Of all of Egypt's many riches and treasures, Abu Simbel is perhaps the most utterly astonishing. Yet due to its out of the way location, may visitors make the mistake of missing it.
Abu Simbel lies down on the hot, dusty and inhospitable border of Sudan. It is far away from Aswan, very far from Luxor, and very, very far from Cairo. And yet, we urge you to visit.
The temples at Abu Simbel were built by Ramses II with the express purpose of demonstrating Egyptian might and glory to the abutting Nabatean tribes. Given the impact these monuments have on today’s visitors, we can only surmise that he succeeded in his mission.
The twin statues of Ramses II carved into the mountainside stand 20 meters high. Images of the king bearing the double crown of lower and upper Egypt are repeated four times. Knee high to Ramses, his wife Queen Nefertari and his children stand as smaller figures, their diminutive form indicative of their lower status.
The great temple of Abu Simbel was dedicated to the sun god Amun, the god Ra-Horakhty and the god Ptah, and to the deified form of Ramses himself, and the interior of the temple is complex with many rooms. The temple was also constructed in such as way that twice a year, 22 Feb and 22 Oct, the sun aligns to illuminate the statutes on the back wall of the inner temple.
The rescue story of these monuments from the rising waters of Lake Nasser is also remarkable – the monuments were cut into blocks and then moved stone by stone to more elevated land. If this tale captures your imagination we recommend Anne Michael’s, ‘A Winter’s Tale’, a poetically written novel about of love, loss and impermanence set against the backdrop of the saving of Abu Simbel.
Abu Simbel is usually accessed by early morning flight from Aswan.
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