In Egypt, in the depths of the Nubian desert, on the shores of Lake Nasser, near the city of Aswan, 7 km from the borders with Sudan, in a solid rocky cliff of 100 meters in height, two amazing temples have been cut down – the ancient Egyptian temple complex Abu Simbel, which means “ father of bread. “
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Abu Simbel – the eternal abode of the pharaoh
The two structures that make up the ancient temple complex were created during the reign of the Egyptian pharaoh Ramses II (1279-1213). The temples were carved into the rock by order of the pharaoh, who is at the zenith of his power, as a symbol of the victory of the Egyptian ruler over the Hittites.
The young pharaoh decided to honor the gods he honored. He considered the won battle near the Syrian city of Kadesh to be the work of his entire life and equated his merits with divine deeds.
The large temple, designed to perpetuate the military victories of the pharaoh and symbolize his greatness, was built for 20 years. A structure 35 meters long and 30 meters high was carved into the Sacred 100-meter mountain. Initially, the name Abu Simbel was not called a temple, but the rock in the thickness of which it arose. The name was transferred to the temples later.
At the entrance to the temple, there are 4 huge statues. Among them are statues of three gods : Ra-Horakhti, Amon and Ptah, whom the king considered his patrons. Nearby is a statue of Ramses II. The gods leaning back against the rock and majestically sitting on thrones bear a portrait resemblance to the pharaoh. Ramses considered himself equal to God, preferred deification during his lifetime.
20-meter statues, dressed in royal clothes, with double crowns on their heads, occupy the entire facade of the temple. Colossi, installed at the entrance and facing the rising sun, turn bright brown at dawn, frightening with their appearance and emphasizing the power of Ramses.
Beneath the giant figures are smaller statues depicting the defeated enemies of Ramses: Nubians, Libyans and Hittites.
The upper part of the sanctuary is decorated with stone baboons praying to the rising sun. At the feet of the colossi are sculptures of Nefertari’s wife , mother and children of the great ruler. Sculptures in perfect proportion.
Inside the solid rock mass there are 4 successively decreasing halls extending 60 meters in depth, and a number of small side rooms for sacrifices. The largest hall is 8 meters high and has an area of 288 sq. M.
The first room, where 8 statues of the pharaoh in the image of the god Osiris rise, is intended for everyone. The second hall is for people of the noble class. The third hall was used by the priests, the fourth – the hall for the pharaoh and his family.
The walls of the temple are covered with sacred texts, reliefs and frescoes that show significant events in the life of the pharaoh. On the north wall is the great victory of Ramses at Kadesh. In the Egyptian camp, they prepare for battle, harness the horses, give them food.
In the royal tent – a council of war between Ramses and his officers. Two Hittite spies were captured and tortured, who told about the whereabouts of their king.
Both sides enter the battle, the Egyptians go into battle in orderly formation, the Hittites are in confusion: their chariots are broken, their horses run away, and the soldiers fall into the Orontes River. Pharaoh is presented as the winner of the battle: strong and powerful, he rises above the enemy.
The powerful royal power is personified by the sun depicted on the ceilings, lower to the floor – by the cobra, as a symbol of inevitable punishment for the betrayal of its pharaoh.
Play of light
The temple was built in a sacred place. Thanks to the exact calculations of the builders, twice a year – on February 21 and October 21 – at 5:58 am, a ray of the morning sun, traveling 65 meters, slowly penetrates 4 halls and stops at the statues in the last small hall. It was on these days that Ramses’s birthday and the day of his accession to the throne fall .
For 6 minutes, a sunbeam illuminates the statue of Amun and Ra-Horakhti, passes to the statue of Ramses II, which illuminates for 12 minutes. At this time, the king’s face lights up with a smile. The stream of light then fades away, only to return again at dawn six months later.
The temple has a statue of the god Ptah, the ruler of the Egyptian underground world, who loves darkness and is never consecrated.
The small temple is dedicated to Queen Nefertari, the beloved wife of the Pharaoh, depicted as the goddess Hathor, the goddess of fertility and love, heaven and beauty, dancing and fun.
The structure consists of a pillared hall carved into the rock and a small sanctuary divided into three niches. The deified Nefertari became the first woman to be honored to be immortalized along with her husband.
Ramses ordered to capture the image of his beloved wife in statues next to his sculptures located at the entrance to the Small Temple. Among the six 11-meter colossi, a statue of Nefertari, the same height as a husband, is a rare honor for a wife in Egypt.
The carved bas-reliefs inside the temple depict Ramses paying homage to his deified wife – “a beautiful companion” – and offering gifts to the ancient Egyptian gods.
As a sign of his great love and respect for his wife, on one of the columns of the temple, the pharaoh ordered to carve the inscription: “Ramses erected the temple for the sake of the great wife Nefertari – the one for whom the sun shines.”
Moving the Abu Simbel temple
The Abu Simbel Temple, weighing 250,000 tons, was relocated in 1968, calling the operation an Egyptian miracle and the most expensive UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The decision to move the temple complex
In 1960, the Egyptian government planned the Aswan Dam on the Nile River, the construction of which threatened to flood the Abu Simbel complex. In order to build a dam, vital to the inhabitants of Egypt, they decided to move the temples to a safe distance from the water.
The Egyptian government has asked the UN for help, and 51 countries have supported a project to save temples. In 1964-1968, work was carried out in Egypt: both temples were dismantled and moved 65 meters up to the plateau of rocks, under which they were located.
The temples were rebuilt 210 meters northwest of the original site. Both temples are oriented in the same direction as before.
Reconstruction of temples
Initially, the task seemed impossible. In early 1964, a team of engineers from different countries began to dismantle Abi-Sambel . Steel scaffolding was installed inside the temples and sculptures were manually sawn into 1,050 blocks weighing 30 tons. We worked for 9 months, day and night. The incisions were made to cause minimal damage to the temple.
Internal walls and ceilings were transferred on a reinforced concrete supporting frame. An equally time-consuming job is to reassemble the temples. The most frightening thing is that the temple must be recreated so that the ray of the sun shines again on the faces of the gods.
Separate parts of the newly assembled temples are made so carefully that it is impossible to determine the places of their connection. 10 kilometers of seams were skillfully covered with mortar.
The team of engineers also recreated the mountain surrounding the temple. A huge concrete dome of 300 giant coupling sections was erected over the temple and covered with stones imitating rocks.
Abu Simbel, shining with its former beauty, looks as if he never left his place. And today the sun’s rays touch the faces of the four statues, like 3000 years before. The grandiose transfer of the historical monument was completed successfully.
The rescue of the temple, included in the UNESCO World Heritage List , lasted 4 years and cost 42 million dollars.
Small statues and steles surrounding the temple complex were also moved and put in place. Among them is a stele dedicated to Ashu-Hebsed , who built the temple complex. The stele tells how Ramses, who planned to build temples as a testimony to his enduring glory, entrusted this work to Ashe-Hebsed.
A stele has been erected near the ancient temple, which tells about the history of the return of the monument to modern times. The temple complex, covered with sand, was discovered by the Swiss orientalist Johann Ludwig Burckhardt in 1813.
The temple was excavated in 1817 thanks to Giovanni Belzoni. To the disappointment of the discoverers, there was no gold or precious stones in the halls of the temples.
On February 21 and October 21, up to 5,000 people gather in the temple to see the optical effect obtained as a result of the finest calculations of the ancient Egyptian astrologers and priests, who, 33 centuries ago, designed the temple so that a ray of sun light shines in the eyes of the pharaoh. The rest of the year, the pharaoh hides from the bustle of the world in a dark temple.
Today, the Abu Simbel temple is a symbol of Egypt , impressive not only by the size of the sculptures, but also by the genius of the engineering thought of the ancient Egyptians.
The desert is dangerous for walking and it is not easy to settle near the temple, so for safety reasons, travelers go to Abu Simbel in an organized way, under the protection of a convoy.