The reason for this apparent upside-down naming is that Egypt was considered the "Gift of the Nile" and as such everything was measured in relation to it. The Nile enters Egypt at the top, winding its way down until exiting via the fertile delta into the Mediterranean Sea under Lower Egypt.
Today there are two principal channels that the Nile takes through the river's delta. In pharonic times there were three and these were known as "the water of Pre", "the water of Ptah" and "the water of Amun".
Upper Egypt was known to the Pharaohs as Shemau and was divided into twenty-two areas called nomess. The first nome was roughly where modern Aswan is and the twenty-second was at modern Atfih, just to the south of Cairo.
The capital of the Middle Kingdom was at a place known as The Faiyum. This is an area of about 850 square miles of land that are wartered by an offshoot of the Nile called the Bahr Yusuf.
Lower Egypt was known to the Pharaohs as To-Mehu. This part of the country was also divided into nomes; however, as the place was mostly undeveloped scrubland, the organisation of the nomes underwent several changes. Ultimately there were twenty nomes and the first of these was at Memphis.
The deserts were not seen as part of the country really. They were just the wastelands that surrounded them and kept the foreigners out. They were considered to be areas that were there to be exploited (like other lands) but should not be considered as a part of the administrative kingdom. Therefore, the nomes were restricted to Kemet ("the black"), their name for the dark soil deposited by the Nile floodwaters.
The desert was called Deshret ("the red").
See also History of Egypt
The land of Egypt occupies the extreme northeast corner of the continent of Africa and a small area of southwest Asia. Egypt is bordered by the Mediterranean Sea to the north, by Sudan to the south, by the Red Sea and Israel on the east, and by Libya on the west.
Egyptian history is divided into periods that reflect the unification of Upper and Lower Egypt under one king. Intermediate periods of Egyptian history were times when Upper and Lower Egypt were not unified under one king.
Egypt is a country made up of two separate land areas: Upper Egypt and Lower Egypt. The names refer to ones location according to the flow of the Nile river. Upper Egypt is land upstream, or to the south and Lower Egypt is land downstream, or to the north.
A Comparison of Upper and Lower Egypt
Lower EgyptLower Egypt is known as Northern Egypt because it is downriver along the Nile. Lower Egypt is the northern-most section of Egypt stretching from just south of modern-day Cairo to the Nile Delta at Alexandria.
Lower Egypt's landscape is dominated by the Nile delta at Alexandria. The deltal region is well watered, crisscrossed by channels and canals. There are marshy areas and the mosquitoes can be very annoying.
The climate is milder than the climate in Upper Egypt. Temperatures are less extreme and there is more rainfall in this area.
The Lower Egyptians' dialect and customs historically varied from those of the Upper Egyptians. Even in modern times, Lower Egypt is much more industrialized, and influenced by trade and commerce with the rest of the world.
Upper EgyptUpper Egypt is known as Southern Egypt because it is upstream, closer to the source of the Nile. Upper Egypt is a narrow strip of land that extends from the cataract boundaries of modern-day Aswan to the area south of modern-day Cairo.
Historically, Upper Egypt's land was more isolated from activities to the north.
There were a number of differences between Upper and Lower Egyptians in the ancient world. They spoke different dialects, and had different customs, needs and interests. Many differences and the tensions they create still exist in modern times.
The modern Egyptian government has tried to encouragge people to cultivate and occupy the region called margin land. The margin land is land that is located between the flood (or alluvial) plain and the desert.