The Nile receives its last great tributary, the Blue Nile, near Khartum, in about the 17th degree of north latitude. Above the town the river flows quietly through grassy plains; below, the stream changes its peaceful character, as it makes its way through the great table-land of the north of Africa, and in an immense bend of over 950 miles forces a passage through the Nubian sandstone. In some places where the harder stone emerges through the sandstone, the river, even after thousands of years, has not succeeded in completely breaking through the barrier, and the water finds its way in rapids between the hard rocks.
There are ten of these so-called cataracts, and they play an important and sometimes an unhappy part in the development of Egypt and the Sudan. It is owing to them that intercourse by boats is rendered almost impossible between the Upper and Lower Nile except during high Nile, and even then there is risk of accidents happening to larger boats passing through these rapids. The last of these cataracts is 7 miles long, and forms the natural boundary of Egypt proper; close to it is situated the town of Assuan, the old Syene.
Below Assuan the character of the country again changes, and the valley, which in Nubia never exceeded 5 to 9 miles in width, broadens out, its greatest extent being, in one place, as much as 33 miles from side to side. The reason of this change is that at Gebel Silsileh, some way below Assuan, the sandstone (found throughout Nubia) gives way to lime stone, which forms cliffs bounding the river for nearly 475 miles. When the Nile reaches the Delta the limestone again gives place to later geological formations.
Thus, Egypt in its entire length is framed in rocky walls, which sometimes reach a height of 600 to 800 feet; they form the stereotyped horizon of all landscape views in this country. These limestone hills are not mountains in our sense of the word. Instead of rising to peaks, they form... [continues]
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