Official name : Arab Republic of Egypt
Area: 1,001,450 square kilometers (386,599 square miles)
Highest point on mainland: Mount Catherine (2,629 meters/8,625 feet)
Lowest point on land: Qattara Depression (133 meters/439 feet below sea level)
Hemispheres: Northern and Eastern
Time zone: 2 P.M. = noon GMT
Longest distances: 1,572 kilometers (997 miles) from southeast to northwest; 1,196 kilometers (743 miles) from northeast to southwest
Land boundaries: 2,689 kilometers (1,667 miles) total boundary length; Israel 266 kilometers (165 miles includes Gaza Strip, 11 kilometers/7 miles); Libya 1,150 kilometers (713 miles); Sudan 1,273 kilometers (789 miles)
Coastline: 2,450 kilometers (1,522 miles)
Territorial sea limits: 22 kilometers (12 nautical miles)
1 LOCATION AND SIZE
Located in the northeast corner of Africa, Egypt is east of Libya, north of Sudan, west of the Red Sea, and south of the Mediterranean Sea. The country extends into the Sinai Peninsula in Asia, where it shares a border with Israel. Covering a total area of about 1,001,450 square kilometers (386,599 square miles), it is slightly larger than three times the size of the state of New Mexico. Egypt is divided into twenty-six governorates.
2 TERRITORIES AND DEPENDENCIES
Egypt has no territories or dependencies.
Egypt experiences mild winters (November to April) and hot summers (May to October). In Alexandria, located in the north on the Mediterranean coast, the average temperature ranges from 13°C (56°F) in December and January to 26°C (79°F) in July and August. Cairo, farther to the south, posts average lows of 14°C (57°F) in January and average highs of 28°C (82°F) in July. Aswan, located in the southern region, is considerably warmer with average temperatures of 16°C (60°F) in January and 34°C (93°F) in July, although highs exceeding 50°C (120°F) are not uncommon.
Except for the areas along the Mediterranean coast, where winter rains are frequent, rainfall in Egypt's harsh desert climate is scarce to nonexistent. During the summer months, even the coast receives little or no rain. As a result, droughts and windstorms (called khamsin ) occur often. The country also experiences frequent earthquakes and volcanic activity.
4 TOPOGRAPHIC REGIONS
The entire country lies within the wide band of the Sahara Desert. Therefore, most of Egypt's terrain is hot, dry desert, which covers 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 species of snakes and scorpions, fennec (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 water bird species, including the ibis.
Although most of Egypt lies on the African Tectonic Plate, the Sinai Peninsula lies on the Arabian Plate.
5 OCEANS AND SEAS
Seacoast and Undersea Features
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 the strait of Bab el Mandeb.
The Mediterranean Sea is a larger land-locked sea that links to the Atlantic Ocean through the Strait of Gibraltar.
Sea Inlets and Straits
Two noteworthy inlets along the Mediterranean shore are the Gulf of Salûm, near the Libyan border, and the Al-Arab Gulf, west of the Nile Delta. The Gulf of Aqaba is east of the Sinai Peninsula. The Gulf of Suez is west of the Sinai Peninsula; it is separated from the open sea by the Strait of Jūbāl.
Islands and Archipelagos
Two small islands situated off the coast of Egypt in the Red Sea, the Brother Islands, are actually the tops of two massive reef pillars that extend up from the bottom of the sea. These islands have become popular sites for divers exploring the surrounding coral reefs.
About 144 small permanent islands line the course of the Nile River, and about 216 seasonal islands appear and disappear depending on the water level. The Egyptian government plans to designate these islands as natural preserves.
Although undeveloped and relatively unpopulated, miles of white sand beaches cover the Egyptian coast along the Mediterranean Sea. The azure water is warm in summer and cold in winter.
The Sinai Peninsula projects into the northern end of the Red Sea. Its terrain is mainly covered by sand desert, punctuated by mountains that reach elevations as high as 2,637 meters (8,652 feet); these include Mt. Sinai, at 2,285 meters (7,498 feet).
The shoreline of the Red Sea is regular, with the exception of the small Ras Banâs peninsula in the south and the associated Foul Bay.
6 INLAND LAKES
In the north near the coast, the Nile Delta surrounds a series of lakes, including: Maryut, Idku, Burullus, and Manzala. The Great Bitter Lake forms a part of the Suez Canal. Birket Qārūn is a salt lake in the El Faiyum depression.
7 RIVERS AND WATERFALLS
The Nile River (Al-Bahr) extends across Egypt from south to north for roughly 1,600 kilometers (992 miles). With a total length of 6,693 kilometers (4,160 miles), the Nile is the longest river in the world, although other rivers carry more water. The Egyptian Nile is a combination of the White Nile, originating in Lake Victoria in Uganda and Tanzania, and the Blue Nile, originating in Ethiopia. These rivers meet in Sudan. Throughout its length in Egypt no other tributary streams enter the Nile. It enters Egypt in the form of Lake Nasser.
North of the capital city of Cairo, the Nile branches out into a delta. Historically there were as many as seven channels to the delta, but now only two remain, the Rosetta in the west and the Damietta in the east. Between and around these channels are many small streams, irrigation canals, ponds, lakes, and marshes, growing saltier as one approaches the sea.
The Nile was once famous for its floods. These floods were due to heavy seasonal rainfall in Ethiopia, which caused the flow of the Blue Nile and Atbara to fluctuate. The floods were unpredictable and could be destructive, but also provided vast amounts of fresh, fertile, soil. The great Nile floods are now controlled by the Aswān High Dam.
The topographic channel through which the Nile flows across the Sahara causes an interruption in the desert so that the contrast between the Nile Valley and the rest of the country is abrupt and dramatic.
Egypt lies completely within the region of the Sahara Desert, but two separate desert divisions are made within the country.
The Western Desert accounts for almost three-fourths of the total land area of Egypt. To the west of the Nile this immense desert spans the area from the Mediterranean south to the Sudanese border. It is a barren region of rock and sand, with occasional ridges or depressions but very little vegetation.
There are seven important depressions in the Western Desert, and all are considered oases except the largest, Qattara, which contains only salt water. The remaining oases depressions have fresh water provided either by the Nile waters or from local groundwater sources.
DID YOU KNOW?
The Sahara Desert, which covers an area of 9,065,000 square kilometers (3,500,000 square miles), is the largest desert in the world. 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 the 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 areas of lush vegetation.
The Qattara Depression is located in the northwest, halfway between the Nile and the Libyan border and 50 miles (80 kilometers) from the Mediterranean coast. It is a desolate area of badlands, salt marshes, and brackish lakes, lying mostly below sea level. The Siwa Oasis, close to the Libyan border and west of Qattara, is isolated from the rest of the country, but has sustained life since ancient times. The El Faiyum Oasis, sometimes called the Faiyum Depression, is 64 kilometers (40 miles) southwest of Cairo. Around 3,600 years ago a canal was constructed from the Nile to the El Faiyum Oasis, probably to divert excessive floodwaters there. Over time this has produced an irrigated area of over 1,813 square kilometers (700 square miles).
On the floors of the remaining depressions, artesian water is available to support limited populations. The Bahariya Oasis lies 338 kilometers (210 miles) southwest of Cairo and the Farafra Oasis, larger but sparsely populated, lies directly south. The Dakhla and Khārga oases complete the chain to the south.
The Arabian Desert, east of the Nile, is quite dissimilar from the Western Desert. While equally arid, it is more elevated and rugged, with the Red Sea Highlands along the shoreline.
9 FLAT AND ROLLING TERRAIN
There are no significant plains or prairie regions in Egypt.
The Nile Valley and its delta is a long narrow strip of fertile land created by the Nile's never-ending supply of fresh water and sediment. It is in effect the world's largest oasis, and makes up virtually all of Egypt's fertile land. The delta is roughly 250 kilometers (155 miles) wide at the seaward base and about 160 kilometers (100 miles) long from north to south. Once a broad estuary, it was gradually filled by the Nile's sediment to become rich farmland.
10 MOUNTAINS AND VOLCANOES
The Red Sea Highlands run along the coast of the sea for which they are named. It is a region of hills and rugged mountains that is extremely arid. Notable peaks include Mt. Shāīyb al-Banāt (2,186 meters/7,173 feet) and Mt. Hamātah (1,977 meters/6,485 feet).
The Al-Ajmah Mountains on the Sinai Peninsula are an extension of the Red Sea Highlands. They run through the southern part of the peninsula. Egypt's highest peak, Mt. Catherine (Gebel Katherina; 2,629 meters/8,625 feet), is located there.
11 CANYONS AND CAVES
The Cave of Swimmers is located in an area called Wadi Sora, which lies in southwest Egypt near the western edge of the Gilf Kebir plateau. It was discovered during an expedition by László Almásy in 1933. The name of the cave comes from the rock paintings found there, which seem to resemble people swimming. When Almásy published his discovery, he set forth the theory that these paintings depicted scenes from the real life of the ancient inhabitants, thus supporting the idea that this now desert area was once a valley that contained a river (as the term "wadi" suggests).
Also in Wadi Sora is Giraffe Gave, which was discovered by P.A. Clayton in 1931. This cave gets its name from the engravings of giraffes found within it.
12 PLATEAUS AND MONOLITHS
The Gilf Kebir rises out of the desert near the southwest boundary with Libya. It has an altitude of over 914 meters (3,000 feet), an exception to the otherwise flat terrain of western Egypt.
The Arabian Desert rises abruptly from the Nile Valley, sloping upwards in a plateau of sand, before giving way to the rocky hills and mountains of the Red Sea Highlands.
13 MAN-MADE FEATURES
The Aswan High Dam on the Nile River is one of the world's largest dams. The dam system essentially regulates the flow of the Nile. Although it ended the annual floods of the river, it also prevented fertile silt from being carried further downstream. When the dam was completed in 1970, it created Lake Nasser.
Lake Nasser, the largest lake in the country, covers an area of about 3,942 square kilometers (1,522 square miles). The lake extends south from the dam about 322 kilometers (200 miles), to the border with Sudan, and continues another 99 miles (159 kilometers) into that neighboring country.
The Suez Canal connects the Mediterranean Sea with the Gulf of Suez. The canal travels a length of 163 kilometers (101 miles), with a minimum width of 55 meters (179 feet) and a depth of at least 12 meters (40 feet). The canal has been one of the world's most important waterways since its completion in 1869.
DID YOU KNOW?
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.
14 FURTHER READING
Carpenter, Allan. Egypt . Chicago: Children's Press, 1972.
Manley, Bill. The Penguin Historical Atlas of Ancient Egypt. New York: Penguin Books, 1996.
Manley, Deborah, ed. The Nile: A Traveler's Anthology. London: Cassell, 1996.
Roberts, Paul William. River in the Desert: Modern Travels in Ancient Egypt. New York: Random House, 1993.
Geographia—Sinai Egypt. http://www.geographia.com/egypt.sinai (accessed June 13, 2003).