December 2009
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Abu Simbel in Egypt – ancient temples

When people think of Egypt and its heritage, the most famous such places that people think of are the pyramids and the sphinx. However, just after these, the locations that people think about the most are the temples of Abu Simbel. They are considered such an integral part of the heritage of ancient Egypt that when the dam was built and the temples were threatened, they were moved to a different location in order to save them. Abu Simbel was threatened in the 60’s with the construction of Lake Nasser, with the certainty that it will be drowned under the water, and hence, it was cut into numbered blocks, and moved to a higher place, along with a small exhibit on the process of moving the temple. Abu Simbel is so significant that it is considered a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Abu Simbel is pretty far from the other monuments in Egypt, located just 40 km from the border with Sudan, and located 285 km from the nearest significant Egyptian city of Aswan. These were temples that were constructed out of the solid rock of the mountain, build by the Pharaoh Ramesses II in the 13th century BC, dedicated to himself and his queen Nefertari (and in some cases, unlike any other Egyptian monument, some of the statues showed his queen to be of the same status as himself). The temple was meant to be a grand display of the might of the Pharaoh, intended to overpower visitors and attackers from the south. As per history, these temples took 20 years to build, started in approximately 1244 BCE and lasted for about 20 years, until 1224 BCE. Even though these temples deified Ramesses II, they were dedicated to the sun gods Amon-Re and Re-Horakhte.

View of the statues of Ramesses II at Abu Simbel
(Photo taken from Flickr)

Abu Simbel on Google Maps:

View Larger Map

Over the ages, the temples were lost to the sands of time, with sand covering them up; it was only in 1813 that Swiss orientalist JL Burckhardt discovered the top of the main temple, and it was only in another visit in 1817 that the Italian explorer Giovanni Belzoni (with whom Burckhardt had shared information about the visit) managed to enter the temple, and it was after that visit that the temple became famous among tourists. One curious fact is about why the temple is named ‘Abu Simbel’. This is apparently because there was a young boy who would guide the early discoverers to the site, and the temple got named after him.
The main view that people have of the temple is of the rock-cut façade where there are the four colossal seated figures of Ramses. This facade has impressive dimensions, being one 119 feet wide, and 100 feet high, and the colossal statues themselves are 67 feet in height. At the top of the pylon, is a row of stone baboons, (known as Watchers of the Dawn), with them being shown with their hands raised in adoration of the (rising) sun. The Egyptians believed baboons played a role in helping the sun god Ra defeat the darkness of night and so were believed sacred to the worship of the rising sun.
Another interesting fact about the design of the temples was the fact that they were designed to catch the rays of the sun on 2 specific days of the year – on February and October 20, the rays of the sun would get inside the depth of the temple and in a wonder of design, shine on the sculpture on the back wall, with just the exception of statue of Ptah (the god connected with the Underworld who always remained in the dark). There is no complete clarity on the reasons for these 2 dates, with supposition being that these dates are the king’s birthday and coronation day respectively, no confirmation though. When the temple was moved to prevent it from going underwater, this link was maintained.

How to get to Abu Simbel: Given that it is one of the most visited tourist site, there is a well defined way of getting there.

By flight: This is a less taken option, but there are flights from Cairo and Aswan to Abu Simbel. Egypt Air ( provides flights on this route.

By car: Because of security issues, foreigners cannot travel by car.

By bus: There are twice a day convoys that go from Aswan to Abu Simbel by coach or minibus, with police escort. These can be booked in advance, either through your travel agent, or through the hotel where you are booked.

Blogs / Articles:

1. Detailed view of Abu Simbel, including details of the temple (Wikipedia)

The complex consists of two temples. The larger one is dedicated to Ra-Harakhty, Ptah and Amun, Egypt’s three state deities of the time, and features four large statues of Ramesses II in the facade. The smaller temple is dedicated to the goddess Hathor, personified by Nefertari, Ramesses’s most beloved wife (in total, the pharaoh had some 200 wives and concubines). The temple is now open to the public.

2. Many photos at (link)

3. (link)

4. Egypt’s Abu Simbel (link)

There are two temples in the complex. The larger one is dedicated to Egypt’s three deities (Re-Herakhty, Ptah, Amen) while the smaller temple is honored to goddess Hathor. As you enter these temples, you can see Ramses’ statues all around and for you to understand, Pharaoh Ramses has over two hundred wives and concubines.

5. (link)

Memories of Abu Simbel will linger with me for a long time, not least because the visit entailed a 2.30am start and a long coach drive through the desert to reach the site just after dawn broke. Like many equivalent sites in Egypt I felt I was just part of a mass tourism production line with quality of information and the overall visitor experience somewhat mediocre. Compared to this the quality of information etc., at a typical Historic Scotland site is on a different (higher) level, but that said the climates are not comparable and Egypt is not Scotland.

6. The Abu Simbel Relocation (link)

Lost once to the sands of the desert, Abu Simbel was almost lost for a second time when the construction of the Aswan High Dam threatened to submerge the site under the waters of Lake Nasser. The Egyptian government along with UNESCO and a team of engineers, scientists and archaeologists worked for four years to relocate the monument 200 feet from the original site.

7. Hotels in Sbu Simbel (link)

Nefertari Hotel Abu Simbel – This hotel offers comfortable accommodations and quality services to Abu Simbel travelers. It is situated along Antonion Ayouyo Street near T Lake Nasser. The city center is merely 2 kilometers away and the Abu Simbel Airport is merely 3 kilometers away.

8. Description of Abu Simbel by Professor Yasser Metwally along with photos and videos (link)

Between the legs and on each of their sides stand smaller statues of members of the royal family. The smaller statues of relatives were probably, for the first southern colossus: Queen Nefretari by the left leg, the king’s mother, the great wife of Seti I, Muttuya by his right leg, and Prince Amenhirkhopshef in front. For the second southern colossus, Princess Bent’anta stood by the left leg, Princess Nebettawyby the left, and one unnamed female figure, probably that of a lesser royal wife named Esenofre.

9. Description of the temple (link)

Four colossal 20 meter statues of the pharaoh with the double Atef crown of Upper and Lower Egypt decorate the facade of the temple, which is 35 meters wide and is topped by a frieze with 22 baboons, worshippers of the sun and flank the entrance. The colossal statues were sculptured directly from the rock in which the temple was located before it was moved. All statues represent Ramesses II, seated on a throne and wearing the double crown of Upper and Lower Egypt. The statue to the left of the entrance was damaged in an earthquake, leaving only the lower part of the statue still intact. The head and torso can still be seen at the statue’s feet.

Photos of Abu Simbel: No Photos allowed inside the temple.

1. At the door of Nefertari (Ramses wife) temple in Abu Simbel, Egypt right before sunrise (link)

2. Photos of the temple and relief paintings (link)

3. Photos of Abu Simbel at (link)

4. Abu Simbel Photos at (link)

5. Large photos at this blog (link)

6. Photo Gallery of Abu Simbel at National Geographic (link)

7. Photos at Fotosearch (link)

8. Photos inside the temple at Abu Simbel, some beautiful photos (link)

9. Links to more photos at (link)

10. Photos of Abu Simbel with description (link)

Videos about Abu Simbel at Youtube:

See Abu Simbel in Egypt – Things to do before you die – BBC

Travelogue about Egypt by John Sawyer

Abu Simbel Two Temples Egypt

Egypt’s most famous temple, a clip from “King Tut, Ramses and Me”, a free Intrepid Berkeley Explorer video of time travel in Egypt

Aswan/Abu Simbel

Global Treasures – ABU SIMBEL – Egypt

Some books / Videos:

The Mysteries of Abu Simbel: Ramesses II and the Temples of the Rising Sun (Paperback)

Global Treasures ABU SIMBEL Egypt:

National Geographic: Engineering Egypt (2007)

Historic Print (S): The sixty-five foot portrait statues of Ramses II, before rockhewn temple of Abu Simbel

Luxor Illustrated: With Aswan, Abu Simbel, and the Nile (Paperback)

Abu Simbel Posters:
1. Ramses Temple and the Nile Shoreline at Abu Simbel Photographic Poster Print by David Boyer, 56×42
2. Night View of the Temple and Statues at Abu Simbel Photographic Poster Print by O. Louis Mazzatenta, 64×48
3. Large Statues in Temple at Abu Simbel Photographic Poster Print by Eliot Elisofon, 24×32
4. The Temple of Re-Herakhte for Ramses II, Abu Simbel Photographic Poster Print by Robert Harding, 16×12

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