Abu Simbel Temples – Nubia, Egypt
If you’re a powerful king and want to express your ego while impressing your neighboring countries, what do you do? Well, you do as Ramesses II did – build an elaborate temple carved out of the mountain, decorated with 4 colossal statues resembling your image, and facing towards your enemies/neighboring countries.
This is what we can see today when we visit Abu Simbel, located in Lake Nasser in Nubia, southern Egypt (about 230km southwest of Aswan – 3 hours by bus).
The Great Temples at Abu Simbel took about twenty years to build, (finished in 1265 BCE, during the 24th year of reign of Ramesses the Great). It was dedicated to the gods Amun, Ra-Horakhty, and Ptah, as well as to the deified Ramesses himself.
This temple is considered to be one of the grandest and most beautiful in Egypt. There, I have to agree. Not only the exterior expresses the power and intimidation Ramesses II intended, but the interiors also tell a delicate, artistic, and rich history of Ramesses II and his reign.
Also, the temple had the purpose of reinforcing Egypt’s religion as Amun worshipers – or sun worshipers – as well of commemorating Ramesses’ victory at the Battle of Kadesh.
The four colossal statues of Ramessess measure 20 meters each. Each statue is similar, wearing the double crown of Upper and Lower Egypt – symbolizing a united country. The entire façade measures 35 meters and it is topped with a frieze decorated with 22 baboons and sun worshipers.
The statue to the left of the entrance was damaged in an earthquake, leaving only the lower part of the statue intact. Today, the head and torso can still be seen at the statue’s feet. It is when you stand next to the damaged head that you can feel the immense scale of this façade and statues.
In addition to the 4 colossal statues of Ramesses II there are a few other statues that are much smaller, yet noticeable. These depict Nefertari, Ramesses’s chief wife, and queen mother Mut-Tuy, his first two sons Amun-her-khepeshef, Ramesses, and his first six daughters Bintanath, Baketmut, Nefertari, Meritamen, Nebettawy and Isetnofret.
Abu Simbel is not only one temple; it is two temples. The second temple was dedicated to Queen Nefertari. (second image). In it, you can see her image on the same scale as Ramesses’ statues.
The interior space, while not as elaborate and impressive as Ramesses’, it is still very interesting to see as it follows the same concepts of Ramesses’ temple, but at a smaller scale.
Did you know that this is not the original place where Abu Simbel was built? In 1968, the temples were cut piece by piece and moved 65 meters higher on the hill and 200 meters back from the river in order to prevent them from being submerged in Lake Nasser, which was by the construction of the Aswan High Dam.
Today, as you walk inside the temples’ chambers and look at the massive facades, you can’t see any evidence that this temple was cut into thousands of pieces and puzzled back together.
The complex is part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site known as the “Nubian Monuments,” which run from Abu Simbel downriver to Philae Temple (near Aswan).
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