Sadd Al-Kafara ... the oldest dam in the world

The oldest large scale dam in the world...

About forty kilometres south of Cairo, close to the town of Helwan, lie the ruins of the Sadd-el-Kafara ( = “dam of the Pagans”), an embankment dam of great size built around 2700-2600 BC, discovered over 100 years ago in the old, deep and dry Garawi ravine. The masonry-faced earthen dam originally measured 14 m height and 113 m length along the crest and is considered today the oldest dam of such size known in the world.

The primal aim of the dam was to retain the water from rare but violent floods. It could also ensure water to workers and animals working in exploration of stone and marble in the nearby quarries, for the construction of the pyramids and the temples. Never completed, the dam had been under construction for 10-12 years before being destroyed by a flood. It was rediscovered by Georg Schweinfurth in 1885.

Its great size indicates the dam engineers were not doing experimental work, but they built it in a very systematic way. Its construction took place in the era when the Egyptian kings built their pyramids on the other bank of River Nile. There exist similarities between the stone walls of the pyramids and the dam. And still there are many questions that revolve around Garawi valley Dam.  

Strangely, despite its importance, and the fact that it remains intact today, the dam is ignored by tourist agencies. Even visitors interested in archaeology of Egypt do not usually include it in their plan of visits. Moreover, although the dam has been discovered already since the late 19th century, it has not been adequately studied yet.

This case study presents the Sadd-el-Kafara dam with the aim to better inform people of its existence and sensitise towards its protection and rehabilitation to fit as a touristic site.