Abu Simbel is unique in that it is a triumph of both ancient and modern technology. Here two marvelous temples, wrought out of stone, carved into a mountain by the ancients, have been saved from loss to the rising waters of Lake Nasser, by the combined efforts of various countries, who joined forces to rescue these ancient treasures.
A forty minute flight from Aswan took my friend and myself to Abu Simbel. The 300 mile EgyptAir flight went quickly and in comfort. There was only time for the stewardess to give us each a refreshing tin of mango juice, and clear it away before we must prepare for landing. Confirming our return trip in the terminal, we received red boarding passes.
Outside the airport terminal we boarded buses, which took us past the Pharaoh's Village to the top of a steep bank, overlooking Lake Nasser. Walking down the sandy hill, we came around the bottom to find ourselves approaching four colossi, the huge and impressive statues of Ramses II. These 20 metre (70 ft.) statues, of the same man, sit in front of a temple wall, cast into the face of a mountain. He sits here, as he has sat for 3,000 years, facing east into the morning sun, looking down on the waters of the Nile, though these are now the waters of Lake Nasser, above the new Aswan Dam.
Nature conspired to damage one of the quartet of colossi. The second Ramses was shattered by an earthquake centuries ago, causing a large portion of the upper part of the sitting giant to fall at his feet. Also around the feet of Ramses, there are smaller stone statues, the statues of his wife, children and even his mother. The Pharaoh's name is inscribed in cartouches carved into the rock. Beside them, we found the graffiti of centuries of travelers, mortals making this pilgrimage, seeking their share of glory, thus becoming part of the immortality of Ramses.
Another set of statues came into view, as we walked on past Ramses' Temple. The second set of six statues were in front of a second temple, set into the rock facade of the sheer mountain face. These statues are standing figures. We walked on past the statues to the shade of a tree, where we were told that we would be met by an English-speaking guide. This man was dressed in a flowing white caftan, with a large white turban on his head. He was a Nubian, with dark brown skin. He told us some of the history of the two temples that we saw on this site. To the right of the Temple of Ramses, as we stood looking at them, is the Temple of Hathor, dedicated to Nefertari, the favourite wife of Ramses II. Our guide told us that Ramses had two statues of his most beautiful wife, carved in front of her temple. He also claimed that Ramses loved himself more, for he had four statues of himself carved there also. The importance of this temple is that it is one of only two women's temples, the other being that of Hatshepsut. It is the only temple dedicated to the wife of a Pharaoh.
Crossing the sand and entering Nefertari's Temple, we were greeted by two rows of Hathor columns, with the form and head of the goddess carved into the tall pillars. The large room has walls covered with scenes and hieroglyphics, which our guide proceeded to explain. On two walls there are scenes of sacred boats. The ancient Egyptians believed that the gods looked after the living during the daytime, and the dead during the night. They believed that the gods used a boat to make the journey from the living to the dead. For this reason, the boat was important. This temple contains a small sanctuary at the back. On the walls are paintings of Hathor depicted in the form of a cow. Also Nefertari is often depicted with the horns of a cow on her head.
Leaving Nefertari's temple, we followed our guide as he led us towards a doorway situated between the centre two massive statues of Ramses' Temple. Inside the temple we walked between two rows of 10 metre columns, in front of which stand statues of Ramses, as the god Osiris, guarding scenes of his victories. The victories were inscribed on the walls of this large room. Ramses refused to be just a King. He ordered the people to worship him. In the scenes on the walls, he is shown in the form of the god Osirus also.
In the sanctuary beyond, we found four rock statues sitting along the back wall. From left to right they were: Re-Horakhty, the God of the Rising Sun; Ramses II; Amun-Ra, the Sun God; and Ptah, the God of Darkness. For centuries, the sun shone through the temple, into this inner sanctum, twice a year. For twenty minutes, starting at 5:58 a.m. on February 21st and October 21st each year, the sun illuminated the first three statues. It never shone on the fourth statue, that of the God of Darkness. After moving this temple to higher ground, the phenomenon changed exactly 24 hours, to the 22nd of February and the 22nd of October, still not lighting Ptah, the God of Darkness.
In the sixties, the rising waters of the New Aswan Dam, forced the world to combine their efforts
to rescue this massive complex. A Swedish plan was put into effect to move the entire complex
onto higher ground, above the original site. It challenges the imagination to consider that all this
was moved and restored to its original majesty. The cost of this tremendous undertaking was
E£36 million, 12 was Egyptian money, 12 was contributed by the Americans, and the
other 12 was contributed by an assortment of other countries. At the time this was a tremendous
amount of money.
Ending our tour of these two absolutely fantastic temples, our guide took us to a previously unnoticed doorway between the two temples. Through this doorway, we entered a passageway, which led us into the heart of the artificially created mountain, which supports the temple complex. Inside, we found the large cement dome that was covered with rock, soil and sand, to form the mountain, which holds the massive temples. Because of the tremendous weight, the dome was used to support the rock, taking some of the pressure off the cliff below. Steps led us to the top, where our bus was waiting to return us to the airport.
After about forty minutes, we were allowed to board the EgyptAir plane. Walking to the plane, I
looked out over the flat desert. Punctuating the plain, sand-covered expanse I saw several
pyramid shaped mounds of sand. The origin of these mounds is unknown to me. I was left to
wonder if they are natural or man made. Again our stewardess served us a very welcome tin of
juice, as we winged our way back to Aswan. Soon, we were told to fasten our seat belts and
prepare to land. I was elated with the thought that I had completed a journey to one of the most
fascinating places on earth, one that had peaked my interest for many years.
Article and pictures by M. Maxine George
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Last Updated on January 29, 2006 by M. Maxine George editor. © 2003 Magic Carpet Journals. All rights reserved