Abu Simbel: The Temples That Moved


The Abu Simbel temples sit on the west bank of the Nile River.
The Abu Simbel temples sit on the west financial institution of the Nile River.

Credit score: WitR Shutterstock

The location of Abu Simbel is among the most recognizable historical websites in Egypt. For three,000 years, it sat on the west financial institution of the Nile River, between the primary and second cataracts of the Nile. Nonetheless, in a outstanding feat of engineering, the temple advanced was dismantled and rebuilt on the next hill to make method for the Aswan Excessive Dam within the 1960s.

Inbuilt 1244 B.C., Abu Simbel incorporates two temples, carved right into a mountainside. The bigger of the 2 temples incorporates 4 colossal statues of a seated pharaoh Ramesses II (1303-1213 B.C.) at its entrance, every about 69 toes (21 meters) tall. The entranceway to the temple was inbuilt such a method that on two days of the yr, October 22 and February 22, daylight shines into the internal sanctuary and lights up three statues seated on a bench, together with one of many pharaoh. Historians suppose these dates mark his coronation and start. Hundreds of vacationers usually flock to the temples to observe the phenomenon and take part within the celebrations.

As well as, Abu Simbel has a second, smaller, temple which will have been constructed for queen Nefertari. Its entrance consists of two statues of the queen and 4 of the pharaoh, every about 33 toes (10 meters) in top. Every is about between buttresses carved with hieroglyphs. 

Whereas the positioning was constructed by an Egyptian ruler, and is situated inside modern-day Egypt, in historical instances the place it was situated in was thought of a part of Nubia, a territory that was at instances unbiased of historical Egypt.

“The waxing and waning of Egypt’s energy may be traced by way of its relations with Nubia. When robust kings dominated a united land, Egyptian affect prolonged into Nubia; when Egypt was weak, its southern border stopped at Aswan,” writes Egyptologist Zahi Hawass in his e-book "The Mysteries of Abu Simbel" (American College in Cairo Press, 2000).

Abu Simbel survived by way of historical instances, solely to be threatened by fashionable progress. As a result of the positioning would quickly be flooded by the rising Nile, it was determined that the temples needs to be moved. “Following the choice to construct a brand new Excessive Dam at Aswan within the early 1960s, the temples had been dismantled and relocated in 1968 on the desert plateau 64 meters (about 200 toes) above and 180 meters (600 toes) west of their authentic website,” writes Robert Morkot in an article within the "Oxford Encyclopedia of Historical Egypt" (2001, Oxford College Press). The realm the place they had been initially situated is now flooded.

Hawass notes that transferring the temples was an enormous job, one which concerned chopping it into items between three to 20 tons in weight and re-assembling them exactly as they had been. It took virtually 5 years, concerned about three,000 staff and price (within the 1960s) about $42 million. He notes in his e-book that it was an amazing success, one reporter current at its completion wrote that “all the pieces appears to be like simply because it did earlier than; it is sufficient to make one doubt that the temples had been moved in any respect.”

Ramesses II, typically known as “the nice,” was a warrior king who tried to increase Egypt’s territory far into the Levant. He battled one other empire known as the Hittites on the Battle of Qadesh (additionally spelled Kadesh) in Syria and likewise launched campaigns into Nubia.

He bragged about his accomplishments, embellishing Abu Simbel with scenes from the Battle of Qadesh. One picture carved within the nice temple at Abu Simbel reveals the king firing arrows from his warfare chariot and supposedly profitable the battle for the Egyptians. It was a blustery show for a battle that modern-day historians agree resulted in a draw. Later, Ramesses II would make a peace treaty with the Hittites and cement it by marrying a Hittite princess, an occasion marked in a stela at Abu Simbel.

“Ramesses II is probably the most well-known of the pharaohs, and there’s no doubt that he meant this to be so,” writes College of Cambridge Egyptologist John Ray in a 2011 BBC article. “Ramesses II, or at the very least the model of him which he selected to characteristic in his inscriptions, is the hieroglyphic equal of scorching air.”

However whereas Ramesses II might have been filled with “scorching air,” he did construct some magnificent monuments, launching a significant constructing program. “Ramesses II consolidated his godly state by constructing quite a few temples wherein he was worshipped within the picture of the completely different gods,” writes Hawass in his e-book. And two of the best temples he constructed had been at Abu Simbel.

Two of the four seated statues at the entrance. All four depict Ramesses II.
Two of the 4 seated statues on the entrance. All 4 depict Ramesses II.

Credit score: ChameleonEye Shutterstock

Egyptologist Marco Zecchi writes in his e-book "Abu Simbel, Aswan and the Nubian Temples" (White Star Publishers, 2004) that the bigger of the 2 Abu Simbel temples, the Nice Temple, was recognized in historical instances as “the temple of Ramesses-Meryamun” which suggests “Ramesses, beloved by Amun” (Amun being an necessary deity in Ramesses II’s time).

Zecchi notes that the 4 seated statues of the pharaoh, on the entrance, present the ruler carrying a brief kilt, nemes headdress, double crown with cobra and false beard. “Subsequent to the legs of the 4 colossi are a number of smaller standing statues that symbolize the pharaoh’s family,” he writes, these embrace his spouse Nefertari, the pharaoh’s mom Mut-Tuy, and his little kids. Zecchi notes that on the prime of the temple facade is “a row of 22 squatting baboon statues. The baboon’s cry was believed to welcome the rising solar.”

The inside of the temple stretches into the mountain for about 210 toes (64 meters). The primary room is an atrium made up of eight pillars, 4 on both sides, that Zecchi notes depicts Ramesses II within the guise of the god Osiris. The atrium space consists of photographs and hieroglyphs describing Ramesses II’s supposed victory on the Battle of Qadesh. The atrium additionally has now empty storerooms on its sides.

Shifting deeper into the temple there’s a second atrium with 4 embellished pillars that Zecchi stated reveals the king “embracing varied divinities as an indication of his non secular union and predilection” and, on the very again, is a bench the place a statue of Ramesses II is seated with three different gods, Ra-Harakhty, Amun and Ptah. Researchers have famous that on two days of the yr (October 22 and February 22) all these statues, aside from Ptah (who’s related to the underworld), are bathed in daylight.

As talked about earlier, the smaller temple at Abu Simbel has, outdoors its entrance, 4 statues of pharaoh and two of his bride, Nefertari. Every statue is about 33 toes (10 meters) tall, a buttress in between every of them. Zecchi notes that the facade additionally incorporates smaller statues of the kids, “oddly the statues of the princesses are taller than these of the princes,” an indication, maybe, that this temple pays tribute to Nefertari and the ladies of Ramesses II’s family.

The inside of the temple is less complicated than that of the nice temple. It incorporates six pillars that present depictions of the goddess Hathor. Zecchi notes that on the “again wall of the room” are reliefs exhibiting “Nefertari within the act of being topped by the goddesses Hathor and Isis,” the queen carrying a head protecting that reveals “the photo voltaic disc with feathers between cow horns” the identical head protecting the goddesses are carrying. 

Sooner or later the temples had been deserted and, within the interval afterwards, had been lined with sand, the nice colossi step by step disappearing into the desert. Hawass notes that Johann Ludwig Burckhardt famous the existence of the positioning in 1813. Then, in 1817, a circus strongman named Giovanni Belzoni uncovered the buried entrance to the nice temple.

This entrance, which was exactly aligned with the solar in order to mild up three of the statues inside for 2 days of the yr, now noticed mild as soon as once more. 

  • Egypt At this time: Saving Abu Simbel: 50 Years On
  • UNESCO World Heritage Checklist: Nubian Monuments from Abu Simbel to Philae
  • Atlas Obscura: The Temple of Abu Simbel

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