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Abu Simbel temple

Abu Simbel Temple: An Icon of Ancient Egyptian Architecture

The Abu Simbel Temple is considered one of the most beautiful temples. It is a complex consisting of two temples located on the southern borders of Egypt in Aswan City. It was built for King Ramses II, and the distance between this temple and Aswan is 320 km.

Abu Simbel Temple is considered the essential construction site in southwest Aswan and consists of two excavated temples. Both the Temple of Ramses and the Temple of Queen Nefertari date back to the reign of King Ramses II (1290-1223 BC) and reflect the glory and greatness of the ancient kingdom of Egypt.

The Abu Simbel temple is dedicated to the ancient Egyptian god Amun-Ra, Harmakis, and Ptah. The history of temple consists of four statues belonging to the pharaoh.

The two temples were destroyed in many parts, then rebuilt on a site 65 meters higher than the original site to avoid rising water levels. This major salvage operation began in June 1964 and was completed in September 1968.

These temples were distinguished by their different styles, reflecting the modern kingdom’s outstanding achievements. Still, unfortunately, these private temples suffered from the Nile flood, so the Egyptian government and UNESCO sincere cooperation to save these temples from drowning.

The first temple of Ramesses II was dedicated to the four universal gods. Ptah, Ra, Hare, my sister, Amun Ra, and Ramesses II himself. The Great Temple of Abu Simbel is also called the Sun Temple of Ramesses II.

The other temple is the temple of Queen Nefertari, the beloved wife of Ramesses, and this temple is also called the ‘Temple of Hathor,’ who was the wife of the sun god.

Abu Simbel in Modern Times: Rediscovery and Transfer

In addition to the construction moment, we must know two more moments before visiting Abu Simbel: the rediscovery and its transfer. And it is that, with the death of the successive pharaohs, the maintenance of these temples moved to the background and then fell into oblivion without even being shown by the Greeks or the Romans.

The inevitable passage of time began to fall upon these constructions in the form of sand deposited from the desert until centuries later; they were practically buried.

But during the Egyptian fever of the nineteenth century, it was rediscovered, almost by accident, by the Swiss explorer Louis Burckhardt, who in 1813 discovered large heads and hoods protruding from the ground.

And work began to unveil the monument, despite the lack of possibilities at first. In the service of the British consul, the most the Italian Giovanni Belzoni could soon after achieve was to open a way of entry.

On this first examination, it was certified that the interior of the temples no longer contained the riches of the past that many treasure hunters of the time dreamed of.

Throughout the nineteenth century, the difficult task of careful excavation of the area continued to extract all of Abu Simbel, and it was not finished until 1909.

But fortunately, a prominent international campaign has been launched to save them from this fate, sponsored and coordinated by UNESCO.

The project consisted of building two artificial mountains at a higher elevation, splitting the original ruins into large blocks of stone, and reinstalling them in their new location.

It was one of the most significant heritage conservation projects undertaken to date, which required numerous teams of archaeologists and engineers from different countries.

As a sign of gratitude to the respective governments, Egypt gave away some of the region’s temples, which were dismantled, numbered, and transferred to other countries. So you can bring it back when you visit Abu Simbel or even put it on your future travel list. The following:

What to see in Abu Simbel ؟

Abu Simbel Temple

You can visit Abu Simbel on your own or with a professional guide. But in all cases, given its location, you must organize the excursion in advance.

And it won’t hurt to know beforehand what elements make up these monuments and what spaces are included in the visits: two large speoi (temples carved into the rock), arranged one next to the other.

The Great Temple of Abu Simbel or Temple of Ramses II

Abu Simbel Temple

As its name indicates, it is the largest of the two temples, and the great protagonist is Pharaoh Ramses II. As we said above, it is dedicated to the gods Ra-Horakhti, Amun, and Ptah, who are among the creator and supreme deities of the complex religion of Ancient Egypt. But the pharaoh himself also appears deified, both externally and internally. 

Outside, Ramses II is the character of the four seated colossal statues, some 21 meters high, making them the most significant surviving from Ancient Egypt.

Between his legs, smaller in size but more significant than a human body, are other characters from his family, his mother, Tiyi, his favorite wife, Nefertari, and some of his many children. And above the entrance, a significant relief of Ra-Horakhti, the Falcon-headed sun god. 

The interior presents a more straightforward plan than other Egyptian temples. In the beginning, its great hypostyle room is where the omnipresent Ramses II reappears, represented as Osiris in 9-meter statues attached to pillars.

Behind her, another smaller room, where his wife Nefetari also appears in sacred boats and with other divinities, to reach the inner sanctuary, with seated statues of Ptah, Amun, Ra-Horakhti, and, of course, Ramses II.

This simplicity may be due to an alleged and magical effect: a solar phenomenon that gave it more incredible symbolism. The temple’s orientation was so precise that it allowed the sun’s rays to penetrate the inner room, illuminating three seated statues, except Ptah, a divinity often linked to the underworld and, therefore, to darkness.

Witness it with your own eyes when visiting Abu SimbelIt is difficult since it only occurs two days a year: initially, every February 21 and every October 21.

These dates could correspond to those of the coronation and birth of Ramses himself and be a period equidistant from the winter solstice (61 days before and 61 days after).

But the Tropic of Cancer’s displacement over the millennia and the relocation after the transfer could have qualified the precision of this phenomenon, which has now varied one day.

Temple of Hathor or Nefertari

Abu Simbel Temple

It is located next to the Temple of Ramses II and is dedicated to the goddess Hathor, associated precisely with the queens of Ancient Egypt. However, it is named after Queen Nefertari because she would be the ultimate inspiration for the monument.

It is well known that she was the favorite wife of Ramses, and it is considered that the Temple of Hathor would be one of those displays of love and respect. 

From the entrance, a practically unusual fact can be seen in Ancient Egypt: Nefertari appears the same size as Ramses II, standing 10 meters tall. There are six colossal statues, four representing the pharaoh and two the queen. 

Inside, even more, straightforward than the Temple of Ramses II, it is also represented numerous times at the same size as Ramses II. In them, Nefertari appears accompanied by Hathor and other female divinities, such as Nut.

Inside, this second temple has a hypostyle hall, with columns whose capitals adopt the shape of Hathor with cow’s ears. In addition, it has its sanctuary and other complementary rooms, such as small stores.

The vast majority of people decide to visit Abu Simbel during the day, primarily forced by the schedules of the planes and buses that take them to and from Aswan.

However, it is also possible to visit Abu Simbel at night. And in fact, it is even more recommendable: the experience is magical, as both temples receive special lighting and are the subject of a fantastic spectacle of light and color. To make it a reality, the two options are to stay in one of the small hotels in the town of Abu Simbel or take a private cruise on Lake Nasser. 

How to get Abu Simbel?

The two places of worship are open from six in the morning to allow visitors to admire the mythical sunrise over the prestigious statues of the king. You can get there either by road or by the lake.

Exploring these sights on a cruise on Lake Nasser is lovely, especially for those who like to set sail and navigate a peaceful stretch of water. You can admire temples from the lake, such as those of Qasr Ibrim, Amon, or Ouadi-es-Seboua.

For those who have opted for the comfort of hotels in Abu Simbel or those in the neighboring city, Aswan, the royal temples are also accessible by road. They can share a tourist bus with the family while admiring the city’s wonders.

About the author

Egypt Planners Team is a highly experienced travel agency specializing in memorable trips to Egypt. The team comprises expert travel planners and tour guides with a deep knowledge of Egypt's history, culture, and top tourist destinations.
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