Located within a short distance from the famous Aswan Dam, the Temple of Philae, on the islet of Aguilkya, immerses visitors in the history of ancient Egypt. Dedicated to the protective goddess Isis, its bas-reliefs and murals make it an exquisite sanctuary in the country.
Aboard his small motorboat, Ahmed Yehia sails serenely towards this treasure of Egyptian heritage, nestled in the heart of the ancient Nubian lands.
“Just next door, I discovered Bigeh, a magical island, abandoned by its inhabitants several years before. I wanted to help revamp and repopulate it while creating value in a sustainable way,” says Yehia, the founder-manager of Eco Nubia, the first ecolodge in Aswan.
Relaunched in January 2018, the project received support from the “Tanmia wa Tatweer,” Egypt’s Entrepreneurship Development initiative funded by the Danish-Arab Partnership Program and implemented by the African Development Bank. It aims to revive the Nubian culture and create a new ecotourism place in Egypt, serving local and international customers. Using natural materials from several regions of the country, the revival of Bigeh has created jobs for the local community.
“In partnership with the Nubian community, we have put Bigeh on the map of Egyptian ecotourism,” says Yehia. Open all year round, the fully equipped lodge overlooks the temple of Philae. It has a banquet room and a restaurant that serves traditional Nubian cuisine based on organic products grown on-site.
The ecolodge, consisting of nine rooms built from granite and mud, also has facilities for a wide range of activities, including kayaking and swimming, sightseeing and Nubian craft markets.
Eco Nubia has brought the abandoned island back to life. The facility now employs about 30 people, a third of them women. Since 2018, five Nubian houses have been rebuilt and furnished in the Nubian tradition. An integrated network of electricity, water and sewerage has also been created for the islanders to suit the environment.
The facility has attracted tourists globally. It has won commendation from the United Nations World Tourism Organization and the Egyptian Ministry of Tourism for its outstanding achievements in sustainable development. The ecolodge has attracted local and international media, including the American channel CNN which devoted a special program to it.
“Our own farm produces what we consume,” says Ahmed Yehia.
Owners of the facility have built a community center and workstations for eco-friendly Nubian crafts and have created new jobs for about 50 Nubian families, including women. With an area of 80 square meters, the community center was built according to the principles of Nubian architecture. It is now enthroned on top of a small mountain in order to have a panoramic view of the surroundings, which carry within them a part of the history of ancient Nubia.
“We also want to help the people of Bigeh rebuild their homes using traditional materials and the same ancient techniques of Nubian architecture, while preserving the island’s natural environment,” Ahmed Yehia says.
Distributed by APO Group on behalf of African Development Bank Group (AfDB).