Abu Simbel is a set of two temples near the border of Egypt with Sudan. It was constructed for the pharaoh Ramesses II who reigned for 67 years during the 13th century BC (19th Dynasty).
The Temples of Abu Simbel are amongst the most interesting Pharaonic Temples. Located close to the southern border with the Sudan, it is 280 km south of Aswan and consists of two, rock-cut Temples, which both date back to the reign of King Ramses II (1290-1223 BC). Unfortunately these unique Temples suffered from the raising water of Lake Nasser while the High Dam was being built. Other countries, with the help of UNESCO, assisted Egypt to help save them.
The two Temples were cut in to many pieces, and then they were reconstructed again on a site 65m higher than the original location, and 200m back inland, to escape the rising water level. This great rescue operation began in June 1964 and finished in September 1968.
The first Temple was built by King Ramses II and is dedicated to the God Re-Hor-Akhty, Amon, Ptah, and King Ramses II as a deified King. Its facade is 35m long and 30m high. The facade has four seated colossi of the King; each one is 20m tall and represents the King seated on his throne wearing the double crown, accompanied by 3 small figures of his wives, daughters and sons flanking his legs.
Above the entrance stands the figure of Re-Hor-Akhty, while near to the summit of the facade there are number of baboons.
Inside the Temple there is a hall, supported by Osirid shaped pillars which were cut into the rock, with walls that are decorated by battle and offering scenes. There are some side rooms leading from the hall, which are also decorated with various scenes. At the far end of the Temple is the sanctuary, which contains four statues; Re-Hor-Akhty, Amon-Re, Ptah and the deified Ramses II.
The Temple of Nefertari
The Temple of Queen Nefertari is located 120m from the Temple of Ramses II and was also built by Ramses II, dedicated to the Goddess Hathor and to his wife Queen Nefertari. Queen Nefertari was the principal, and the most beloved, wife of King Ramses II. It is also a rock-cut Temple with a facade of about 28m long and 12m high, which contains 6 standing colossi, each one being about 11m in height. Four of them represent Ramses II and the other two represent Queen Nefertari, each is accompanied by two smaller figures of their children.
The entrance leads to a square hall, which is supported by 6 Hathor-headed pillars decorated with scenes depicting the King and the Queen making offerings to different deities.
At the end of the hall there is a doorway leading to a transverse vestibule decorated with scenes of King Ramses II making offering to Re-HorAkhty, while the Queen is presenting flowers to Khenum, Sat-tet and Anket.
The Transverse Hall leads to the Sanctuary, which contains a niche in the rear wall with a statue of Goddess Hathor, as a cow, protecting Ramses II.
In 1257 BCE, Pharaoh Ramses II (1279-13 BCE) had two temples carved out of solid rock at a site on the west bank of the Nile south of Aswan in the land of Nubia and known today as Abu Simbel. Long before Ramses II, the site had been sacred to Hathor of Absek. The temple built by Ramses, however, was dedicated to the sun gods Amon-Re and Re-Horakhte. Because of their remote location near the Sudanese border in sourthern Egypt, the temples were unknown until their rediscovery in 1813. They were first explored in 1817 by the Egyptologist Giovanni Battista Belzoni.
The sacred area, marked out as a forecourt and bounded on the north and south sides by brick walls, occupied a place between the sandstone cliffs and the river. Ramses' temple was cut into the face of the cliff, before which is a rock-cut terrace. The temple is approached across this terrace up a flight of steps with an inclined plane in the middle, and enclosed on either side by a balustrade behind which stood a row of hawks and statues of Ramses in various forms.
The rock-cut facade of Ramses' temple represents the front of a pylon in front of which are four colossal seated figures of Ramses. This facade is one 119 feet wide, and 100 feet high, while the colossal statues are 67 feet in height. At the top of the pylon, above the cornice, is a row of baboons, who, as Watchers of the Dawn, are shown with their hands raised in adoration of the (rising) sun. The Egyptians believed baboons played a role in helping the sun god Ra defeat the darkness of night and so were believed sacred to the worship of the rising sun.
The Main Hall, Abu Simbel
The actual interior of the temple is inside the cliff in the form of a man-made cave cut out of the living rock (cf. The Sacred Cave). It consists of a series of halls and rooms extending back a total of 185 feet from the entrance. The long first hall is 54 feet wide and 58 feet deep and has two rows of Osirid statues of Ramses each 30 feet high. Those on the north side are shown wearing the White Crown of Upper Egypt, while those on the south wear wearing the Double Crown of Lower Egypt. At the west end of the main hall are three doors, the side ones leading into lateral chambers, and the central one opening into a room with four square pillars. From this room a doorway leads to the vestibule, and beyond that is located the innermost shrine with seated statues of the gods Ptah, Amun-Ra, the deified Ramses II, and Re-Horakhte.
The most remarkable feature of the site is that the temple is precisely oriented so that twice every year, on 22 February and 22 October, the first rays of the morning sun shine down the entire length of the temple-cave to illuminate the back wall of the innermost shrine and the statues of the four gods seated there. Precisely this same effect was apparently also fundamental to the design of the artificial cave of Newgrange in Ireland.
With the construction of the Aswan High Dam in the 1960s, the temples were threatened with submersion under the rising waters of the reservoir (Lake Nassar). Between 1964 and 1966, a project sponsored by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and the Egyptian government disassembled both temples and reconstructed them on top of the cliff 200 feet above the original site.
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