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Abu SImbel

Abu Simbel Temple


Abu Simbel is a set of two temples near the border of Egypt with Sudan. It was constructed for the pharaoh Ramesses II who reigned for 67 years during the 13th century BC (19th Dynasty).


Not only are the two temples at Abu Simbel among the most magnificent monuments in the world but their removal and reconstruction was an historic event in itself. When the temples (280 km from Aswan) were threatened by submersion in Lake Nasser, due to the construction of the High Dam, the Egyptian Government secured the support of UNESCO and launched a world wide appeal.


During the salvage operation which began in 1964 and continued until 1968, the two temples were dismantled and raised over 60 meters up the sandstone cliff where they had been built more than 3,000 years before. Here they were reassembled, in the exact same relationship to each other and the sun, and covered with an artificial mountain.

Most of the joins in the stone have now been filled by antiquity experts, but inside the temples it is still possible to see where the blocks were cut.


You can also go inside the man made dome and see an exhibition of photographs showing the different stages of the massive removal project.

Abu Simbel was first reported by J. L. Burckhardt in 1813, when he came over the mountain and only saw the facade of the great temple as he was preparing to leave that area via the Nile.


The two temples, that of Ramesses II primarily dedicated to Re-Harakhte, and that of his wife, Nefertari dedicated to Hathor, became a must see for Victorians visiting Egypt, even though it required a trip up the Nile, and often they were covered deeply in sand, as they were when Burckhardt found them.


Abu Simbel at sunrise


The temples were cut from the rock and shifted to higher ground in the 1960s as the waters of Lake Nasser began to rise following completion of the Aswan High Dam.


The Great Temple is dedicated to Ramesses II and a statue of him is seated with three other gods within the innermost part of the rock-cut temple (the sanctuary).


The temple's facade is dominated by four enormous seated statues of the Pharaoh (each over 20 metres or 67 feet high), although one has been damaged since ancient times.

The Small Temple was probably completed ahead of the Great Temple and is dedicated to Ramesses' favourite wife, Nefertari. At the entrance stand six 10-metre-high (33 feet) rock-cut statues - two of Ramesses and one of Nefertari on either side of the doorway.


The Small Temple's facade


The temples can be reached by road, air or boat. Arrival by boat is achieved by cruising from the Aswan High Dam on a 3-day journey. The author first made the boat trip on the "Eugenie" in January 1995 with the vessel stopping at various relocated temples along the way. In early 1998, the journey was repeated on the "Nubian Sea", but the number of tourists reaching Abu Simbel in this way remains relatively small.


A hydrofoil service from the Aswan High Dam to Abu Simbel was re-introduced in 2000 (there was a service in the 1960s) with two return trips per day.


In early 2001, the author was surprised at the increased number of visitors at Abu Simbel at night and for sunrise. Once it was possible to watch sunrise with just a few others. However, it is still a very special time.

During a visit to Abu Simbel during February 2002 by means of the re-opened highway, buses were required to proceed in a convoy with arrival at the site a little after sunrise and about 2.5 hours spent at the temples before the return journey to Aswan. A security fence has been erected around the site and the cruise boats are now kept off to the sides of the temple site. A new visitors' centre has been opened behind the temples and vendors are now housed in a line of permanent shops leading to the centre.


A very good Sound & Light show also has been introduced for those at Abu Simbel in the evening. 


This includes projections onto the two temples showing how they once would have looked. The program is presented in a number of languages with the provision of ear pieces.

Approaching Abu Simbel by boat


Abu Simbel Temples


Abu Simble Temple


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