Aswan is a busy market and tourist centre located just north of the Aswan Dams on the east bank of the Nile at the first cataract. The modern city has expanded and includes the formerly separate community on the island of Elephantine.
Aswan is the ancient city of Swenett, later known as Syene, which in antiquity was the frontier town of Ancient Egypt facing the south. Swenett is supposed to have derived its name from an Egyptian goddess with the same name. This goddess later was identified as Eileithyia by the Greeks and Lucina by the Romans during their occupation of Ancient Egypt because of the similar association of their goddesses with childbirth, and of which the import is "the opener". The ancient name of the city also is said to be derived from the Egyptian symbol for "trade", or "market".
Because the Ancient Egyptians oriented themselves toward the origin of the life-giving waters of the Nile in the south, and as Swenett was the southernmost town in the country, Egypt always was conceived to "open" or begin at Swenett. The city stood upon a peninsula on the right (east) bank of the Nile, immediately below (and north of) the first cataract of the flowing waters, which extend to it from Philae. Navigation to the delta was possible from this location without encountering a barrier.
The stone quarries of ancient Egypt located here were celebrated for their stone, and especially for the granitic rock called Syenite. They furnished the colossal statues, obelisks, and monolithal shrines that are found throughout Egypt, including the pyramids; and the traces of the quarrymen who worked in these 3,000 years ago are still visible in the native rock. They lie on either bank of the Nile, and a road, 6.5 km (4.0 mi) in length, was cut beside them from Syene to Philae