The Abu Simbel archaeological area in southern Egypt is one of most iconic destinations in the world, a milestone for any traveller, because being in the presence of the temples built by Ramses II the Great is a huge emotion.
Abu Simbel temples were built by Ramses II and symbolize the miracle of the ancient Egyptians for astronomy, engineering and architecture.
The Abu Simbel complex consists of two temples, both excavated in the rock, that Ramses II wanted near the border with Nubia, now Sudan, to testify the power and influence of the pharaoh on those lands which were a valuable source of gold for Egypt.
Originally they were built by excavating a rock face on the banks of the Nile River. As a result of the construction of the Aswan Dam, they risked being submerged by the waters of what is today the Lake Nasser; in order to avoid losing such an archaeological treasure the Egyptian government and Unesco started a colossal fundraising to relocate the two monuments.
Both temples were cut into large blocks and moved and reassembled 60 meters higher and 200 meters back than the original position.
It was a colossal engineering work that was accomplished by limiting the maximum damage, the cuts made in the rock came accurately restructured and the margin of tolerance with respect to the original position was limited to two millimeters.
“I give to you, Ramesss II, constant harvests … sheaves are like sand, granaries come close to the sky and the heaps of wheat are like the mountains.”
Hieroglyph of the Great Temple
The Great Temple of Abu Simbel
The Great Temple of Abu Simbel, built in 1200 BC, is dedicated to the gods Ra, Amon and Ptah and to the same Ramses who thus raises himself to divinity. It is the most famous temple in the whole of Egypt and unquestionably the most beautiful and majestic temple built during the long reign of Ramses II the Great.
The exterior of the temple will leave you flabbergasted: its facade is 38 meters wide and 30 meters high and is characterized by four colossal statues of Ramses II sitting on throne with the crowns of Lower and Upper Egypt.
The interior of the temple has a triangular layout, typical of the temples in that time, and consists of three consecutive rooms that go forward inside the rock for 56 meters.
The great hypostyle hall is supported by eight pillars decorated with statues of Osiris and the Pharaoh God while the walls are enriched with bas-reliefs that depict the main events in the life of Ramses II, in particular the alleged victory of the battle of Kadesh against the Hittites.
The second room features four huge columns fully decorated with hieroglyphs and bas-reliefs depicting Ramses II and his favorite wife Nefertari.
The third room, the real sanctuary, is embellished with four carved statues in the rock representing Ramses, Ra, Amon and Ptah.
This shrine is also the celebration of the great knowledge of the ancient Egyptians in terms of astrology and engineering. As a matter of fact, twice a year, exactly on the 22nd of February and the 22nd of October, the first rays of the sun penetrate inside the temple to the innermost sanctuary, illuminating three of the four statues, leaving the figure of the god Ptah in the shadow due to its connection with the Kingdom of the Dead.
The Small Temple of Abu Simbel
Only a hundred meters away from the Great Temple there is the temple that Ramses II wished to dedicate his favorite wife Nefertari.
The Temple of Hathor and Nefertari is dedicated to the goddess Hathor, the deity of the sky, and has a facade carved into the rock with six monumental statues representing the pharaoh and his wife depicted standing and with the crowns of Lower and Upper Egypt on their heads.
These ten-meter tall statues are one of the very rare cases in which the statue of the pharaoh and his royal wife have the same size.
The interior of the temple is richly decorated with bas-reliefs depicting Ramses and Nefertari giving offerings to the goddesses Hathor and Mut.
In the last room, there is a niche in the sanctuary where the statue of Hathor seems to come to life from the mountain.