– SEPTEMBER 03, 2015
Today was a 2:30am start time, so we could ride a taxi for 30 mins into downtown Aswan, then jump into a shuttle bus for a 3 hour ride to Abu Simbel. This drive is all done so early for a couple of reasons:
1.) Its bloody hot in Egypt so any activities are done so you can be wrapped up by no later than 2pm (the high heat of the day).
2.) You are required to travel to Abu Simbel and back in a convoy with armed guards. There are some “unsavory” elements in Egypt and individual vehicles travelling south to Abu Simbel are ripe for having a problem. This is why the government makes Abu Simbel visitors register before going there (at least 24 hours in advance) and you must ride in this convoy. The van windows had the blinds closed and they asked us to keep them closed. Real comforting.
The Abu Simbel temples were discovered by accident in 1813. Not only are the two temples here among the most magnificent monuments in the world, but their removal and reconstruction was an historic event in itself. When the temples were threatened by submersion in Lake Nasser, due to the construction of the High Dam in Aswan, the Egyptian Government secured the support of UNESCO and launched a world-wide appeal. During the salvage operation which began in 1964 and continued until 1968, the two temples were dismantled and raised over 60 meters up the sandstone cliff where they had been built more than 3,000 years before.
Here they reassembled the temples with each block placed in the exact same relationship to each other and the sun, and covered with an artificial mountain. A special saw was created to cut the temple into pieces for removal and reconstruction. Most of the joints in the stone have now been filled by antiquity experts, but inside the temples it is still possible to see where the blocks were cut.
Hathor was the wife of the Sun God, so in an intentionally symbolic way it brings Ramses II & Nefertari and Hathor & the Sun God together as one. The façade of the temple is a receding Pylon, just as the larger temple of Ramses II. On either side of the entrances to the temple is a deified statue of Nefertari with statues of Ramses II on either side of her. The statues of Nefertari are the same height as those of Ramses, which is unusual in Egypt. Like at Ramses II’s temple, there are children depicted around their feet. There are cobras protecting the Temple door.
This temple is much simpler than the Temple of Re-Herakhte. It has only one hypostyle hall and the sanctuary. Within the hall are images of Remses in battle with Nefertari present. Other scenes depict Ramses being crowned by Horus and Seth and presenting Ma’at to Amun. On the back wall, Nefertari is before Hathor and Mut. Just behind the Hypostyle Hall is a small chamber with images of Hathor framed in reeds. Beyond that is the sanctuary with a divine cow emerging from the rear rock wall protecting Ramses. Above the cow, vultures guard the Queen’s cartouches. Other scenes show Nefertari offering incense to Mut and Hathor, and the King worshipping befoere his own images and those of Nefertari.
The Great Temple at Abu Simbel, which took about twenty years to build, was completed around year 24 of the reign of Ramesses the Great (which corresponds to 1265 BC). It was dedicated to the gods Amun, Ra-Horakhty, and Ptah, as well as to the deified Rameses himself. It is generally considered the grandest and most beautiful of the temples commissioned during the reign of Rameses II, and one of the most beautiful in Egypt.
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.
Next to the legs of the colossi, there are other statues no higher than the knees of the pharaoh. These depict Nefertari, Ramesses’s chief wife, and queen mother Mut-Tuv, his first two sons Amun-her-khepeshef, Ramsses, and his first six daughters Bintanath, Baketmut, Nefertari, Meritamen, Nebettawy and Isetnofret.
The entrance itself is crowned by a bas-relief representing two images of the king worshipping the falcon-headed Ra Harakhti, whose statue stands in a large niche. This god is holding the hieroglyph “user” and a feather in his right hand, with Ma’at, (the goddess of truth and justice) in his left; this is nothing less than a gigantic cryptogram for Ramesses II’s throne name, User-Maat-Re. The facade is topped by a row of 22 baboons, their arms raised in the air, supposedly worshipping the rising sun. Another notable feature of the facade is a stele which records the marriage of Ramesses with a daughter of king Hattusili III, which sealed the peace between Egypt and the Hittites.
The inner part of the temple has the same triangular layout that most ancient Egyptian temples follow, with rooms decreasing in size from the entrance to the sanctuary. The temple is complex in structure and quite unusual because of its many side chambers. The hypostyle hall (sometimes also called a pronaos) is 18 meters long and 16.7 meters wide and is supported by eight huge Osirid pillars depicting the deified Ramses linked to the god Osiris, the god of the Underworld, to indicate the everlasting nature of the pharaoh. The colossal statues along the left-hand wall bear the white crown of Upper Egypt, while those on the opposite side are wearing the double crown of Upper and Lower Egypt (pschent). The bas-reliefs on the walls of the pronaos depict battle scenes in the military campaigns the ruler waged. Much of the sculpture is given to the Battle of Kadesh, on the Orontes river in present-day Syria, in which the Egyptian king fought against the Hittites. The most famous relief shows the king on his chariot shooting arrows against his fleeing enemies, who are being taken prisoner. Other scenes show Egyptian victories in Libya and Nubia.
From the hypostyle hall, one enters the second pillared hall, which has four pillars decorated with beautiful scenes of offerings to the gods. There are depictions of Ramesses and Nefertari with the sacred boats of Amun and Ra-Harakhti. This hall gives access to a transverse vestibule in the middle of which is the entrance to the sanctuary. Here, on a black wall, are rock cut sculptures of four seated figures: Ra-Horakhty, the deified king Ramesses, and the gods Amun Ra and Ptah. Ra-Horakhty, Amun Ra and Ptah were the main divinities in that period and their cult centers were at Heliopolis, Thebes and Memphis respectively.
After the building of the High Dam, Lake Nasser grew in size and flooded the area previously occupied by temples such as these two. Here are some shots of the larger Lake Nasser from the temple grounds.
Now we get back into the shuttle bus to ride the 3 hours back to Aswan (again with the armed escorts).
For more photos of our adventure go to our flickr account here