Amazing Abu Simbel!
After an incredible and quick immersion into Egypt by exploring the pyramids, we headed south to Abu Simbel…and the “wow” factor was about to get ratcheted up a notch!
This didn’t just happen – as always there’s a story and a journey involved!
Day two started with a 4am wake up call to fly from Cairo to Abu Simbel, a UNESCO World Heritage Site in the south of Egypt right on the border by Sudan.
After a very short drive from the airport, we arrived at the temple site. There are two temples here – one for King Rameses II and a second for his favourite wife, Nefertari. I could feel my excitement building as we passed through the ticket gate and started to make our way to the temples. Somehow, I knew that this was going to be amazing!
As we made our way around the mound I was simply left speechless as the giant statues began to materialize…
Just 50 m further and all was revealed…
The main entrance is flanked by 4 statues of Rameses in different stages of life – 30, 40, 50 and 60 years of age. The temple took 20 years to complete and was carved directly into the sandstone cliffs. Each statue is 20 m tall, though the second statue from the left was damaged during an earthquake which caused the head to slide off. The pieces which fell off can still be found at the feet of the statue.
In addition to Rameses, there are smaller statues including his wife and some of his over 160 children, none of which are larger than Rameses’ knees.
Rameses was a great builder, having commissioned a large number of the temples along the Nile in different locations. We learned a few things about why temples were built. One reason was for religion – to remind the people of the gods and of the King’s relationship to them…and in some cases that the King was to be considered a god. The second reason was political. For instance, the huge statues of Ramses facing Egypt’s southern neighbours were there to remind those approaching Egypt that Rameses was a great King and warrior, as depicted in the carvings and hieroglyphs throughout the temple, telling the story of the king’s victory at Kadesh.
We couldn’t take pictures inside the temple, but here you may see in the background the first hall with 8 more massive statues of Rameses lining the entrance.
Queen Nefertari’s temple
Rameses had a smaller temple built to honour his favourite wife, Nefertari.
There are 6 statues at the front of this temple as well…4 of Rameses and 2 of Nefertari, each standing 10.5 m tall. That’s right…the temple was to honour Nefertari, but there are more statues of Rameses!
At their feet are some of their children, boys at the feet of Rameses and the girls at the feet of Nefertari. What’s interesting about this temple is that generally, women would be depicted as no larger than the Pharaoh’s knees. Since Nefertari was Rameses’ favourite wife, she was carved at the same height as Rameses.
Temples on the Move
Between 1963 and 1968, with the threat of rising waters of the Nile due to the construction of the Aswan High Dam, an international team led by UNESCO with financial and technical contributions from over 50 countries proceeded to move the two temples 200 m to higher ground. Approximately 16000 blocks were carefully removed, catalogued, moved and reconstructed in the current-day location. As part of the reconstruction, a huge concrete dome was constructed as a replacement for the cliffs which the temple was carved from. This dome was then covered with dirt and rock to blend into the surrounding environment.
The cost – $40 million USD in 1968 (approximately $300 million in today’s dollars!)
This experience reminded me of our adventures in Jordan when we visited the sandstone carved facades in Petra. The scale and level of detail at both locations are amazing. While our visit to the Pyramids just a day earlier was fantastic, visiting Abu Simbel seemed to make our trip to Egypt just a little more magical.