Perhaps no other river in the world conjures the rich tapestry of history that the Nile River does. Located in Eastern Africa, the Nile flows northward from its sources for a span of 4,132 miles. The Nile is regarded as the world’s longest river. The Nile is credited as the lifeline of Egyptian civilization stretching as far back as the Stone Age and it is still Egypt’s lifeline today.
The Nile has two major tributaries: the White Nile and the Blue Nile. Finding the sources of the Nile River had been a quest for the ancients until the nineteenth century when the discoveries were finally known. Its primary and longest tributary, the White Nile, begins in Lake Victoria (but since feeder rivers enter the lake, some scientists believe its most distant source is a stream in Rwanda). The Blue Nile, its secondary tributary, is responsible for the greatest volume of the Nile’s water and it begins in Ethiopia’s Lake Tana. While the Nile’s sources have been searched for by famous explorers like David Livingstone, the Blue Nile source was first explored by Pedro Paez around 1622. The White Nile’s source was determined by John Hanning Speke in 1858 and later confirmed by Henry Morton Stanley.
The Nile River supported the earliest civilizations in Egypt with its annual flooding. The rich silt deposits of the floods made the surrounding lands extremely fertile and allowed the Egyptians to cultivate wheat, flax, and other important crops. Not only did the crops support life in the Nile Valley, they allowed Egypt to prosper as a major power in that essentially dry part of the world. Egypt’s crops were needed throughout the Middle East and the trade that ensued led to Egypt’s rise and great stability. The present Nile, however, is considerably shorter than the pre-civilization Nile which once included an additional nine hundred miles, but climate change and a blockage by the Virunga Volcanoes during the Miocene resulted in significant change for the Nile River.
The Nile, which flows through the nations of Egypt, Sudan, Burundi, Rwanda, Ethiopia, DR Congo, Tanzania, Kenya, and Uganda to the Mediterranean Sea, has fostered the growth of major cities such as Cairo, Luxor (formerly Thebes), Khartoum, and Aswan. Today most Egyptians still make their life in the Nile Valley. The river allows for immense populations of people who would not otherwise be able to live in the dry Sahara region. The Nile River is also famous for its Nile crocodiles and scarcely-navigable cataracts. Famous Nile crossings include the Aswan Bridge, Luxor Bridge, and Cairo’s Abbas Bridge.