Although Egypt (EE • jihpt) was warm and sunny, the land received little rainfall. For water, the Egyptians had to rely on the Nile River (NYL). They drank from it, bathed in it, and used it for farming, cooking, and cleaning. The river provided fish and supported plants and animals. To the Egyptians, then, the Nile was a precious gift. They praised it in a song: "Hail O Nile, who comes from the earth, who comes to give life to the people of Egypt."
Even today, the Nile inspires awe. It is the world's longest river, flowing north from the heart of Africa to the Mediterranean Sea. This is a distance of some 4,000 miles (6,437 km). Traveling the length of the Nile would be like going from Atlanta, Georgia, to San Francisco, California, and then back again.
The Nile begins as two separate rivers. One river, the Blue Nile, has its source in the mountains of eastern Africa. The other, the White Nile, starts in marshes in central Africa. The two rivers meet and form the Nile just south of Egypt. There, narrow cliffs and boulders in the Nile form wild rapids called cataracts (KA • tuh • RAKTS). Because of the cataracts, large ships can use the Nile only for its last 650 miles (1,046 km), where it flows through Egypt.