When I was a kid I remember watching a couple of documentaries about the moving of the great temples at Abu Simbel and also the temples at Philae and vowed one day when I grew up I would visit these places. Fortunately for me I have realised my dream.
I recently visited the wonderful and fantastic UNESCO world heritage site at Abu Simbel in Egypt. The cost of this trip was £65 by coach and included a very early start getting up at the ungodly hour of 3AM to board a coach for the four hour coach trip to ensure you arrived just before sunrise and before the heat of the day made the visit and journey uncomfortable. On reaching Abu Simbel from Luxor which is further north there was a noticeable difference in the heat.
Where is Abu Simbel?
Abu Simbel is in the South of Eygpt not far from the boarders with the Sudan. It is next to the Man Made Lake Nassar. The lake is absolutely massive but was necessary to conserve water and prevent the annual flooding of the lower Nile. Interestingly it is only from this point on that the Nile crocodiles abound as they are no longer able to reach the lower Nile due to the construction of the dam.
What is Abu Simbel?
Abu Simbel comprise two temples which were originally forming part of the Nubian temples of which there were six spread over a wide area down the Nile to Philae near the Aswan Dam. The temples were constructed for Ramses II and his Queen Nefateri around 1244 BC and took approximately 20 years to build. They were built as a monument to celebrate the winning of a war against the Nubians and were built to be a reminder of the victory and also to intimidate and impress the Nubian peoples.
Over a period of hundreds of years they were forgotten about and lost due to encroaching sand and buried completely in sand dunes. They were found again in the early 1800's buried deep in the desert sand following which they were excavated and opened back up again. They were supposedly renamed Abu Simbel after a local boy who showed the explorers the tombs which he had noticed from time to time poking out from underneath the shifting sands. The explorers stripped the temple of all moveable artifacts but what was left behind was a magnificent temple and Bas reliefs for the world to observe and wonder at.
The temples were rescued and moved brick by brick to its current site in the 1960's following outrage that these temples would be lost forever following the construction of the dam they would have ended up at the bottom of the lake lost to the world forever. The temple was sliced up into 20 to 30 ton chunks dismantled, numbered and moved bit by bit to higher ground then reassembled over 200 feet higher than the water level and a further 300+ feet back. This was a massive undertaking to preserve such a magnificent historical artifact. It took four years to complete this move and cost it over $40 million Dollars.
The great temple is dedicated to the Gods Amun, Ptah, Ra-Harkhty and to Ramesses II.
They were originally carved out of solid mountain rock and are quite magnificent. The largest of the two temples is dedicated to the god Amun and has four massive statues of Ramesses II sitting regally at the front of the temple. Egyptologists are able to identify that they were seated representations of Ramesses II because of the goatee beard and the right foot being slightly forward indicating that it was a royal statue of a Pharaoh. He was wearing the double crown of Upper Egypt and Lower Egypt. All four statues are identical and are about 65 feet high. One of the massive statues to the left of the doorway is damaged and it looks just like the head had been sliced off but this damage was the result of an earthquake. The façade of the temple is over 100 feet wide. Above the statues of Ramesses is a relief of 22 baboons worshipping the rising sun.
Inside the temple it is triangular in shape with the chambers starting off being very wide with eight massive statues of Ramesses standing against supporting pillars leading to the next chamber which is smaller then finally on to the sanctuary chamber right at the back of the temple. There are several anti chambers leading off at the sides of the main chambers all carved with reliefs depicting war scenes. They are absolutely stunning and so clearly carved into the rocks.
The sanctuary is unique in that twice a year on the 20th of February and 20th of October the sun would rise and penetrate the temples doorway shining right to the back of the temple illuminating the rear wall of the sanctuary. These two dates are supposed to celebrate Ramesses birthday and his coronation. The only statue that the sun does not shine on is the statue of Ptah the god of the underworld which remains in darkness. However since moving the temple to a different elevation this event actually now occurs one day later. How fascinating to think that the architects and mathematicians thousands of years ago could work this out with such a degree of perfection.
The lesser temple dedicated to Hathor & Nefatari.
The smaller temple is dedicated to Queen Nefatari and it is right next to Ramesses temple. There are six statues about 30 feet high either side of the entrance to the temple. The first one depicts the King the middle one the queen and the last two are of the King again. This is the only known time that the statues of both the King and Queen are of the same size. Usually the Queens statue would be smaller in size than that of the King. The temple is smaller than Ramesses temple. The first chamber has 6 statues either side of the hall standing against supporting pillars. The hieroglyphics and reliefs on the wall depict both the King and the Queen making offerings to the Gods and also the queen making offerings to the King who was revered as a living god. The other carvings show the various battles in the North and South of Eygpt.
With the building of the Dam at Aswan they would have been lost forever underneath the water
Due to the heightened level of security to protect the tourist industry all coaches travel in an armed convoy with armed police on each coach this is due to the increased risk to tourist by insurgents and bandits from neighboring Sudan which is only about 40 miles away. Eygpt is very reliant on the tourist industry and without it they would be considerably poorer. The other way of reaching Abu Simble is by plane from Luxor whilst the journey is faster by plane overall it takes about the same time due to checking into the airport and flying down to Abu Simbel before transferring to coaches. Flying comes at a price of course and can cost around £120-150 by plane.
Would I recommend a visit.
If you are staying in Luxor or on a Nile cruise I would highly recommend you visit Abu Simbel. It is a magnificent structure and monument and well worth getting up at some ungodly hour to see it. I feel not only was it a privilege to have witnessed the beautiful temples but to marvel at the way that these temples were constructed by an ancient civilisation and also modern mans ability to dismantle it and restore it to its former glory and for future generations to marvel at this wonderful monument. If you are on holiday in Egypt and you get the chance to do a trip I promise you that you won't regret it.
There are a couple of negatives one being that if you are disabled it may be a bit daunting to walk down to the temples but there is a little train like cart thing that can take you to the bottom as it is quite a hike to get back to the top again. Although not unmanageable in the blistering heat it is quite tiring. Essential to wear a sun hat, sun glasses and sun screen as there is little shade to take advantage of and carry water with you seriously it is essential.
You are not allowed to take any photos inside the temples to help with the preservation and the destruction of the delicate bas reliefs. The temple policemen and guides will offer to take your photo at a price of course which defeats the object of preservation when they are willing to take buckshee for letting you take a photo. It is far better for you to buy a guide book with brilliant photos in it which will be far superior to what you can take anyway. Also the police guards will demand you give them money for taking your photos.
At entrance to the site there are hawkers trying to sell you cheap souvenirs but they are persistent and can be quite intimidating. A firm LA SHOOKRAN (NO THANK YOU) will send them away. Please don't be nasty to these people who are incredibly poor. They are only trying to put food on their tables for their family. They are incredibly poor. I over heard some people using such foul language towards them which was really unnecessary. OK they are a pest in fact they are a pain in the arse but just accept that it is a way of life for them to scrape a few pennies together. They are out in that heat for up to 12 hours a day so remember that......could you or would you do the same. I Hope those people were so proud of themselves getting back on their air-conditioned bus they must feel so big and proud. It was really quite shameful .
Thank you for reading this and do try to visit one of the great wonders of the world.
The Temple of Abu Simbel was built by the great pharaoh Ramses II in the 13th century BC. While officially dedicated to three of the Egyptian gods, it was essentially a monument to his own greatness.
It is truly astonishing: the temple is built into the rock and four giant statues of Ramses II sit either side of the entrance - a truly impressive sight. Inside the temple the artistry is really beautiful. The temple was designed so that twice a year sun rays enter the inner sanctuary and light first on a statue of Ramses, then the gods Amun-Ra, Ra-Horakhty, leaving the god of darkness, Ptah, appropriately in the dark. Implication: Ramses is a god himself, and so important that he gets lit up first!
Nearby is a slightly less grand temple to Ramses beloved wife Nefertari. You get an idea of Ramses pretty high opinion of himself when you see that most of the temple decorations here are again in honour of him, while Nefertari herself is less prominent in her own temple! But that was probably par for the course with the pharaohs. And Ramses, known as 'The Great', was no ordinary pharaoh. He came to the throne as a teenager and ruled until his death aged over 90, having over 200 children!
What I haven't mentioned yet is the amazing setting and story of Abu Simbel. It is located on the edge of Lake Nasser, and is one of about 14 temples that was moved several metres higher to avoid its destruction by the rising waters following the building of the Aswan High Dam. Imagine, moving a structure that large, hook line and sinker!
Its serene desert/lake setting is perfect. However, this does mean that unless you're cruising on Lake Nasser it's a pig to get to - and pretty expensive. You can fly from Aswan for about £120, but we took the coach for £70, leaving at 4.30am and travelling about 3 hours through the Sahara (seeing the desert sunrise is something in itself!) - only later were we told we were only about 40 miles from Sudan. But the journey was definitely worth it.
The light and sound show in Abu Simbel was fascinating. Does anybody know the title of the music in that show and its composer? izzet inal
The Nubians call it 'The Nubian Sea' while the rest of Egypt named it Lake Nasser. Not surprising the Nubians call it that as in order to create the Lake in the 1960s the Nasser government penned up the Nile behind the High Dam and the dammed waters flooded the Nubian Desert area in Upper Egypt to create a 300 mile long inland sea. This meant that forty Nubian villages and towns and forty thousand Nubians had to be re-housed as their homes vanished beneath the rising waters. But it wasn't just the Nubian people who were in danger of being submerged -but many of the ancient Nubian monuments south of Aswan including the most famous and imposing 3000 year old temples and statues of Ramesees 11 at Abu Simbel. Once the High Dam was built, an amazing feat by Soviet engineers, the Nubian Desert began to slowly fill with Nile waters, an estimated time of six years, when the Egyptian government sent out a worldwide plea for help as the lake was forming faster than at first thought and it was evident that the Temple at Abu Simbel would be swallowed up by the rising waters. An international team of around three thousand construction engineers from all over the world under the backing from UNESCO laboured for almost five years to salvage these massive ancient temples and move them just sixty five metres up a cliff block by block and rebuild them aiming to make them appear as if they had never been disturbed. Fortunately this grand scheme raised the issue of other Nubian monuments in the desert that would clearly have been hidden by the ever rising waters of the artificial lake and so many more temples were moved to higher ground including New Kalabshka, The Kiosk of Qertassi, The Temple of Amada and many others. This w
as a great sacrifice made by The Nubians, as by allowing Lake Nasser to drown there homes they were also in danger of losing their identity and their culture. They were all re-housed, mainly around the Aswan area, and the hydro-elec tric power provided by the High Dam has given all Egyptian citizens electricity and the future promise of irrigation in previously barren desert areas. So was this impressive feat of engineering, at an immense cost of US$40 million, really all worth it? We arrived at Aswan International airport in the late afternoon after a five and a half hour flight from London Gatwick and blinking in the heat and the sunshine boarded a coach for the half hour journey to embark on the 5***** MS Prince Abbas for our seven night trip 'Sailing Through The Desert' This title of this Jules Verne holiday captured our imagination as we marvelled at the thought that we would be sailing on Lake Nasser yet deep down under the calm waters were the remains of a Nubian culture even more ancient than that of the Egyptians. Deserts vary in formation and it was apparent almost at once that the Nubian Desert once consisted of high mountains because even before we set sail from Aswan there were many small islands in the area of water surrounding the moored Prince Abbas. We were to take three days cruising further South over the Lake, stopping at several ancient temples, before reaching Abu Simbel where we were to stay for two nights then on our return to Aswan we would visit more ancient monuments on the other side of the Lake. The gradual build up to the main event, our arrival at Abu Simbel, was in itself exciting. The scenery once we set sail was beautiful. The blue waters of Lake Nasser were set in sharp contrast to the surroundi
ng mountainous desert on either shoreline. All the large and luxurious cabins had picture windows straight out to sea and we automatically woke early on the first morning to watch the breathtakingly exotic Egyptian sunrise over the mountains, the desert and the sea. The sun sets early and rapidly in Egypt, as we were sailing nearer and nearer to the Equator and the Sudanese border, so every evening at 5.30 pm we watched the sun luxuriously si nk behind the distant horizon before a shower, fresh clothes and early drink in the bar and then dinner in the restaurant on the lower deck with the lake lapping against the windows. There are only six boats cruising on Lake Nasser at any one time so we experienced a wonderful feeling of peace and tranquillity. The Prince Abbas is an extremely comfortable boat with an upper deck and plunge pool, charming Nubian and Egyptian staff, first-class food and cabins larger than many hotel rooms with excellent facilities. Most importantly, there is only one sitting for all mealtimes-this point matters enormously. There are no docks along the edges of Lake Nasser so The Prince Abbas would moor up to the nearest rock and we had to walk narrow gangplanks onto rather old motorboats that took us to the shoreline and a tour round a rescued Nubian monument, all steeped in legend and history and individually beautiful. I could feel a cowardice moment coming on as I walked the gangplank because I am scared of the sea but I was shamed into silence when I discovered that one of my fellow travellers had two hip and two knee operations and was leaping the plank with fearless abandon, although I did wonder if this is how she had broken all these bones in the first place. Security in Egypt is very evident in the machine gunned police that accompany all tourist groups, but most of the policeman looked about fo
urteen and I did wonder what impact they would have in any form of terrorist attack. Emotions were high on our third day of sailing as we expectantly waited for our dramatic arrival at Abu Simbel at around midday. We knew the ship would draw in at the front of the Temples and as we gathered on the upper decks of the ship the loudspeakers sprang into life playing Vangelis and Abu Simbel came into view. The four colossal statues of Ramesees 11 guard the entrance to the temple and can be seen some distance from the shore as they appear to rise from the sand, each set on a pedestal and each sixty five feet high. As the ship neared these magnificent buildings it was impossible not to be moved by their sheer size, the fact they had originally been cut into the rock three thousand years ago and had been built in the middle of nowhere. It was also intriguing to recall that Abu Simbel had nearly become a legend as it had been almost entirely buried by sand for many centuries and was rediscovered by a Swiss historian in 1813. As we drew closer a second smaller temple came into view dedicated by the Pharaoh Ramesees to his beloved wife Nefertari. Our ship moored to the side of Abu Simbel and after an Egyptian barbeque lunch on deck with tahini, olives, good bread, kebabs, salads, fruit and exquisite pastries and desserts followed by Turkish coffee we were eager to disembark and explore the magic and the history of this imposing and remarkable ancient Nubian ruin. At this point I have to mention tourism, after all I am one but I never expected this. There is an airport at Abu Simbel and planes were arriving very frequently, full of visitors to Abu Simbel from various parts of Egypt including Aswan, Luxor and Cairo who would be staying overnight at one of Abu Simbel's two hotels. Even
more frequently were coaches full of tourists from all over Egypt making a day trip. There were just two ships moored and we were fortunate enough to have a ticket that covered us for two days enabling us to disembark and visit the temples as many times as we wanted to. Consequently, our afternoon trip making the short walk over the desert to the ancient ruins was very crowded indeed. We were a group of twenty three and our Egyptian guide Wallid was exceptional at keeping us all together and explaining the history of the statues, the battles, the warring and the stories relayed in the carved scenes, some of them like giant comic strips, in the many chambers, but concentration could be difficult as there were many other groups of so many nationalities being guided round and a confusion of languages that we were already looking forward to returning alone at a quieter time. That same evening the group returned to the temple for a Sound and Light Show. We'd been to the Sound and Light Show at Luxor and were dreading more of the same, you know the sort of thing, a Richard Burton type of commentary and corny strains of Aida, but this show was magnificent. It was computer generated using the front of the temple and the four huge statues of Ramesees as the screen with moving actions and some classy music all the while telling the battle stories and achievements of this great Pharaoh and of his love for his beloved Queen Nefertari. We sat on padded stone seats with the sound of Lake Nasser behind us and I had to pinch myself to make sure this was really happening to me. At dawn the next morning Morty was up in a flash and off the boat racing his way to the temple to catch the sunrise taking some great photos. Even at that time of day he had to rush to beat the coach loads and avoid queuing at the admission and the inev
itable security scan and search. Here's the romantic bit. Twice a year, on February 21st and October 21st the rays of the rising sun shine directly through the entrance doorway of the temple and illuminate the statues. Was the temple deliberately positioned for this to happen on these dates? Are these dates significant to Ramesees and maybe his birthday or the date of his accession? Or is this purely fanciful wishing? After two nights moored at Abu Simbel we set sail with the Captain giving us one more backwards look at the temples as he cruised round the small inlet. We stopped a couple of times more to see some ancient sites on our return journey to Aswan and settled into life aboard The Prince Abbas. Once back at Aswan we were to have our second adventure staying for one week on Elephantine Island situated in the middle of the River Nile in th e Hotel Oberoi to enjoy more Egyptian culture. A Few Egyptian Facts ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ It is suggested that the name Nubia is derived from an Egyptian word meaning Gold. Whatever the truth then if you go to Egypt look out for Nubian gold as it is 22crt. Also be careful where you buy it. None of the gold jewellery is priced as it is government controlled and is sold by weight. Only buy from authorised dealers as there are unscrupulous traders who sell gold plated as Nubian gold and you will be caught out. There is a baby born every thirty seconds in Egypt. The ratio of babies born is eight girls to every three boys! In tourist areas poorer families keep their children away from school and encourage them to ask tourists for pens so that they can go to school. In fact we were told not to give them pens as their families take them from them and sell them for money. Egypt is 80%
7;uslim and 20% Christian. It is reassuring to see the security effort being made in Egypt to ensure the safety of tourists. Egypt needs tourists and they treat them very well indeed. It is a beautiful country full of magical sights, warm and friendly people, excellent hospitality and value for money. Pay the most you can afford for your accommodation and live like a Pharaoh. Egypt isn't only for culture vultures as many people aren't interested in seeing history in the form of Abu Simbel and ancient ruins but think of their Red Sea resorts for diving, snorkelling and coral reefs. If you are searching for Winter Sun then just a five and a half hour flight can transport you from a cold and miserable UK January and February to weather better than the best of our own summer days in July and August. On my last trip to Egypt eleven years ago I was at Cairo airport and I had to buy two sheets of toilet paper from an Egyptian lady in the cloakrooms as there was no paper in the cubicles and at a cost of one English pound per sheet. O n our arrival at Aswan International airport on this holiday I needed the toilet and eleven years later nothing had changed-only this time it was a young man standing outside the Ladies cloakroom selling a wad of Bronco type paper for a pound?it was grand to be back and we will return yet again.
I have been to Abu Simbel three times. It is an extraordinary place, and I am writing this opinion to explain why you should make the effort and find the money to get there if you are in the area. The Temple: The first thing that hits you is that there is nothing to see! There is just a big hill, with a rock-strewn path leading around it. The path is rough enough that you watch your feet as you walk. After a couple of minutes I looked up to see something unforgettable. The four colossal statues of Ramses II are set back in to the rock so you are almost in front of them before you see them. They are about 20m tall, seated and perfect. The majesty takes your breath away. One lost its head in antiquity and the Egyptians just left it on the floor. It is HUGE when you stand next to it, and gives you a good impression of its size. I can stare at the outside of the statues for a long time, but that is just one of the wonders of the temple. Walking between the centre statues you enter the eerie depths of the temple. This is lined with eight(?) more huge statues of Ramses who almost watch you enter. The walls of the temple are lined with fantastic friezes. My favourite is the representation of Ramses in his chariot, firing arrows at his enemies. To capture the speed he was firing arrows, his bow and arm are depicted twice: not unlike cartoons we see today. Right at the back of the temple are the statues of four Gods. Every year (on 22nd February and 22nd October) the sun shines through the temple and on to the Gods. You can easily spend half an hour inside if you are interested (many tourists spend about five minutes in there – but it is a great respite from the heat as much as anything). Once out of the main temple, you can visit the “small temple of Abu Simbel”, dedicated to Ramses wife, Nefertari. I feel sorry for this temple. On its own it would be an extraordinary thing, but next to the main temple it looks so
mewhat insignificant. The small temple only takes a few minutes to visit. Afterwards you can just sit and admire the large temple. Recent History: The temple is even more extraordinary for the fact that in the 60s the UN saved them from the rising waters of Lake Nasser, but cutting them from the rock, and rebuilding the temple higher up. The mound of rock the temple sits in is entirely artificial! This is a bit of an anticlimax, since after visiting the atmospheric temple, you can enter a small door to the right of the statues, and find out that the temple interior is under a concrete dome, and is held up by scaffolding. The dome is quite a feat of engineering in itself, but is just a curiosity. Reactions: I wish I were articulate enough to put in to words what runs through your mind when you see this place. I was speechless when I first saw it, and that first impression will never leave me. It ranks in my mind with other priceless moments such as seeing the pyramids for the first time (I arrived at dawn) and walking up to the stadium at Delphi (Greece). The reactions of my companions the second and third times I went probably sum it up. Both were looking at their feet and talking to me. Both stopped dead in their tracks and gasped. It sends shivers down my spine just thinking of it. Getting There: You used to be able to go by road, which was a four hour drive across never changing flat desert, 90 minutes at the temple, then four hours back (via the High Dam at Aswan). You left at 4am, and got back at around 2pm. That was a tough day! But the temple is so wonderful I have done the journey like that twice! The cost was about £5 for the whole trip. Fortunately, the road route is now forbidden. I assume this is because of security reasons. The last time I went, I flew from Aswan airport. You can also fly from Luxor, but that would be more expensive. The Aswan trip cost £80, took about 45 minutes in the
air, and we got a wonderful view of the temple from the air (I think you have to sit on the left side of the plane – but don’t quote me on that!). Both trips give you a meagre 90 minutes at the site. This is plenty for most tourists, but if you are keen, you will find that it is a bit short. The cost of entry is around E£20 I think, which is about £5. If you want longer at the site, you can go for the luxury Lake Nasser cruise. This has a stop right in front of the temple, so you can spend all day there and see it lit up at night. I have no idea how much the trip costs, but hopefully I will be able to afford it one day. I will go back for sure. Egypt is a compelling place to visit, with too much beauty to be left for long. As the Egyptians say “if you look at the Nile you are sure to return”. I’m hooked. Are you?
The great temple of Abu Simbel, dedicated to the glory of pharao Ramses II. Though the temple is officially dedicated to the triad Amon-Ra, Ptah and Ra-Harakhte, its front is dominated by four gigantic statues of the great pharaoh himself.