Abu Simbel : A Tryst with Egypt

Nov 2009

From Luxor our ship sailed to Aswan.
In Aswan itself there are a gems of a temple called Philae in an island.
But our main focus was to visit the temples of Abu Simbel on the banks of Lake Nasser, created when Aswan Dam was made

Abu Simbel temples refers to two massive rock temples in Abu Simbel in Nubia, southern Egypt on the western bank of Lake Nasser about 230 km southwest of Aswan (about 300 km by road). The complex is part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site known as the “Nubian Monuments,” which run from Abu Simbel downriver to Philae (near Aswan).
We were informed that we have to go there by convoys which leave at 3am and 11 am. We opted for the latter, as getting up at unearthly hours didn’t quite gel with our idea of a holiday!!

The reason for the convoys is that we pass through 200 kms of desert where there isn’t a soul in sight in case car breaks down. Also there is fear of bandits waylaying the hapless tourists!

The twin temples were originally carved out of the mountainside during the reign of Pharaoh Ramesses II in the 13th century BC, as a lasting monument to himself and his queen Nefertari, to commemorate his alleged victory at the Battle of Kadesh, and to intimidate his Nubian neighbors. However, the complex was relocated in its entirety in 1968, on an artificial hill made from a domed structure, high above the Aswan High Dam reservoir.

The relocation of the temples was necessary to avoid their being submerged during the creation of Lake Nasser, the massive artificial water reservoir formed after the building of the Aswan High Dam on the Nile River.
Abu Simbel remains one of Egypt’s top tourist attractions.
The front is adorned by huge statues of a sitting RamessesII. One has had its head knocked off and when it was restored to the upper area head was left in same position.Next to his leg is a smaller statue of Queen Neferteri and pride of place between the legs is occupied by the son!!

Construction of the temple complex started in approximately 1244 BCE and lasted for about 20 years, until 1224 BCE. Known as the “Temple of Ramesses, beloved by Amun,” it was one of six rock temples erected in Nubia during the long reign of Ramesses II. Their purpose was to impress Egypt’s southern neighbors, and also to reinforce the status of Egyptian religion in the region. Historians say that the design of Abu Simbel expresses a measure of ego and pride in Ramesses II.

With the passage of time, the temples fell into disuse and eventually became covered by sand. Already in the 6th century BC, the sand covered the statues of the main temple up to their knees. The temple was forgotten until 1813, when Swiss orientalist JL Burckhardt found the top frieze of the main temple. Burckhardt talked about his discovery with Italian explorer Giovanni Belzoni, who travelled to the site, but was unable to dig out an entry to the temple. Belzoni returned in 1817, this time succeeding in his attempt to enter the complex. He took everything valuable and portable with him. Tour guides at the site relate the legend that “Abu Simbel” was a young local boy who guided these early re-discoverers to the site of the buried temple which he had seen from time to time in the shifting sands. Eventually, they named the complex after him.

In 1959 an international donations campaign to save the monuments of Nubia began: the southernmost relics of this ancient human civilization were under threat from the rising waters of the Nile that were about to result from the construction of the Aswan High Dam.The salvage of the Abu Simbel temples began in 1964 by a multinational team of archeologists, engineers and skilled heavy equipment operators working together under the UNESCO banner; it cost some $40 million at the time. Between 1964 and 1968, the entire site was carefully cut into large blocks (up to 30 tons, averaging 20 tons), dismantled, lifted and reassembled in a new location 65 meters higher and 200 meters back from the river, in one of the greatest challenges of archaeological engineering in history.[3] Some structures were even saved from under the waters of Lake Nasser. Today, thousands of tourists visit the temples daily. Guarded convoys of buses and cars depart twice a day from Aswan, the nearest city. Many visitors also arrive by plane, at an airfield that was specially constructed for the temple complex.
In this picture you can see the mark on the leg where it was cut to bring it up!
The God RA is standing in the background.

The temple of Hathor and Nefertari, also known as the Small Temple, was built about one hundred meters northeast of the temple of Ramesses II and was dedicated to the goddess Hathor and Ramesses II’s chief consort, Nefertari. This was in fact the second time in ancient Egyptian history that a temple was dedicated to a queen. The first time, Akhenaten dedicated a temple to his great royal wife, Nefertiti.Ramesses II loved his Queen Neferteri a great deal.Though even this temple has huge statues of RamessesII on the entrance. But in an age when queens were never honored it was a big step!

We were not allowed to photograph inside but there are beautiful painting depicting offerings to the Gods and Goddesses and Colums with statues of Ramesses II as God Osiris.
The center of the temple is a sanctum sanctorum.These have the statues of Rameses II ,God Ra and Amon and Ptah.
It is believed that the axis of the temple was positioned by the ancient Egyptian architects in such a way that on October 21 and February 21 (61 days before and 61 days after the Winter Solstice), the rays of the sun would penetrate the sanctuary and illuminate the sculptures on the back wall, except for the statue of Ptah, the god connected with the Underworld, who always remained in the dark.

These dates are allegedly the king’s birthday and coronation day respectively, but there is no evidence to support this, though it is quite logical to assume that these dates had some relation to a great event, such as the jubilee celebrating the thirtieth anniversary of the Pharaoh’s rule.
The drive back was also eventful .We saw the sun setting in the desert and it was magnificent

God’s creation and Human effort side by side

We had fun chasing the sun across the desert

The temple is the fictional field headquarters of MI6 in the 1977 James Bond film The Spy Who Loved Me, containing M’s office, a conference room, and Q’s laboratory.
The temple is a setting of the 1978 film Agatha Christie’s Death on the Nile, where the statues “sing” because of the wind in the crevices (similar to wind blowing over a bottle).
The temple is shown in 2001’s The Mummy Returns, as a way to the Oasis of Ahm-Shere.

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