The ancient Sadd el-Kafara dam is situated in the Wadi Garawi, one of the numerous wadis in the desert east of the Nile Valley, some 30-40 km south of Cairo and 11km southeast of Helwan city. The dam is actually located at the narrowest point of the SE part of the Garawi ravine at a point where the valley narrows to about 100 metres wide.  

The first large-scale dam in history is clearly a major engineering achievement. But it is also something of a disaster story. Dating back to the age of the “Pyramid builders”, more than 4500 years ago, taking some 10 – 15 years to construct, Sadd Al-Kafara was destroyed by heavy rainfall soon after its completion. At that time it must have been an impressive structure before its whole central part was washed away. Today the visitor can see the remains of construction on both sides of the wadi.

                    Image courtesy of Hydria Virtual Museum
Long view of the el gerawi valley, where the dam is found © Jean-Luc Frerotte panoramio

Hydria Virtual Museum

Structural Type: Gravity dam
Function / usage: Flood-control dam
Built: circa 2700 – 2600 BC
Status: collapsed, ruins on its sides remain in good condition

Worldwide, older dams have been identified including the Jawa reservoir in Jordan and diversion dams on the Kasakh River of the former Soviet Union. However these structures were much smaller than Sadd Al-Kafara, allowing us to refer to it as the world’s oldest large-scale dam.

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