Gamel Abdel Nasser's vision of a modern Egypt rose and fell on the construction of the dam, which began in 1960. It took Soviet financing, plus the sweat of 30,000 Egyptians working around the clock, to complete the work by 1971. The volume of the dam itself is 17 times that of the Great Pyramid.
Lake Nasser is the world's largest man-made lake, 500 km (310 miles) long—150 km (93 miles) of which is in Sudan—and it has a storage capacity of 210,000 billion cubic yards of water. The dam doubled Egypt's power-generating capabilities, and it ensures a net surplus of 26 billion cubic yards of water as a reserve against low annual floods upriver.
The disadvantages of damming the Nile included the loss of fertile silt that the floods brought, which has made the use of chemical fertilizers a necessity. An incalculable loss is Nubia, which now lies beneath so many cubic yards of water that its 100,000 inhabitants relocated along the river valley. As one Nubian elder put it, "we
cut off the arm to save the body."
Visit the stylized lotus monument commemorating the Russian–Egyptian collaboration, and try to convince the guard to take you up the tiny elevator for a view of unsurpassed splendor. The lake and Nubian Desert stretch out to one side; on the other flows the now-tamed Nile.