Abu Simbel – Ton of Ancient Temples, Monuments & Archaeoloqgy!

If you have been looking for hidden gems to go spend your vacation, then Abu Simbel is one of those holiday destinations that worth a trip to. Thousands of years into the ancient past, in 1257 BCE, Pharaoh Ramses II (1279-13 BCE) ordered two temples to be carved from the solid rock on the grounds of the west bank of the Nile, south of Aswan in the region of Nubia which is known today as the site of Abu Simbel. It wasn’t the first time this site was deemed an important area to local inhabitants – prior to Ramses II, this caves within this area had been used by worshipers of Hathor, the ancient Egyptian goddess who personified the attributes of motherhood, joy, femininity and feminine love.

The goddess Hathor

The goddess Hathor

She was one of the most popular and influential of the ancient Egyptian deities over the course of Egypt’s history. The Goddess Hathor was worshiped by royalty and common citizens alike, depicted on the walls of tombs as the “Mistress of the West” welcoming those who perished in this world into the next life. Hathor was a goddess of joyous music, of dancing, of the exploration of foreign places, and of fertility. Hathor was the goddess who accompanied women through childbirth, and she was a patron goddess of miners.

Many years later, the religious focus of the area of Abu Simbel shifted gears. The temple constructed on these sacred grounds when Ramses II appeared was a dedication to the sun gods Amon-Re and Re-Horakhte. The façade of Ramses’ temple, cut straight from the rock, was carved in such a way that it would guide the worshipers mind and body in towards the centre of the temple. Seated before this pylon are four impressive figures of Ramses. The façade is just under one hundred and twenty feet wide, and about one hundred feet high, while the looming statues tower at about sixty seven feet in height. You can see the top of the pylon where a row of carved baboons, the Watchers of the Dawn, are portrayed with their hands raised to the skies in worship of the rising sun. It was believed that baboons held a significant role in aiding the sun god Ra as he defeated the night and all of its darkness.

Due to the site’s remote location, well off the beaten path close to the Sudanese border in southern Egypt, this incredible archaeological site went undisturbed and undiscovered for thousands of years before the rediscovery of Abu Simbel in 1813 when the Swiss orientalist Jean-Louis Burckhardt came across the top of the main temple. The site was finally fully explored and recorded by Egyptologist Giovanni Battista Belzoni in 1817. The sacred space that was created here so long ago had been marked out as a forecourt and contained on both the north and south sides of the site by brick walls, occupying the area between the sandstone cliffs that towered overhead, and the waters below. The temple of Abu Simbel was accessed from across a terrace up a flight of stone steps featuring an inclined plane in the centre, and shut in on both sides where stood a row of stone hawks and statues of Ramses in various forms lined up together. Archaeologists have agreed that the size of the statues found on the site were a means of intimidation as well as an honour. They were most likely intended to frighten any possible approaching enemies off from the site.
The temple’s interior was found within the inside of the cliff, in the form of a cave that was carved out of the rock, and it was called The Sacred Cave of Abu Simbel. It holds a series of different chambers and passageways, the furthest one extending back into the rock a total of one hundred and eighty five feet from the mouth of the temple. The first hall is very long, and takes up fifty four feet in length and fifty eight feet in width, featuring two rows of Osirid statues of Ramses each thirty feet tall.

 

The statues standing on the Abu Simbel tomb’s north side are presented in the White Crown of Upper Egypt, and the ones along the south side wear the Double Crown of Lower Egypt. At the main hall’s west end,  three doors take you beyond the hall and into lateral chambers to the hall’s sides, with the central door opening into a room containing four square pillars. Beyond this room with the four pillars is a doorway which takes you to the vestibule, and from there you are brought to the innermost shrine featuring seated statues of the gods Ptah, Amun-Ra, the deified Ramses II, and Re-Horakhte.

 

The most noteworthy detail of the entire archaeological site of Abu Simbel is that fact that the temple constructed there is precisely crafted in a way that allows a certain phenomenon to occur twice a year. On the 22nd of February and the 22nd of October, the first rays of light from the morning sun shines down the whole length of the temple’s cave and lights up the back wall of the innermost shrine as well as the statues of the four gods seated within the chamber. Precisely this same lighting effect was also used in the design of the artificial cave of Newgrange in Ireland.

Indeed the Abu Simbel temple and statues stood in their place for thousands of years, undisturbed. Before their rediscovery, the site had long fallen into disuse and was covered in sand, only to be found again. But what came next was a move that would call for a major plan to save them from destruction. With the construction of the Aswan High Dam during the 1960s, the Abu Simbel temples were in a position that would see them destroyed by the rising waters of the Lake Nassar reservoir, submerged underneath and lost. Therefore, an enormous project was put into place after a lot of debating about what to do with the site. Between the years 1964 and 1966, an effort sponsored by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, which is more commonly known as UNESCO, in cooperation with the Egyptian government went forward with the disassembly of the sites temples and managed to carefully put them back together on the top of the cliff two hundred feet above their original site.

 

One of the proposed plans to save the temples was based around an idea by British film producer William MacQuitty to create a clear fresh water dam around the site, allowing the water on the inside to be kept at the same height as the Nile. From there, the idea was to create underwater viewing chambers. The 1962 idea was proposed by architects Jane Drew and Maxwell Fry as well as civil engineer Ove Arup. They also made a good point about the desert winds eroding the sandstone should they be raised higher in the air. They considered that raising the temples ignored the effect of erosion of the sandstone by desert winds. Nevertheless,  the proposal was rejected. It was acknowledged that it was an extremely fascinating idea.

Store rooms on each side which once held the temples cultic objects and treasures

Store rooms on each side which once held the temple’s cultic objects and treasures

The plan to save Abu Simbel was put into effect in 1964 by a multinational team of engineers, archaeologists, and highly trusted heavy equipment operators all coming together with the help of UNESCO and pouring in some $40 million worth of effort to salvage the site. It took four years for the whole site to be painstakingly sliced into enormous pieces, averaging about 20 tons apiece with some of them reaching 30 tons in weight. The pieces were taken apart from their original structure, hoisted up into the air sixty five meters higher, and then carefully reassembled back into their original place like the largest puzzle you could imagine. The entire finished product was sixty five meters higher, and two hundred meters farther back from the river. The completion of the task was heralded as one of the greatest feats accomplished in archaeological engineering history, and many of the structures from the site were actually saved from beneath the waters of Lake Nasser already.

To this day, several hundred visitors come from all over the world to marvel at the Abu Simbel site on a daily basis – an enormous difference from the centuries it spent in solitude, buried in the sand. Guarded convoys of various vehicles leave from the nearest city of Aswan two times per day, and many even fly in to see Abu Simbel, landing at the airfield that was specifically built for the temple complex.

Abu Simbel is presently only accessible to foreigners travelling by bus from Aswan, or by renting a car with a driver through the local agency, which is the most comfortable way to get from point A to point B when you’re driving in this region. When hiring a car and driver, it must be a licensed and official agency, as only the drivers who are cleared in advance by the police may join the convoy to Abu Simbel. It’s dangerous and against the law to attempt otherwise.

Detail of one of the statues

Detail of one of the statues

Aswan-individual.com is said to be one of the very best companies to trust for a day-trip from Aswan. If traveling by tour bus or a hired car, it’s a good idea to pack snacks and water to bring with you. Due to the length of the journey and the time spent at Abu Simbel, you’re going to get hungry and thirsty. There are cafés along the way, but the prices are relatively high because they are en route to a tourist destination that sees hundreds of travelers a day, so plan ahead for snacks and water.

You can actually book a cruise to take you from a number of different spots along the river to Abu Simbel, which might be one of the most luxurious ways to see the ancient archaeological site. Picture yourself spending an relaxing evening under the stars, docked next to the temples of Abu Simbel. The MS Nubian Sea is one of several cruises that travel through the area. It’s a 5-star cruise that will allow you to get up close and personal with Abu Simbel while maintaining a comfortable home base along the length of Lake Nasser. All transfers are made in air conditioned vehicles, and you’ll have assistance loading and unloading your belongings from the craft. Your entrance fees to all of the sites are factored into the price of the cruise, leaving you more free time to enjoy yourself without worrying about the logistics of getting to, from, and around your destinations. A medical doctor is on call 24 hours, the rooms are all air conditioned, and the cruise offers panoramic views of the landscape. The cruise will bring you to all of the interesting sites along the shores of Lake Nasser in comfort and style, taking you to see the Kalabsha Temple, Beit El Wali, Wadi El Seboua, Amada Temple, the Kasr Ibrim Citadel, and of course, Abu Simbel all on one 4-day long haul along the picturesque and calm waters.

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