What Are the Cataracts of the Nile River?


Quick Answer

The cataracts of the Nile River are portions of the river characterized by a sheer, rocky topography and a predominance of boulders that obstruct navigation in these areas. Although numerous cataracts have been charter, these shallow waters that extend for several miles from Egypt to Sudan are classified into six major divisions: First, Second, Third, Fourth, Fifth and Sixth cataracts.

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Full Answer

The Nile Valley serves as the cradle of civilization for ancient Egyptians. Its most important feature is the Nile River, which provided essential needs for the emerging society. The valley is geographically partitioned into three distinct areas: Upper Egypt, Lower Egypt and the historic Nubian region, which is present-day Sudan. The river water from Upper Egypt courses through a series of sandstone bluffs and low-lying fluvial grounds before reaching the delta in Lower Egypt. The boundary of Upper Egypt also marks the site of the first major cataract of the Nile River. Ancient Egyptians used the cataracts as strategic locations for the collection of tariffs and to dissuade foreign invaders.

The First Cataract is located in Aswan in northern Egypt, while the Second Cataract, which stretched for 9 miles, sank beneath Lake Nasser. The Third Cataract, described by Winston Churchill as a "formidable barrier," is characterized by a 200-mile stretch of smooth-flowing water. The Fourth Cataract is situated in the Monassir Desert and it is the most difficult to traverse, according to Churchill. However, the Fifth and Sixth cataracts can be navigated throughout the year.

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