Abu Simbel Temples: Relocation due to Aswan Dam

In professor Watrall’s lectures last week, he mentioned that modern Egypt built the Aswan Dam in an attempt to try to contain and minimize the impacts of the annual rising and falling of the water levels of the Nile that for centuries has caused fluctuations in the productivity of agriculture on the flood lands along the river. Due to the construction of the dam, many archaeological sites we threaten by the flooding that would result from the construction of the dam. One of the most famous sites that were threatened was the Abu Simbel temples located in Nubia. For those who are not familiar with the temples, the temples are located on the west bank of the Nile, just southwest of Aswan and were originally constructed during the time period of the Pharaoh Ramses II (around 1257 BCE).

abu simbel temples

The Abe Simbel temples are spectacular! In the past I had read about them and have grown quite fond of the temples themselves. The temples were discovered in 1813 and were explored in 1817 by Giovanni Battista Belzoni. The temples themselves were actually carved into a face of a cliff, much like our very own Mount Rushmore here in the United States. Instead of 5 faces of past presidents, the Abu Simbel temples’ front face shows four colossal seated figures of Ramses himself, all about 67 feet in height. It has been said that the construction of the temple took about 20 years to complete.

When the proposal of the construction of the Aswan Dam begun and discussions about the area at which would most likely flood started, it became imperative to move the Abel Simbel temples to a location that they would be safe from the rising water levels of Lake Nassar. So in 1959, an international donations campaign to save the monument began. According to one resource, the actual saving and reconstruction act for the temples required 5 years of time and approximately $40 million dollars. On Nov. 16,1963, the disassembling of the temples began. With the help of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and the Egyptian government, the temples were successfully moved and reconstructed on top of a cliff another 200 feet above the original site.

During my search, I ran across a link for a video that discussed some of the tactics used to disassemble the temples. I thought it was extremely interesting and entertaining so I thought I would share it with you.

Moving the Abu Simbel Temples

Food for thought:

Even though the Aswan dam caused havoc for many archaeologists in terms of moving sites such as the Abu Simbel temples, it must be noted that without the dam construction, surveys of the surrounded area would not have been conducted and it is quite possible that the many archaeological findings found in the area would have never been found if the dam idea had never even been proposed.

2 thoughts on “Abu Simbel Temples: Relocation due to Aswan Dam

  1. Elaina Wilson

    The moving of archeological sites like the Abu Simbel temple is a really fascinating topic. The operation itself is a massive undertaking, moving not only the temple but also the mountain around it.

    Because of the move, the Abu Simbel temples do not sit in their original location. As Egypt begun developing as a modern country there emerged a growing need for electricity which prompted the controversial construction of the Aswan High Dam in the 1960s. The dam created Lake Nasser, and these rising waters flooded a number of important archaeological sites along the banks of the Nile as well as displacing thousands of people who lived in the area.

    When the rising waters threatened the temples at Abu Simbel. Members of the United Nations Education, Science, and Cultural Organization orchestrated the massive construction project that moved the temple to its present site. Piece by piece, craftsmen cut the temple, and the nearby temple of Nefertari into massive blocks of sandstone up to thirty tons. Both temples were carefully reassembled on a new steel and cement “mountain,” safe from the water’s edge. After the move, there was a massive effort to literally cover the cracks in the temple. A lot of what we see can be counted perhaps as the work of modern day craftsmen and not the original makers.

    One of the most outstanding features of the temple, as built originally, was its natural illumination of the inner chambers on certain days of the year. As we can see in many other Ancient Egypian sites, location and placement of temples and religious sites were of incredible importance and I can’t help but think of the possible outrage of simply moving such a site.

  2. cermakj1

    I was also very interested in the moving of the Abu Simbel Temples that we discussed in class. Your article was very informative and got me to wondering what other important Ancient Egyptian temples or large artifacts had to be moved in a similar manner, whether due to natural causes or artificial causes.

    This led me to an article by the New York Times talking about the Temple of Dendur. The Temple of Dendur was built around 15 B.C. by Emperor Augustus. It was previously located “on the banks of the Nile at Dendur, 50 miles south of Aswan in Upper Egypt.” (Collins) It was then relocated to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City in 1978 and opened to the public in 1994.

    This temple was moved for the same reason as the Temples of Abu Simbel, namely the Aswan High Dam. This temple was offered to the United States after the country paid $16 million towards the building of the dam. Many museums in the U.S. vied for the right house this piece of Egyptian culture but eventually the Met in N.Y.C. won out because of its guarantee of suitable ‘living’ conditions for the temple. In total, the cost of ‘dismantling’ the temple brick by brick, shipping it to the United States and reassembling it was $9.5 million dollars. (Rockett)

    Something interesting that came up when they moved this temple and the Abu Simbel Temples is the moral question, when you move an artifact like these, does it destroy the meaning? Without its context do the temples still have meaning? To attempt to correct this problem the makers of the ‘display case’ of the Temple of Dendur went to extreme lengths to recreate a similar lighting setting as you would get in the Egyptian desert and even built a wharf and landing to give it more context. (Rockett)

    Temple of Dendur opens front porch. Collins, Glen (http://www.nytimes.com/1994/01/19/arts/temple-of-dendur-opens-front-porch.html)

    A temple at the Met. Rockett, Williams (http://www.saudiaramcoworld.com/issue/198003/a.temple.at.the.met.htm)

Comments are closed.