Sai Island is a tiny island in the Nile stretching just five kilometers across and 12 kilometers long, but it contains ruins spanning thousands of years and several empires. Though Sudan is now primarily an Islamic country, a medieval Christian empire known as Makuria flourished in Sudan between the 7th and 14th centuries. Despite the length of its existence, there are still many unanswered questions about Makuria and its people.
Sai Island was once a bishop’s see (residence). The last remnants of the church of Sai Island can be seen as a few lonely pillars surrounded by pottery and masonry remnants. Old Dongola, to the south of Sai Island, is the only other archaeological site surviving from the Makurian empire. Sadly, when Lake Nasser was created much of what was northern Makuria was flooded including one of its main religious centers, the site of the Cathedral of Faras.
There are other ruins on Sai Island, including the foundations of an Egyptian town and temple that date back to 1500 B.C., with the ruins of an Ottoman fort built on the site of the town. There are also Islamic cemeteries on the island with their characteristic dome-shaped tombs.
Know Before You Go
Sai Island is about four kilometers south of the town of Abri. Opposite the northern tip of the island from the banks of the Nile, a ferry operates to and from Sai Island. There is a fee for visiting the island which is generally payable in U.S. currency. Be aware that there is no set place to pay, and therefore it is reliant on the official making contact with you during your trip.