The Nile River begins just south of the Equator, flows northward through Egypt, Sudan, Uganda, Ethiopia, Zaire, the Sahara Desert, Kenya, Tanzania, Eritrea, Burundi, and Rwanda and ends at the Mediterranean Sea after flowing through the Nile River Delta. The Nile River is the longest river in the world, approximately 4,258 miles in length.
The exact source of the Nile River is disputed. The Nile’s two major tributaries are the White Nile and the Blue Nile. While the Blue Nile, which originates at Lake Tana in Ethiopia, contains most of the sediment and water that will flow into the Nile, the White Nile is considered to be the Nile River’s prime stream and headwaters. The Nile is also fed by the Atbara river, which originates in the highlands of Ethiopia.
Experts believe that the true source of the Nile River is either the Ruvyironza River in Burundi, or the Nyabarongo River in Rwanda. Both rivers are feeder rivers for the Kagera River, which is itself the longest feeder river for Lake Victoria, the largest lake in Africa, and the beginning point of the Nile River. Because the Nile’s source remains unknown, the exact length of the Nile, from its source to its end at the Mediterranean sea, is also unable to be determined.
The Greek Neilos is thought to be the origin of the name Nile. It is thought that Neilos itself originated from the Semitic nahal, which means “river valley.” However, the Nile River has not always been called by its current name. The ancient Egyptians, puzzled by the fact that the river flooded during the hottest days of the year, called the river both Iteru meaning “river” as well as Ar or Aur, meaning “Black,” in reference to the black silt that colored the water when it flooded.
The same black silt that confused the ancient Egyptians facilitated the growing of their crops alongside the river. After the floodwaters receded each year, a thick layer of the sediment was left along the riverbanks, creating an area that could sustain agriculture. The ancient Egyptians structured their calendar around the Nile’s flooding cycle, with three seasons: Akhet, Peret, and Shemu. The first, lasting from June to September, was the flood season. The second was the time to plant crops, between October and February. The last season, between March and May, was the time to harvest the crops they had planted in the previous season. During the time that the ancient Egyptians were living on the banks of the Nile, they pioneered new agricultural methods and created one of the first versions of the plow. Currently, the Aswan High Dam, which was built in 1970, regulates the Nile’s waters and prevents flooding.
There are many myths surrounding the Nile River. For the ancient Egyptians the Nile was known by several different names, including “Father of Life” and “Mother of All Men.” They attached great importance to the river, as it was their source of water and crops in the midst of rainless Egypt. This led them to associate a great number of gods and goddesses with the Nile. The god Hapi, who brought abundance and life, was seen as connected to the river. Additionally, Khnum, the water god, was seen as the force that controlled how much silt was deposited when the floodwaters receded each year.
Currently, the Nile river is home to a diverse collection of wildlife, including turtles, tortoises, wildebeests, frogs, baboons, and hundreds of species of wild birds. These animals, along with the dangerous Nile crocodile, inhabit the Nile Delta. In autumn the Nile Delta is also home to a variety of flowers and plants, including the Egyptian lotus and the Papyrus Sedge.
The Nile Delta marks the end of the Nile River. The Delta is located in Northern Egypt, where the river meets the Mediterranean Sea. In this area, the sediment that has been carried down the Nile River fans out and is deposited into an area that spans more than 150 miles of coastline, and has a north to south distance of 99 miles.