Abu Simbel Temple



Abu Simbel Temple

The Rescued Monuments of Nubia

Nubia, the beautiful austere land that once linked Egypt and black Africa, now lies beneath the world's largest man-made lake. Gone forever are the neat domed houses of the Subian people, the unique facades of which were decorated with coloured plates. Their villages, places of worship and burial grounds were all doomed to destruction when plans for the building of the High Dam went ahead in 1900. The entire population of nearly 100,000 people faced the sorrow ful but inevitable fact that they would have to be uprooted and resettled elsewhere.

The people of Egyptian Nubia, some 50,000 in number, started a new life at Kom Ombo, about fifty miles downstream from the High Dam. The Upper Nubians were taken to the eastern part of the Sudan to a place called Kashm el-Girba. By 1971 Nubia had passed into history.

Yet, ironically, it is due to its disappearance that more is now known about Nubia than most archaeological sites, even in Luxor. During the decade when the High Dam was being built, before the waters began to rise, the entire area was subjected to studies on a scale never before witnessed Engineers architect, photographers) Arusts, restorers, archaeologists) anthropologists, social scientists and historians came to study, photograph, document and salvage whatever they could in the most ambitious salvage operation ever undertaken.

The international campaign to save the monuments of Nubia was sponsored by the Egyptian and Sudanese governments and UNESCO in 1960. Over a period of two decades, no less than twenty-three temples and shrines were saved. Some monuments were partially saved (the temples of Gerf Hussein and Aksha); one was lifted as a unit of 8oo tons, put on rails and dragged up a hill to safety (temple of Amada); several were dismantled in the reverse process used to build them; that is to say, they were completely filled and surrounded with sand; the inscribed blocks were then lifted off the top of the temple. As each layer was removed the sand was lowered to reveal the next layer. After transportation to another site, the temples were rebuilt (the temple of Hatshepsut from Buhen, weighing 600 tons, was thus transported to the new Sudanese Museum at Khartoum in 59 cases aboard 28 trucks). A much more challenging project was the saving of the beautiful monuments of the Island of Philae (page 187), and the project at Abu Simbel represents one of the most outstanding feats of civil engineering in our times.


There are two temples at Abu Simbel: the Great Temple of Ramses II and the small temple of Nefertari, his Great Roval Wife. Both were excavated out of the solid rock of a mountain. They could not, therefore, be dismantled, transported and re-erected elsewhere, as with other temples. Here was a formidable challenge. The Temple of Ramses II was the largest and one of the most magnificent monuments of the ancient world, and Egypt launched an appeal to UNESCO.

The response was immediate. Countries from all over the world offered aid, both technical and financial. Many different proposals were presented and studied. Finally, in 1960, a project presented by a Stockholm Company of Consulting Engineers was chosen as the most feasible and least costly. The basic idea of the ‘VBB' Scheme, as it came to be known, was literally to saw the temple into transportable blocks and place them safely above the water level 64 until they could be rebuilt sixty-four metres above their original site. An international consortium of contractors, working alongside archaeologists, laid out a plan of action. The first stage was the show construction of a coffer-dam. This was necessary so that work on sectionalizing the temples could continue even after the summer of 1964, when the old course of the Nile was closed and the water level began to rise.

The sawing of the temple into over a thousand transportable pieces, some weighing as much as fifteen tons, was no easy task. Experiments were made with different techniques. Decisions had to be made on where the divisions should be made. Cranes carefully lifted each separate block. After hauling it to a storage site, it was pivotted to a huge piece of concrete for stability and then treated with resin for protection.

Meanwhile the new site, on the top of the mountain, was being levelled with the aid of drills operated by compressed air. Explosives could not be used for fear of damaging the temples. Studies were then made on the bedrock to ensure that it could support the enormous weight of rock it was destined to bear forever; not the reconstructed temples alone, but also the great reinforced concrete dome that would cover it and support the weight of the reconstructed mountain.

The project was completed in December 1968. When approached from the front, the temples of Abu Simbel have their same orientation and setting. It was decided, however, that the artificial hill reconstructed over the temple should not be disguised from the rear. As the visitor approaches the site from the airport, it is the smoothed and ridged rock-fill over the dome that can be seen.


Great Temple of Ramses II at Abu Simbel

There are few monuments of ancient Egypt that have been so frequently described as this great temple of Ramses II at Abu Simbel. From the time of its opening by the Italian Giovanni Belzoni in 1817 to the present-day, when it has become world famous for having been salvaged from the rising waters of the Nile, it has fascinated all who see it.

Ramses II chose a site some 280 kilometres south of Aswan. Though the temple is primarily dedicated to Imon-Ra of Thebes and Ra-Harakhte of Heliopolis, it was also designed as a memorialto Ramses' vanity, for it is dedicated also to the deified Ramses II himself.

Ramses II was an indefatigable builder, and he repeated the theme of the battle he fought at Kadesh on the Orontes river in Syria In the fifth year of his reign on all his monuments. His enemy was the Hituite King Muwatta lish and a coalition of neighbouring chiefs. Far from the great victory he recorded, Ramses barely snatched it from humiliating defeat by the timely arrival of two Egyptian divisions: one from Heliopolis under the banner of Ra-Harakhte and the other from Memphis under the banner of Ptah. Ramses had command of the forward division from Luxor, under the banner of Amon-Ra.

The Façade of the temple, which is actually the cliff face hewn in imitation of a pylon, is crowned by a frieze of baboons. It rises to a height of 32 metres. The width at the base 15 35 metres and 32 metres at the top. Dominating the façade are four seated statues of a Vouthful Ramses II. They loom in huge dimension to some 20 metres, and are believed to be the same size as the broken granite colossus in the Ramesseum. Ramses sits with his hands on his knees. His countenance is mild. On his chest and upper arm are oblong 'cartouches bearing his name. On his forehead is the sacred uraeus, cobra, simbol of kingship. He wears the double crown of Upper and Lower Egypt. According to the records, Ramses, who ruled for 67 Vears, was married to at least three legitimate wives and had no fewer Cle9/than 170 children. Some members of the royal family are shown with him. To the left of the second colossus (b) is Ramses' mother.

To the right is Nefertari, his most beloved wife. Between his legs are roval relatives. On each side of the right-hand colossi (c) and (d) are represen tations of two Nile-gods binding the floral symbols of the Two Lands, the papyrus and the lotus, around the hieroglyphic symbol for Unite' Below is a row of captives: Nubian prisoners to the south and Sirians to the north." Above the entrance, standing in a niche, is the hawk-headed Ra Harakhte, worshipped on either side by Ramses II, who presents tiny statuettes of Vlaat, goddess of Truth.

A passage leads to the Courtyard Hall (1), 18 metres long, 16 metres wide and 8 metres high. Eight enormous statues of the King stand in a double row, facing each other, against a corresponding number of square pillars. He is represented in Osirian form with crook and flail. The ceiling is adorned with flying vultures (central aisle) and with stars and the names and titles of the king (side aisles).

The walls teem with beautifully painted reliefs. Most are religious ceremonies and battle scenes. The style is bolder (though not superior) to other monuments. On each side of the entrance (e) and (f) are vividly coloured reliefs that show Ramses clasping his enemies by the hair and smiling them with a club. He performs this act in the presence of Amon-Ra, who hands him a curved sword of victory at (c), and the hawk-headed Ra-lfarahhre at (f). In fact, this division of the temple between Amon-Ra and Ra-Harakhte con tinues throughout its entire Tength. Most of the reliefs of the former are on the south side (left) of the temple, and those of Ra-Harakhte are to the north (right).

Both sides of the hall are decorated with scenes of a military nature. The Great Battle Scene is on the northern wall (g). It covers an area of 18 metres in length and 8 metres in height. It is one of the most extraordinary and detailed reliefs to be found in the Nile Valley. There are over 1100 figures depicted and the entire wall space from the ceiling to the bedrock is filled with activity: the march of the Egyptian army with its infantry and charioteers, hand to-hand combat, the flight of the vanquished, prisoners, slain, wounded and drowning enemy. There are overturned chariots, riderless horses and farmers anxiously driving their cattle into the hills. There are scenes of camp life and inspection of officers. Here in Rou a single mural is all the pomp and circumstance of war.

With their traditional stress on balance and symmetry, the artists have separated the wall into registers. Between the war scenes above and the Egyptian army below, is a frieze of charging chariots at full gallop. On the lower half of the wall, between the two doors (1), are scenes of Egyptian camp life. The camp is square and enclosed by a stockade of soldiers' shields. The roval tent is shown, and at the centre of the camp is Ramses' pet lion that is cared for by a keeper. Horses are being fed in rows from a common manger. Some wait impatiently pawing the ground. Others lie down. Some are being harnessed. One horse scampers around the enclosure. One makes off dragging an empty chariot, pursued by a couple of grooms. There are joints of meat (in the corner) and a tripod brazier. Soldiers eat from a common bowl as they crouch on their heels. One officer is having his wounded foot dressed by a doctor. Another sits with his head resting on his hand. Hurrying towards him is a soldier bringing news of the battle. Stende To the right (2) the seated Ramses holds a council of war with his officers. In the lower register (3) two spies are being interrogated. According to textual evidence, these two men of the Shasu tribe came into the Egyptian camp then situated in the land of Tchal, not far from Kadesh. They claimed to have been sent by their chiefs to inform Ramses that the Hittites wished to come to terms with the Egyptian army. They declared that the enemy were yet some distance away and afraid to make contact. The two men were, in fact, sent by the Hittite leaders with false information in order to establish the exact position of the Egyptian army. At that very moment, the enemy was actually drawn up in full battle array behind Kadesh. No sooner had the men been dismissed than an Egyptian scout requested urgent presence with the king and brought the two spies with him. They finally admitted that the chief of Kheta was encamped behind Kadesh with soldiers and chariots ready to strike. Naturally Ramses blamed his own intelligence for neglect of duty, and after admitting their fault, the Egyptian army made immediate preparation to march on Kadesh.

The clash of arms is depicted on the upper reaches of the wall, where the river Orontes winds through the picture and almost surrounds the beseiged city. Commanding the scene is Ramses II in a pitched battle (4). Watching the scene from the strongly defended fortress of Kadesh (5) are some of the enemy who peer from the embattlements. Ramses stands undaunted in his chariot surrounded by the enemy. With the sure confidence of a warrior, he whips up his horses and dashes into the Hittite ranks, launching arrows at them and crushing many beneath the wheels of his chariot. Among the slain and the fallen are some who beg for mercy,

So wonderful was his bravery that a poem composed by Pen-ta urt was inscribed on the walls of many of the temples Ramses built. It recorded for posterity how the great pharaoh, in full armour and mounted on his chariot, drove into battle with a 'growl like that of his father Montu, Lord of Thebes'. How, suddenly finding himself completely surrounded and cut off from his own troops, Ramses called on the name of Amon-Ra, whipped up his horses and slaughtered the enemy until some fell ‘in great heaps on the ground while others fell one over the other into the waters of the Orontes. Quite alone and with not one of his infantry to help him, Ramses thus succeeded in forcing his way through the enemy ranks. On the extreme right (6) the king, still in his chariot, inspects his officers, as they count the severed hands of the enemy and bring in fettered prisoners.

The walls to the rear of the hall show Egyptians leading rows of capuve Ilirlites towards Ra-larakhte and his own deified figure at (h); rows of capuve Nubians are presented to Amon-Ra, Ramses, as a deity, and lucat (i), (The large chambers leading of the Hall were probably storcrooms; the reliefs are of inferior quality').

The Hypostyle Hall (2) has four supporting square pillars. The reliefs are of offerings made by Ramses II to the various gods, one of which is the deitied Ramses II himself, and various ritual scenes that show the sacred_barge of Amon-Ra and accompanying priests. Following the Hypostyle Hall is an ante-chamber (3) and the Sanctuary

The Sanctuary (4) contains four seated statues: Ptah, Amon-Ra, the deified Ramses II, and Ra-Harakhte. The temple is so oriented on an east-west axis that the rising sun sends its rays to strike the rear wall of the sanctuary, 47 metres back from the entrance, or 61 metres inside the mountain surface. At certain times of the year the rising sun illuminates the sanctuary and shines on the four seated statues. Much has been said about this phenomenon; though in fact even when the sun's rays pass through all the entrances of the chambers, the sanctuary wall and the four statues are never fully illuminated. Twice a year, however, for 25 days after the autumnal equinox of September 23, and 25 days before the vernal equinox of March 20, the axis of the temple enables the statues to be illuminated – though never more than two at a time. The most that can be seen is on February 26th and October 18th when the sun shines on the statues of Amon-Ra and Ramses, with the light touching the sides of the flanking statues of Ptah (on the left) and Ra-Harakhte (on the right).

The Great Dome Access is gained via a stairway to the right of the temple that leads to a gallery, from which this impressive, weighty, concrete shrine can be seen from the inside. It was designed to relieve the temple structure below from the very heavy load of the overlying rock walls and rockfill and also to make possible inspection and repair (if necessary) from the rear.

It represents a unique technological achievement. Owing to its size and the complex nature of its load, it was necessary to carry out measurements of stress, strain and deformation, in order to check the behaviour and the safety of the structure. Also, to make calculations to evaluate its long-term behaviour and durability.

The height of the dome is 25 metres and the cylindrical part has a free span of some 60 metres. This single span is destined to bear a load of about 100,000 metric tons, and its durability must at least match that of the temple it shelters!

Temple of Nefertari

Nefertari, or Beautiful Companion, was the first and most beloved of the wives of Ramses II. Indeed, her form is slim and graceful, and she is extremely fair. Since her magnificent tomb in the Valley of the Queens at Luxor is closed to the general public, we are fortunate that we can see her depicted in her temple at Abu Simbel. It lies to the north of the great temple of Ramses II and is dedicated to Nefertari and to the goddess Hathor.

The terrace (1) leads to the sloping façade that provides the frame for six recesses, three on each side of the central doorway. Within each there are standing figures: four of the king and two of the queen. They appear to be walking forward with spirited strides. Ramses wears an elaborate crown of plumes and horns. On Nefertari's head are plumes and the sun disc. At their sides are small figures of their children -- the princesses beside Nefertari and the princes beside Ramses. The legend of the love of Ramses for his wife is enumerated along with his titles: Ramses, strong in Mann (Truth), beloved of Amon, made this divine abode for his roval wife, Nefertari, whom he loves'.

Throughout the temple, on pillar and wall, and even in the sanctuary, the names of the royal couple are linked in their shared dedication to the goddess Hathor. The buttressed sloping projections between the figures on the façade bear hieroglyphic votive inscriptions. At the centre of the broadest, central section is the doorway leading to the Hypostyle Hall(2), a traverse chamber (3) and the sanctuary (4). The thickness of the doorway shows Ramses before Hathor, to the south, and Nefertari before Isis, to the north; Isis makes a gesture as though to crown her.

The Hypostyle Hall (2) has six pillars decorated on the front with sistra - the musical instrument associated with the goddess Hathor – and with the heads of Hathor. Behind are representations of Ramses, Nefertari and various deities. The reliefs on the entrance walls (a) and (b) have fine representations of Ramses, accompanied by Nefertari, smiting a Libyan in the presence of Ra-Harakhte, and a Nubian in the presence of Amon-Ra respectively. The side walls have similar offering scenes. At (c) Ramses offers food to Ptah and also stands in front of the ram-headed Harshef. Nefertari makes offerings to Hathor. And Ramses offers wine to Ra-Harakhte. At (d) Ramses stands before Hathor. Ramses is blessed by Horus and Set of Nubt. Nefertari stands before Anukis. And Ramses presents an image of Man to Amon. On the rear walls are Nefertari and Hathor (to the right) and Nefertari and Mut (to the left). Mut was the wife of Amon-Ra and, like Hathor, a mother figure.

The traverse chamber (3) is adjoined by two unfinished cham bers, to the right and left. Over the doorways, however, are reliefs of Hathor the sacred cow in a marsh, which are worth noting. In one case, Hathor is being worshipped by Ramses and in the other by Nefertari.

The sanctuary (4) has a recess to the rear, and the roof is supported by sistra. A representation of Hathor in the form of a cow protecting the king (who appears below her head) is a fine relief. On the right-hand wall Nefertari offers incense to Mut and Hathor. On the left the king pours a libation over his own image and also that of his wife.

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From the relaxing Nileside city of Aswan, you have access to many great day tours and activities. Visit Abu Simbel or other notable archeological sites on the banks of Lake Nasser, travel north to Luxor to see Karnak temple, Luxor TempleHatshepsut Temple and Valley of the Kings, or take in nile cruise from Aswan to Luxor hile enjoying the beautiful scenery of Nile Valley or Enjoy different activities in Aswan like an afternoon sailing on the Nile or a visit to the Unfinished Obelisk and the Nubian Museum.

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