels, collected information from the Arab traders operating inland from the coast. From the traders Krapf and his companions learned of great lakes and snow-capped mountains, which Krapf claimed to have seen for himself, much to the ridicule of English explorers who could not believe the idea of snow on the equator. However, Krapf was correct and had seen Mounts Kilimanjaro and Kenya, the first European to do so.
Egypt, Soudan and Central Africa: With Explorations From Khartoum on the White Nile to the Regions of the Equator, Being Sketches from Sixteen Years' Travel
William Blackwood, Edinburgh; 1861
Petherick was a well known Welsh traveler in East Central Africa where he had adopted the profession of mining engineer. This work describes sixteen years of his travel throughout Africa. In 1845 he entered the service of Mehemet Ali, and was employed in examining Upper Egypt, Nubia, the Red Sea coast and Kordofan in an unsuccessful search for coal. In 1848 he left the Egyptian service and established himself at El Obeid as a trader and was, at the same time made British Consul for the Sudan. In 1853 he removed to Khartoum and became an ivory trader. He traveled extensively in the Bahr-el-Ghazal region, then almost unknown, exploring the Jur, Yalo and other affluents of the Ghazal and in 1858 he penetrated the Niam-Niam country. Petherick's additions to the knowledge of natural history were considerable, being responsible for the discovery of a number of new species. In 1859 he returned to England where he became acquainted with John Speke, then arranging for an expedition to discover the source of the Nile. While in England, Petherick married and published this account of his travels. He got the idea to join Speke in his travels, and in this volume is an actual subscription and list of subscribers to raise money to send Petherick to join Speke. His subsequent adventures as a consul in Africa were published in a later work
Journal of the Discovery of the Source of the Nile
Blackwood, Edinburgh; 1863
Harper & Brothers, New York; 1864
Speke had previously made an expedition with Sir Richard Burton under the auspices of the Indian government, on which Speke was convinced that he had discovered the source of the Nile. Burton, however, disagreed and ridiculed Speke's account. Speke set off on another expedition, recounted here, in the company of Captain Grant. During the course of this expedition he not only produced further evidence for his discoveries but also met up with Sir Samuel Baker and provided him with essential information which helped Baker in his discovery of the Albert Nyanza. The importance of Speke's discoveries can hardly be overestimated. In discovering the source reservoir of the Nile he succeeded in solving the problem of all ages; he and Grant were the first Europeans to cross Equatorial Eastern Africa and gained for the world a knowledge of about 500 miles of a portion of Eastern Africa previously totally unknown