Abu Simbel

Located by Aswan, Abu Simbel is the location of two temples carved out of a sandstone cliff. They were commissioned by Pharaoh Ramses II to honor mostly himself in deified form as well as Ra-Horakhty, Amun-Ra and Ptah. Outside of the main temple are four seated statues of Ramses, standing more than sixty feet high and facing eastward, with figures depicting the Pharaoh’s family at their feet as well as his victory over his enemies (the Nubian, Libyans and Hittites). Immediately inside of the temple, there are more statues of Ramses, along with reliefs of him in the Battle of Kadesh. Notably, twice a year sunlight reaches extends through the entrance and reaches the inner chamber of the temple, lighting on Ramses and the gods. Scholars debate on the significance, if any, these two dates have.

The larger temple, from here.

The second, smaller temple of Abu Simbel was dedicated to Hathor and Nefertari, his main consort. Six statues of both Nefertari and Ramses are engraved into the face of the temple. Many comment on the fact that Nefertari is not rendered smaller than Ramses but rather on the same scale as her husband. Pillars in the interior of the temple are adorned with images of Hathor; on the walls Ramses and Nefertari are seen honoring the gods.

The smaller temple, from here.

Once Egypt decided on building the Aswan High Dam in 1954, which would lead to the creation of Lake Nasser, a project to save Abu Simbel and other such monuments. The Egyptian government appealed to UNESCO for support, who in turn requested global assistance to save them. This international operation began in 1960 and lasted until 1980; the movement of Abu Simbel itself occurred from 1963 to 1968 (preparation began in 1963 and the actual movement started in 1964). The temples were meticulously excavated, cut into pieces and were then lifted more than 200 feet above their original spot.

Original placement of the temples, from here.

This is truly one of the most amazing feats of archaeology ever performed, especially in light of the level of international cooperation necessary to complete it.


  • http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/2324/Abu-Simbel
  • http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/88
  • http://whc.unesco.org/en/activities/172/
  • http://www.sis.gov.eg/En/Templates/Articles/tmpArticles.aspx?ArtID=1200

Cover photo by Dennis Jarvis , found here