Everything about Abu Simbel is fabulous. The space is vast and remote. It is a three hour vehicle ride from the nearest city, Aswan, so most visitors get there by a short plane ride and then bus in from the airport.
The twin temple complex was built by Pharaoh Ramesses II, ruler of Egypt from 1279-1213BC. Ramesses II came to the throne of Upper and Lower Egypt as a young man and ruled well into his old age. He was the father of about 111 sons and 51 daughters. Sixty-seven years in power gave Ramesses II a serious amount of time to do all kinds of cool stuff like become a great military leader and devote his time and resources to an extensive building program. The dramatic Abu Simbel temples are superlative examples of his projects and one of the reasons Ramesses II is also known as Ramesses the Great.
Originally, the two massive temples were carved into the side of a rock mountain between 1264-1244 BC, and for three thousand years they sat on the west bank of the Nile between the first and second cataracts facing Egyptian conquered Nubia. No doubt, the ancient Nubians were intimidated by the pharaoh’s massive temples, but they had only to wait. With the passage of time, the temples were abandoned and pharaohs died and were forgotten. The twin temples fell prey to disinterest and the cruelty of sand….until centuries later they were rescued and uncovered by an Italian explorer named Belzoni in 1817.
In 1960, with the construction of the new Aswan High Dam, the temples had to be rescued again. Their successful rescue is every bit as large and dramatic an achievement as the temples themselves. These enormous structures were painstakingly and lovingly deconstructed, stone by stone…..
and relocated a safe distance from the Nile River that was about to be flooded to create Lake Nasser. (I found the above photo on the net.) Support from around the world made the the rescue possible. Without worldwide help, the temples would have been submerged forever.
Now, Abu Simbel faces a protected future as a UNESCO World Heritage site.
The exteriors of both temples make it clear that Ramesses the Great had no rivals. The entrance to the temple dedicated to the pharaoh is adorned with colossal statues of himself. The four enormous seated statues of the pharaoh span his life time, with the youngest likeness being on the left and the oldest on the far right. See how the face on the far right is a bit fuller with age than the one on the far left.
Inside, the walls are covered with testaments to the power and deeds of Ramesses II, and the hallways are full of more massive and mighty looking statues of himself.
Here Ramesses II is smiting his enemies. Note how large Ramesses is compared to his foes.
The temple next door is called the Small Temple and is dedicated to the major goddess, Hathor, and Nefertari, principal wife of Ramesses II. The name Nefertari means beautiful companion, but history records her as more than just a pretty face. She was highly educated and able to read and write. Even though Ramesses the Great dedicated this temple to his wife, his images are as prominent as hers. The face of the temple has four statues of Ramesses II and only two statues of Nefertari, leading some Egyptologists to believe that Ramesses II could not resist yet another opportunity to demonstrate that he was the most powerful man in the known world. One could even begin to doubt his love for his wife, but a little research on my part revealed that Hathor was the goddess of the sky, of women, of fertility, and of love. For me, a temple housing both this goddess and his principal wife can only be interpreted as Ramesses’ love letter in the sand.
On the walls of the Small Temple, visitors can see pictures of the pharaoh conquering his enemies and talking to the gods as well as Nefertari offering lotus flowers to the seated goddess, Hathor.
And then, at the back of the temple, the most charming of wall coverings can be found. Here, the pharaoh and Nefertari are seen bearing flower bouquet offerings to the seated goddess, Hathor. Suddenly, the most powerful man in the world becomes just a guy with his wife honoring an important female goddess of love. Amazing!!!