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Abu Simbel Temples

The temple complex of Abu Simbel is considered the main attraction of Egypt after the pyramids of Giza and the Great Sphinx! Amid the vast expanses of the Nubian desert, on the shores of Lake Nasser, majestic temples of Abu Simbel carved in an array of rocks rise as evidence of the victory of Pharaoh Ramses II over the Hittites and in honor of the immense love for his only wife, the beautiful Nefertari.

The temple complex of Abu Simbel is inferior in ancient times to the pyramids of Giza, but their popularity is quite comparable in terms of interest from the tourist fraternity. The architectural ensemble of Abu Simbel is formed by two structures: the Great Temple, built in honor of the pharaoh Ramses II and three gods: Amon, Ra-Khorakht and Ptah, and the Small Temple, built in honor of the goddess Hathor, whose image symbolizes the beloved wife of Ramses II Nefertari-Merenmut . Carefully looking at the faces of divine statues, you can notice the similarity with the images of the faces of the royal family.

Abu Simbel Temples Location

Abu Simbel, an archaeological site located in the belly of the mountain south of Aswan. It is a cliff from the sandy red rock. The temple  standing tall on the west bank of the Nile (it is now on the western shore of Lake Nasser behind the High Dam), and consists of two large temples carved into the rock. It was built by King Rameses II in 1250 BC, the third pharaoh of the nineteenth Egyptian family. These two temples were completed around 1206 BC and were among the greatest temples of ancient Egypt. They are usually called “the Great Temple of Abu Simbel” and “the Temple of Abu Simbel Al Sagheer”, both of which are more spacious and luxurious than all the Egyptian rock temples of all ages. “They are horrified by the strength of their architecture, the good proportions, the magnitude of their statues, and the beauty of the relief of their walls.” There are six statues at the entrance to the other temple, four of which are by Ramses II and two by his wife, Nefertari.

These two temples have been the subject of improvement and study since the beginning of the nineteenth century, and the result of the study shows that the great temple is dedicated to Ramses II, unified with the Lord, Amon Ra, and Ra’s sister Hur (the Emerging Sun). As for the little one, it is dedicated to Nefertari, the wife of Ramses II, unified with the goddess Hathor.

Ramses II depicted him as the victor in the battle of Kadesh with the Hittites in drawings on the walls of the Abu Simbel temple, although both sides claimed victory in this battle.
It consists of two major temples carved into the rock. It was built by King Ramses II in 1250 BC and the facade of the temple consists of four large statues representing the king with a height of 20 meters and a door leading to rooms 180 feet long.

There are six statues at the entrance to the other temple, four of which are by Ramses II and two by his wife, Nefertari.

The Temple of Abu Simbel was one of the temples carved from the mountains during the reign of “Pharaoh” Ramses II as a permanent monument to him and Queen Nefertari, to celebrate the anniversary of his victory in the Battle of Kadesh, and to intimidate the people of Nubia neighboring him. Construction of the temple complex began in about 1244 BC, and continued for about 20 years , Until 1224 B.C.

How was Abu Simbel Temple discovered?

Over time, the sand covered the statues of the main temple to the knees. The temple was forgotten until 1813, when the Swiss orientalist Johann Ludwig Burckhardt found the promenade of the main temple. Burckhardt talked about this discovery with his Italian explorer, Giovanni Belzoni, and they traveled together to the site, but they were unable to dig the entrance to the temple. Belzoni returned in 1817, after his successful entry into the complex. It was said that his men carried what could be carried with them from inside the temple

The temples of Abu Simbel are two temples of ancient Egypt built by Pharaoh Ramses II (-1304 / -1213, 19th Dynasty) for his worship as well as that of Egyptian gods and his wife Nefertari in Abu Simbel, Egypt , north of Nasser Lake on the Nile, about seventy kilometers from the second cataract of the Nile. 
The Great Temple of Ramses II. It is in the rock of Meha, domain of one of the Horus of Nubia, that Ramsès II made dig a specie which one can describe as memorial. Like his character, this rock temple sings in his lifetime his own legend.

The outer structure is entirely devoted to the sovereign. The statues of the forecourt represent the royal princes and princesses, the Great Wives and Dame Touy, sovereign mother. The deities are absent. Ramses II is god himself. It can be seen as an effigy of the goddess Maat or named in the manner of a rebus, including in his own name those of the divine forces.
Ramsès II innovates by decorating for the first time the entry of a spéos. The facade, carved in the mountain, is composed of four colossi of our pharaoh. A deep humanism emerges revealing a fixed but welcoming smile and an implacable determination. These gigantic representations of the sovereign then had to inspire fear and respect in the eyes of the possible invaders of Kush. Ramses II imposes himself there as master of Nubia, affirming majestically his will to protect his kingdom. 

Abu Simbel is a rock on the west bank of the Nile, using which the loyal subjects of Ramses II (c. 1298-1213 BC) created the famous ancient Egyptian shrines by carving two temples inside the rock. The location of the temple rock 280 km south of Aswan.

Adjacent to almost the water edge of the river, a hundred-meter-high rock, consisting of fine-grained sandstone, has the name “sacred mountain” in the “pyramid texts” and was supposedly fortified by fortifications, which brought the area the name “Ramessopolis fortress”.


How did Abu Simbel get its name?

The current name Abu Simbel owes to an Egyptian man carved in a bas-relief on the cliff surface, dressed in a pointed apron, in which the Arabs seafarers saw a similarity to the bread measure. This similarity was the origin of the name “father of bread” (Arabic. Sinbel – spike). Subsequently, this entire consonance with the temples located in them became known as this consonance. According to the descriptions, the temple buildings of Abu Simbel received European fame at the beginning of the 19th century.

Abu Simbel Sun Festival?

Twice a year, on the day of the spring (the appearance of the pharaoh into the light) and autumn (the date of the coronation of the pharaoh) equinox, at exactly 5 hours 58 minutes the sunbeam reaches the intersection with the line, located 65 meters from the entrance, penetrates through all the premises of the temple and falls on left shoulder of Amon-Ra and Ramses II.

For several minutes, the beam illuminates the face of Ramses II, which creates the illusion of a smiling pharaoh. Then the beam moving illuminates the statue of Harmakis, and after 20 minutes the beam leaves the space of the temple premises. It should be noted that a ray of light never touches the statue of Ptah. Indeed, according to legend, Ptah is the ruler of the underworld and the touch of the sun is “contraindicated” to him, his element is eternal haze.

At these moments, near the Abu Simbel temple, a maximum influx of up to 5 thousand visitors is recorded, in order to contemplate with your own eyes the fantastic optical effect created due to the most accurate calculations performed by ancient Egyptian stars and priests.

They managed to design a temple in ancient times in such an orientation that the rising, at the time of the equinox, sunbeam hits exactly the eye of the pharaoh. In other periods of the year, the pharaoh “avoids” worldly vanity in the darkness of the temple, at the entrance of which stone statues in the form of four 20-meter statues depicting the gods Amon, Ra, Ptah and Ramses himself were frozen in the eternal guard.

Why Was Abu Simbel Temple built?

It makes sense to pay attention to the fact that the construction of the Great Temple along with the deification of Ramses was dedicated to three other supreme gods, but the main idea of ​​the construction is to exalt the cult of Ramses II. This assumption is particularly emphasized by the facade of the “temple mountain”, carved into a rock monolith in the form of a traditional pylon of enormous size, where the entrance gate to the sanctuary is framed by four gigantic, twenty-meter-high figures of Ramses II.

Ancient architects managed to recreate the portrait resemblance, given the scale of the statues of the sitting pharaoh, carved in an array of hard sandstone. The technical side of the creation of statues of such a scale captivates and excites the imagination. Sculpting a similar size of giants is possible only in the case of perfect mastery of the proportionality system, which establishes the exact ratio between the scale of the entire statue and each of its constituent fragments.

The majestic sizes of the statue of Ramses II from afar were clearly visible to anyone traveling through the expanses of the Nile. At the moment the first rays of the sun appeared above the horizon, the giants took on the color of crimson tones, which qualitatively distinguished them from the violet spectrum of the shadows cast by them.

Pharaoh Ramses II, permanently caring for the glorification of his own greatness, ordered to erect a sanctuary an order of magnitude smaller (up to 10 meters long) near his, blinding beauty, temple. His creation was dedicated to his incomparable wife Nefertari: in ancient Egypt, not one of the spouses of the pharaohs was ever depicted on the front side of the temple complex, and only the wife of Ramses II was awarded this privilege.

The small temple of Abu Simbel is located a hundred meters north of the large one and served as the cult of the goddess Heaven Hator, the image of which was presented in the form of a woman with a cow head. Its decoration is much simpler and more modest than the decoration of the Great Temple, and is represented by a columned hall carved into the rock and a sanctuary with three niches. On the front part of the Small Temple there are six statues full size.

Among the statues of the pharaoh Ramses II himself there are statues of his wife Nefertari-Merenmut. The sculptures are located in deepened shaded niches, which is why a play of light and shadow is born in the stream of sunlight, which is aimed at enhancing the impression of these majestic figures.

One of the columns of the Small Temple is equipped with a carved inscription: “Ramses, a strong truth, the favorite of Amon, built this divine dwelling for his beloved wife Nefertari.” The central niche of the sanctuary of the Small Temple was occupied by a statue of a sacred cow, which emphasized the divinity of the image of the goddess Hathor, in front of which there is an image of Pharaoh Ramses II, who was, as it were, under the protection of a deity.

Relocation of Abu Simbel Temples

Abu Simbel can be considered the most investigated monument of Ancient Egypt. The essence of the matter is that at the end of the 1950s, during the construction of the famous Aswan Dam, Abu Simbel had the misfortune of being in the territories to be flooded.

Various versions of a project to save the World Heritage Site were being worked out, right up to covering the underwater glass dome of the temple complex. The result was a decision to dismantle all the facilities of the complex and transfer them to great heights. The Abu Simbel Rescue Project is the most expensive UNESCO project in history. The implementation of this project, which has no analogues in the world, required the efforts of specialists representing fifty countries of the world in record time, limited to four years.

The temple structures were sawn into 1036 heavy ones (5-20 tons), numbered, transported and assembled on a new site 90 meters higher than the previous level. 1112 blocks extracted from sandstone rock formations surrounding the temple were also brought here. Blocks were reinforced with a resinous composition through drilled holes. A hollow reinforced concrete cap was built above the shrines themselves, pouring a hill on top. The manipulations performed are so skillfully performed that it seems that the temple complex has always been here. The total cost of moving the temples was $ 42 million.

UNESCO experts found that the facade lines of the temple complex were parallel to faults in rocky ground, which allowed solid rocks to serve as a natural and reliable support for gigantic statues. The construction of cave temples was carried out by architects taking into account the natural properties of the rock – the layers of sandstone were connected by iron oxide, due to which the layers were almost not destroyed. Along with this, iron oxide gave the palette of sandstone a wealth of diverse shades.

Reproduction of the Great Temple of Abu Simbel is executed with filigree accuracy and allows contemporaries to appreciate the greatness of the temple complex and the level of training of ancient masters.

The Temple of Nefertari

A few hundred meters from his Great Temple, Ramses II consecrated another speos, called “Nefertari for which rises the sun (Re-Horakhty)”. Dug into its rock of Ibshek, where Hathor resided, the temple is dedicated to the goddess and the Great Royal Wife. The stone has been masterfully worked and the details capture the most insensitive visitors. The facade, which looks at the Nile, is decorated with six colossal statues seeming to come out of their niche to go towards the sun. They represent two perfectly symmetrical groups: Ramses II, Nefertari and the pharaoh in Ptah in the north while in the south it is likened to Hapy, god of the flood. These stone giants are all flanked by more modest statues, depicting the children of the mythical couple.

Inside the spéos, the hypostyle hall is composed of hathoric pillars. The paintings represent the traditional scenes of offering to the deities. The sovereign appears only twice, discreetly fitting into a feminine world but affirming its place and role. The portraits of the queen and goddesses imbue this place of worship with an unusual charm.

Abu Simbel Temples