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Abu Simbel Timeline

Abu Simbel Timeline


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  • 1279 BCE - 1212 BCE

    Reign of Ramesses II (The Great) in Egypt.

  • c. 1264 BCE - c. 1244 BCE

    Probable dates for the construction of Abu Simbel.

  • 1258 BCE

    The Treaty of Kadesh between Egyptians and Hittites. The world's first peace treaty.

  • c. 1244 BCE - c. 1224 BCE

    Other probable dates for the construction of Abu Simbel.


CLICK on the time period to see when important monuments were built

  • Neolithic Period: 4500 - 3000 BCE
  • Early Dynastic Period: 3000 - 2650 BCE
  • Old Kingdom: 2650 - 2150 BCE
  • 1st Intermediate Period: 2150 - 2040 BCE
  • Middle Kingdom: 2040 - 1640 BCE
  • 2nd Intermediate Period: 1640 - 1550 BCE
  • New Kingdom: 1550 - 1070 BCE
  • 3rd Intermediate Period: 1070 - 712 BCE
  • Saite and Late Period: 712 - 332 BCE
  • Greco-Roman Period: 332 BCE - 642 CE
  • Coptic Period: 395 - 642 CE
  • Islamic Period and
    Modern Times: 642 CE - Today


Alberti’s Window

Temple of Rameses II, ca. 1290-1224 BCE. Abu Simbel, Egypt. Image courtesy Wikipedia.

Earlier this month, I explored with my students how new meanings and associations with the Temple of Rameses II have been created in recent decades, largely due to the removal of this temple from its original site. In the 1960s, this ancient Egyptian temple fell under threat due to the creation of the Aswan High Dam. Engineers knew that the dam’s resulting reservoir (which is called Lake Nasser today) would submerge this temple under water.

Teams from across the world came together to help figure out a way to preserve the Temple of Rameses II and its neighboring site, the Temple of Hathor. The different proposals and projects are covered well in a “Monster Moves” documentary. Ultimately, the proposal made by Egyptian engineers was accepted, and it was decided that the temple would be cut down and transported on land to another site located 65 meters higher and 200 meters away from the water.

Transportation of the Temple of Rameses II colossal statues. Image from Forskning & Framsteg 1967, Issue 3, p. 16. Image courtesy Wikipedia

It was estimated that this project would cost $32 million, with the US, Egypt, and UNESCO splitting the bill evenly. In the end, the project ended up costing more than $40 million altogether. Preparations began to move the structure in 1963, and then the structure was moved between 1964-1968. My students and I discussed how this project ended up being one of international collaboration, which is significant during the 1960s since there were so many political conflicts that were dividing people from one another: the Vietnam War, the construction of the Berlin Wall, and the Civil Rights Movement in the United States.

One other political event in the United States that took place during this time was the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, Jr. Interestingly, JFK lobbied to help preserve historic sites in Egypt due to the threat of the Aswan High Dam: on April 7, 1961, JFK sent a letter to Congress, recommending that the United States participate in this UNESCO-led campaign. Unfortunately, JFK did not see the completion of the relocation of the Abu Simbel temples. He was assassinated on November 22, 1963, just six days after the contract was signed between the Egyptian government and the firms that were selected to help with the move.

Although JFK didn’t live to see this project completed, his wife Jackie Kennedy did. In fact, it is probably more significant that Jackie lived through the completion of this project: she was a driving force to have American support for the relocation of the Abu Simbel temples, after she was alerted about this campaign by Luther Gulick. She personally wrote to JFK and appealed to him, saying, “It is the major temple of the Nile – 13th century B.C. It would be like letting the Parthenon be flooded. . . . Abu Simbel is the greatest. Nothing will ever be found to equal it.” 1 It is Jackie Kennedy’s initial appeal to JFK which ultimately impacted Congress’s decision to support this relocation.

Jackie Kennedy Riding a Camel in Egypt, March 28, 1974

In gratitude for Jackie Kennedy’s role in helping to preserve the Abu Simbel site, the President of Egypt, Gamal Abdel-Nasser, presented Jackie Kennedy with an ivory sculpture of an ancient Egyptian barge. In addition, the President of Egypt wanted to give a gift to the people of the United States, in order to show appreciation for the help given at Abu Simbel. The Temple of Dendur was selected as a gift. Similar to the Abu Simbel sites, this monument also had to be deconstructed and relocated due to the Aswan High Dam. It was offered to the United States in 1965. Jacqueline Kennedy hoped that the Temple of Dendur would be housed in Washington, DC, in order “to remind people that feelings of the spirit are what prevent wars.” 2 The Smithsonian in DC even proposed to house the temple on the Potomac River, but this proved problematic for preservation. In fact, many other museums vied for the opportunity to house this structure (which resulted in what journalists called the “Dendur Derby“), but ultimately the Metropolitan Museum of Art was chosen for the temple’s location in 1967.

Temple of Dendur, c. 15 BC. Dendur, Egypt. Located at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Image courtesy Wikipedia via Jean-Christophe BENOIST

So, now the next time I think of Abu Simbel or visit the Temple of Dendur at the Met, I’m going to think of Jackie Kennedy! The more I learn about Jackie Kennedy and her support of the arts, the more I am impressed with her. For example, she ensured that numerous artists were invited to her husband’s inaugural speech as president, as a way to showcase the Administration’s intentions to support the arts. I think that her involvement with Abu Simbel helps to fulfill this aim of the Administration too, through supporting global art and the preservation of historical art.

1 Caroline Kennedy, Jacqueline Kennedy: Historic Conversations on Life with John F. Kennedy (Hachette Books, 2011). Available online HERE.


Abu Simbel

Abu Simbel is the site of two ancient Egyptian temples. The site is located on the Nile River in southern Egypt.

The pharaoh Ramses II built the two temples in the 1200s bce . They were carved out of a sandstone cliff on the west bank of the Nile. Huge statues of Ramses at the main temple are about 66 feet (20 meters) tall. Statues of Ramses and his queen, Nefertari, at the second temple are about 35 feet (10.5 meters) tall.

The main temple was dedicated to two sun gods. The inside of the temple is made up of three halls. Statues and wall paintings decorate the halls. The smaller temple was built for Nefertari. It was dedicated to Hathor, who was the goddess of the sky, women, motherhood, and love.

Abu Simbel was unknown to the outside world until 1813, when a Swiss researcher came across the site. In the 1960s the building of the Aswan High Dam threatened the temples. Once completed, the dam would create a large reservoir (artificial lake) that would flood Abu Simbel. The Egyptian government and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) made a plan to save the temples. A team of engineers and scientists carefully took apart the structures. Then they rebuilt the temples about 200 feet (60 meters) above their original location. In 1979 UNESCO named Abu Simbel a World Heritage site.

Did You Know?

On two mornings a year, the Sun’s first rays illuminate the shrine in the inner sanctuary of Abu Simbel.


The Relocation of Abu Simbel Temples

The Abu Simbel temples have gone through a tremendous series of transformations throughout the years but the biggest transformation went through a full relocation in the mid-󈧶s after the construction of the Aswan high dam which led to the rise of the water levels in lake Nasser which put both Philae temple and the Abu Simbel temple in full utter destruction. The Egyptian Government requested the help of the international foundation of UNESCO to rescue Abu Simbel from destruction. in 1960, the world united to organize the history’s largest and most challenging rescue operation starting with an international fund-raising for the rescue operation through a Swedish company called “Vattenbyggnadsbyrån” that designed a brilliant plan to rescue the temples. The entire rescue operation took four years from 1964 to 1968 and cost 300 million dollars in today’s financial value.

The method of Abu Simbel temple relocation involved peeling away then cut into many blocks that weigh 20 to 30 tons using power saws, then moving to the new current location that was assembled together using drilled holes and reinforcement bars were made into an artificial cliff resembling the original one on a platform of cement & steel to contain and hold everything together while surrounded by an artificial stone mountain.


The Smaller Abu Simbel Temple

The Smaller Abu Simbel Temple is located north of the Greater Temple. It was carved in the rock by Rameses II and dedicated to Hathor, the goddess of love and beauty, and also to his favorite wife, Nefertari. The fa硤e is adorned by six statues, four of Rameses II and two of Nefertari most unusually, the six are the same height, which indicates the esteem in which Nefertari was held. The entrance leads to a hall containing six pillars bearing the head of the goddess Hathor.

The eastern wall bears inscriptions depicting Rameses II striking the enemy before Ra-Harakhte and Amun-Ra. Other wall scenes show Rameses II and Nefertari offering sacrifices to the gods.

Beyond this hall, there is another wall with similar scenes and paintings. In the farthest depths of the temple is the holy of holies, where a statue of the goddess Hathor stands.

This is, indeed, a most awesome sight to the visitor for here he finds the greatest artificial dome that bears the man-made mountain behind the Temples of Abu Simbel.


Abu Simbel Timeline - History

Abu Simbel
This great rock temple in ancient Egypt, built by Ramses II Pharaoh, is the largest in Nubia and one of the most impressive and famous memorials of ancient Egypt. It is carved out of living rock and at the entrance four seated colossi of Ramses II, each 66 feet high, together with smaller statues of members of the royal family, form the entrance. Ramses II is one of the central figures in Egyptian history. Although responsible for but one great battle and one great peace alliance, he raised so many inspiring monuments to the glory of his ancestors (some of which were indisputably better rulers and conquerors) and had himself portrayed in such huge statues, that he has gone down in history as one of the greatest of Egyptian pharaohs.

Abu Simbel Temple
The temple of Abu Simbel (at its new site above the waters of Lake Nasser) is so oriented that the rising sun casts its first rays through the entrance, down a double row of statues of Ramses Pharaoh in Osirian form clasping crook and flail, and through to the sanctuary where he sits in the company of the gods Ra, Ptah and Amon.

In following the Nile upstream we have briefly outlined the chief monuments in the Nile valley the material relics of the ancient Egyptian civilization. In the rural areas of Egypt, however, we see the peasant farmers with sturdy-bodies and almond- shaped eyes strangely reminiscent of the murals of the tombs of Saqqara that we have described. They still plough the fields with oxen, harvest the crop with sickle and use a winnowing fork to sift the grain. Their villages are largely of sun-dried brick. The buffalo and donkey are still their faithful companions. Geese swim in the ponds and canals where migratory birds settle for a short time before taking once again to the air. Fishermen cast their drag-nets, trawl-nets or wicker baskets. The dykes between fields serve as paths. And the plant forms that influenced ancient Egyptian architecture, the papyrus ,old records, lotus and reed, can still be seen growing in abundance. Largely barren Upper Egypt still has economic ties with the south, while the fertile, cosmopolitan Delta looks to the countries of the Mediterranean.

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Aswan High Dam completed

After 11 years of construction, the Aswan High Dam across the Nile River in Egypt is completed on July 21, 1970. More than two miles long at its crest, the massive $1 billion dam ended the cycle of flood and drought in the Nile River region, and exploited a tremendous source of renewable energy, but had a controversial environmental impact.

A dam was completed at Aswan, 500 miles south of Cairo, in 1902. The first Aswan dam provided valuable irrigation during droughts but could not hold back the annual flood of the mighty Nile River. In the 1950s, Egyptian leader Gamal Abdel Nasser envisioned building a new dam across the Nile, one large enough to end flooding and bring electric power to every corner of Egypt. He won United States and British financial backing, but in July 1956 both nations canceled the offer after learning of a secret Egyptian arms agreement with the USSR. In response, Nasser nationalized the British and French-owned Suez Canal, intending to use tolls to pay for his High Dam project. This act precipitated the Suez Canal Crisis, in which Israel, Britain and France attacked Egypt in a joint military operation. The Suez Canal was occupied, but Soviet, U.S., and U.N. forced Israel, Britain and France to withdraw, and the Suez Canal was left in Egyptian hands in 1957.

Soviet loans and proceeds from Suez Canal tolls allowed Nasser to begin work on the Aswan High Dam in 1960. Some 57 million cubic yards of earth and rock were used to build the dam, which has a mass 16 times that of the Great Pyramid at Giza. On July 21, 1970, the ambitious project was completed. President Nasser died of a heart attack in September 1970, before the dam was formally dedicated in 1971.

The giant reservoir created by the dam� miles long and 10 miles wide–was named Lake Nasser in his honor. The formation of Lake Nasser required the resettlement of 90,000 Egyptian peasants and Sudanese Nubian nomads, as well as the costly relocation of the ancient Egyptian temple complex of Abu Simbel, built in the 13th century B.C.

The Aswan High Dam brought the Nile’s devastating floods to an end, reclaimed more than 100,000 acres of desert land for cultivation, and made additional crops possible on some 800,000 other acres. The dam’s 12 giant Soviet-built turbines produce as much as 10 billion kilowatt-hours annually, providing a tremendous boost to the Egyptian economy and introducing 20th-century life into many villages. The water stored in Lake Nasser, several trillion cubic feet, is shared by Egypt and the Sudan and was crucial during the African drought years of 1984 to 1988.

Despite its successes, the Aswan High Dam has produced several negative side effects. Most costly is the gradual decrease in the fertility of agricultural lands in the Nile delta, which used to benefit from the millions of tons of silt deposited annually by the Nile floods. Another detriment to humans has been the spread of the disease schistosomiasis by snails that live in the irrigation system created by the dam. The reduction of waterborne nutrients flowing into the Mediterranean is suspected to be the cause of a decline in anchovy populations in the eastern Mediterranean. The end of flooding has sharply reduced the number of fish in the Nile, many of which were migratory. Lake Nasser, however, has been stocked with fish, and many species, including perch, thrive there.


Ramesses and Nefertiti: The Abu Simbel Temple Complex

Abu Simbel is an ancient temple complex, originally cut into a solid rock cliff, in southern Egypt and located at the second cataract of the Nile River. The two temples which comprise the site were created during the reign of Ramesses II (c. 1279 – c. 1213 BCE) either between 1264 – 1244 BCE or 1244-1224 BCE. The discrepancy in the dates is due to differing interpretations of the life of Ramesses II by modern day scholars. It is certain, based upon the extensive artwork throughout the interior of the Great Temple, that the structures were created, at least in part, to celebrate Ramesses’ victory over the Hittites at the Battle of Kadesh in 1274 BCE. To some scholars, this indicates a probable date of 1264 BCE for the initial construction as the victory would have been fresh in the memory of the people. However, the decision to build the grand monument at that precise location, on the border with the conquered lands of Nubia, suggests to other scholars the later date of 1244 BCE in that it would have had to have been begun after the Nubian Campaigns Ramesses II undertook with his sons and was built as a symbol of Egypt’s power.

Whichever date construction began, it is agreed that it took twenty years to create the complex and that the temples are dedicated to the gods Ra-Horakty, Ptah, and the deified Ramesses II (The Great Temple) and the goddess Hathor and Queen Nefertari, Ramesses’ favourite wife (The Small Temple). While it is assumed that the name, `Abu Simbel’, was the designation for the complex in antiquity, this is not so. Allegedly, the Swiss explorer Burckhardt was led to the site by a boy named Abu Simbel in 1813 CE and the site was then named after him. Burckhardt, however, was unable to uncover the site, which was buried in sand up to the necks of the grand colossi and later mentioned this experience to his friend and fellow explorer Giovanni Belzoni. It was Belzoni who uncovered and first excavated (or looted) Abu Simbel in 1817 CE and it is considered likely that it was he, not Burckhardt, who was led to the site by the young boy and who named the complex after him. As with other aspects regarding Abu Simbel (such as the date it was begun), the truth of either version of the story is open to interpretation and all that is known is that the original name for the complex, if it had a specific designation, has been lost.

The Two Temples

[LEFT]: Abu Simbel is a Temple complex, originally cut into a solid rock cliff, in southern Egyptand located at the second cataract of the Nile River. The two temples which comprise the site (The Great Temple and The Small Temple) were created during the reign of Ramesses II (c. 1279 – c. 1213 BCE) either between 1264 – 1244 BCE or 1244-1224 BCE. The Great Temple was dedicated to the gods Ra-Horakty, Ptah, and the deified Ramesses II. The Small Temple was dedicated to the goddess Hathor and Queen Nefertari, Ramesses’ favourite wife. / Photo by Dennis Jarvis, Flickr, Creative Commons
[RIGHT]: The Small Temple at Abu Simbel was dedicated to Hathor and Queen Nefertari, stands at a height of 40 feet (12 metres) and is 92 feet (28 metres) long. The temple is adorned with colossi across the front facade, three on either side of the doorway, depicting Ramesses IIand his queen Nefertari (four statues of the king and two of the queen) at a height of 32 feet (10 metres). The complex was built between 1264 – 1244 BCE or 1244-1224 BCE. / Photo by Dennis Jarvis, Flickr, Creative Commons

The Great Temple stands 98 feet (30 metres) high and 115 feet (35 metres) long with four seated colossi flanking the entrance, two to each side, depicting Ramesses II on his throne each one 65 feet (20 metres) tall. Beneath these giant figures are smaller statues (still larger than life-sized) depicting Ramesses’ conquered enemies, the Nubians, Libyans, and Hittites. Further statues represent his family members and various protecting gods and symbols of power. Passing between the colossi, through the central entrance, the interior of the temple is decorated with engravings showing Ramesses and Nefertari paying homage to the gods. Ramesses’ great victory at Kadesh (considered by modern scholars to be more of a draw than an Egyptian triumph) is also depicted in detail across the north wall of the Hypostyle Hall. According to the scholars Oakes and Gahlin, these engravings of the events surrounding the battle,

Present a lively account in both reliefs and text. Preparations for battle are being made in the Egyptian camp. Horses are harnessed or given their fodder while one solder has his wounds dressed. The king’s tent is also depicted while another scene shows a council of war between Ramesses and his officers. Two Hittite spies are captured and beaten until they reveal the true whereabouts of Muwatalli, the Hittite king. Finally, the two sides engage in battle, the Egyptians charging in neat formation while the Hittites are in confusion, chariots crashing, horses bolting and soldiers falling into the River Orontes. In the text, Ramesses takes on the whole of the Hittite army single-handed, apart from support rendered by [the god] Amun who defends him in battle and finally hands him the victory. (208).

The Small Temple stands nearby at a height of 40 feet (12 metres) and 92 feet (28 metres) long. This temple is also adorned by colossi across the front facade, three on either side of the doorway, depicting Ramesses and his queen Nefertari (four statues of the king and two of the queen) at a height of 32 feet (10 metres). The prestige of the queen is apparent in that, usually, a female is represented on a much smaller scale than the Pharaoh while, at Abu Simbel, Nefertari is rendered the same size as Ramesses. The Small Temple is also notable in that it is the second time in ancient Egyptian history that a ruler dedicated a temple to his wife (the first time being the Pharaoh Akhenaton, 1353-1336 BCE, who dedicated a temple to his queen Nefertiti). The walls of this temple are dedicated to images of Ramesses and Nefertari making offerings to the gods and to depictions of the goddess Hathor.

A Sacred Site

Inside the Great Temple. The architects of ancient Egypt in the 13th century BC aligned the temple so that , on October 21 and February 21 (61 days before and 61 days after the winter solstice), the sun’s rays enter into the sanctuary to illuminate the sculptures on the wall, except for the statue of Ptah, the god associated with the underworld, which remains in shadow. / Photo by Man77, Wikimedia Commons

The location of the site was sacred to Hathor long before the temples were built there and, it is thought, was carefully chosen by Ramesses for this very reason. In both temples, Ramesses is recognized as a god among other gods and his choice of an already sacred localewould have strengthened this impression among the people. The temples are also aligned with the east so that, twice a year, on 21 February and 21 October, the sun shines directly into the sanctuary of The Great Temple to illuminate the statues of Ramesses and Amun. The dates are thought to correspond to Ramesses’ birthday and coronation. The alignment of sacred structures with the rising or setting sun, or with the position of the sun at the solstices, was common throughout the ancient world (best known at New Grange in Ireland and Maeshowe in Scotland) but the sanctuary of The Great Temple differs from these other sites in that the statue of the god Ptah, who stands among the others, is carefully positioned so that it is never illuminated at any time. As Ptah was associated with the Egyptian underworld, his image was kept in perpetual darkness.

The Aswan High Dam

In the 1960’s CE, the Egyptian government planned to build the Aswan High Dam on the Nile which would have submerged both temples (and also surrounding structures such as the Temple of Philae). Between 1964 and 1968 CE, a massive undertaking was carried out in which both temples were dismantled and moved 213 feet (65 metres) up onto the plateau of the cliffs they once sat below and re-built 690 feet (210 metres) to the north-west of their original location. This initiative was spearheaded by UNESCO, with a multi-national team of archaeologists, at a cost of over 40 million US dollars. Great care was taken to orient both temples in exactly the same direction as before and a man-made mountain was erected to give the impression of the temples cut into the rock cliff. According to Oakes and Gahlin:

Before the work began, a coffer dam had to be built to protect the temples from the rapidly rising water. Then the temples were sawn into blocks, taking care that the cuts were made where they would be least conspicuous when reassembled. The interior walls and ceilings were suspended from a supporting framework of reinforced concrete. When the temples were reassembled, the joins were made good by a mortar of cement and desert sand. This was done so discreetly that today it is impossible to see where the joins were made. Both temples now stand within an artificial mountain made of rubble and rock, supported by two vast domes of reinforced concrete. (207).

All of the smaller statuary and stelae which surrounded the original site of the complex were also moved and placed in their corresponding locations to the temples. Among these are stelae depicting Ramesses defeating his enemies, various gods, and a stele depicting the marriage between Ramesses and the Hittite princess Naptera, which ratified the Treaty of Kadesh. Included among these monuments is the Stele of Asha-hebsed, the foreman who organized the workforce which built the complex. This stele also relates how Ramesses decided to build the complex as a lasting testament to his enduring glory and how he entrusted the work to Asha-hebsed. Today Abu Simbel is the most visited ancient site in Egypt after the Pyramids of Giza and even has its own airport to support the thousands of tourists who arrive at the site each year.


Abu Simbel Temple Complex

Construction of the temple complex started in approximately 1264 BC and lasted for about 20 years, until 1244 BC. Known as the "Temple of Ramesses, beloved by Amun" it was one of six rock temples erected in Nubia during the long reign of Ramesses II. Their purpose was to impress Egypt's southern neighbours, and also to reinforce the status of Egyptian religion in the region.

With the passage of time, the temples fell into disuse and eventually became covered by sand. By the 6th century BC, the sand already covered the statues of the main temple up to their knees. The temple was forgotten until 1813, when Swiss orientalist Jean-Louis Burckhardt found the top frieze of the main temple. Burckhardt talked about his discovery with Italian explorer Giovanni Belzoni, who travelled to the site, but was unable to dig out an entry to the temple. Belzoni returned in 1817, this time succeeding in his attempt to enter the complex. A detailed early description of the temples, together with contemporaneous line drawings, can be found in Edward William Lane's Description of Egypt (1825–1828).

Tour guides at the site relate the legend that 'Abu Simbel' was the name of a young local boy who guided these early re-discoverers to the site of the buried temple which he had seen from time to time in the shifting sands. Eventually, they named the complex after him.

Great Temple

The Great Temple at Abu Simbel, which took about twenty years to build, was completed around year 24 of the reign of Ramesses the Great (which corresponds to 1265 BC). It was dedicated to the gods Amun, Ra-Horakhty, and Ptah, as well as to the deified Rameses himself. It is generally considered the grandest and most beautiful of the temples commissioned during the reign of Rameses II, and one of the most beautiful in Egypt.

Four colossal 20 meter statues of the pharaoh with the double Atef crown of Upper and Lower Egypt decorate the facade of the temple, which is 35 meters wide and is topped by a frieze with 22 baboons, worshippers of the sun and flank the entrance. The colossal statues were sculptured directly from the rock in which the temple was located before it was moved. All statues represent Ramesses II, seated on a throne and wearing the double crown of Upper and Lower Egypt. The statue to the left of the entrance was damaged in an earthquake, leaving only the lower part of the statue still intact. The head and torso can still be seen at the statue's feet.

Next to the legs of the colossi, there are other statues no higher than the knees of the pharaoh. 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.

The entrance itself is crowned by a bas-relief representing two images of the king worshipping the falcon-headed Ra Harakhti, whose statue stands in a large niche. This god is holding the hieroglyph "user" and a feather in his right hand, with Ma'at, (the goddess of truth and justice) in his left this is nothing less than a gigantic cryptogram for Ramesses II's throne name, User-Maat-Re. The facade is topped by a row of 22 baboons, their arms raised in the air, supposedly worshipping the rising sun. Another notable feature of the facade is a stele which records the marriage of Ramesses with a daughter of king Hattusili III, which sealed the peace between Egypt and the Hittites.

The inner part of the temple has the same triangular layout that most ancient Egyptian temples follow, with rooms decreasing in size from the entrance to the sanctuary. The temple is complex in structure and quite unusual because of its many side chambers. The hypostyle hall (sometimes also called a pronaos) is 18 meters long and 16.7 meters wide and is supported by eight huge Osirid pillars depicting the deified Ramses linked to the god Osiris, the god of the Underworld, to indicate the everlasting nature of the pharaoh. The colossal statues along the left-hand wall bear the white crown of Upper Egypt, while those on the opposite side are wearing the double crown of Upper and Lower Egypt (pschent). The bas-reliefs on the walls of the pronaos depict battle scenes in the military campaigns the ruler waged. Much of the sculpture is given to the Battle of Kadesh, on the Orontes river in present-day Syria, in which the Egyptian king fought against the Hittites. The most famous relief shows the king on his chariot shooting arrows against his fleeing enemies, who are being taken prisoner. Other scenes show Egyptian victories in Libya and Nubia.

From the hypostyle hall, one enters the second pillared hall, which has four pillars decorated with beautiful scenes of offerings to the gods. There are depictions of Ramesses and Nefertari with the sacred boats of Amun and Ra-Harakhti. This hall gives access to a transverse vestibule in the middle of which is the entrance to the sanctuary. Here, on a black wall, are rock cut sculptures of four seated figures: Ra-Horakhty, the deified king Ramesses, and the gods Amun Ra and Ptah. Ra-Horakhty, Amun Ra and Ptah were the main divinities in that period and their cult centers were at Heliopolis, Thebes and Memphis respectively.

Solar Alignment

It is believed that the axis of the temple was positioned by the ancient Egyptian architects in such a way that on October 22 and February 22, the rays of the sun would penetrate the sanctuary and illuminate the sculptures on the back wall, except for the statue of Ptah, a god connected with the Underworld, who always remained in the dark. People gather at Abu Simbel to witness this remarkable sight, on October 21 and February 21.

These dates are allegedly the king's birthday and coronation day, respectively. There is no direct evidence to support this. It is logical to assume, however, that these dates had some relation to a great event, such as the jubilee celebrating the thirtieth anniversary of the pharaoh's rule. In fact, according to calculations made on the basis of the heliacal rising of the star Sirius (Sothis) and inscriptions found by archaeologists, this date must have been October 22. This image of the king was enhanced and revitalized by the energy of the solar star, and the deified Ramesses the Great could take his place next to Amun Ra and Ra-Horakhty.

Due to the displacement of the temple and/or the accumulated drift of the Tropic of Cancer during the past 3,280 years, it is widely believed that each of these two events has moved one day closer to the Solstice, so they would be occurring on October 22 and February 20 (60 days before and 60 days after the Solstice, respectively).

Small Temple

The temple of Hathor and Nefertari, also known as the Small Temple, was built about one hundred meters northeast of the temple of pharaoh Ramesses II and was dedicated to the goddess Hathor and Ramesses II's chief consort, Nefertari. This was in fact the second time in ancient Egyptian history that a temple was dedicated to a queen. The first time, Akhenaten dedicated a temple to his great royal wife, Nefertiti. The rock-cut facade is decorated with two groups of colossi that are separated by the large gateway. The statues, slightly more than ten meters high, are of the king and his queen. On either side of the portal are two statues of the king, wearing the white crown of Upper Egypt (south colossus) and the double crown (north colossus) these are flanked by statues of the queen.

Remarkably, this is one of very few instances in Egyptian art where the statues of the king and his consort have equal size. Traditionally, the statues of the queens stood next to those of the pharaoh, but were never taller than his knees. Ramesses went to Abu Simbel with his wife in the 24th year of his reign. As the Great Temple of the king, there are small statues of princes and princesses next to their parents. In this case they are positioned symmetrically: on the south side (at left as one faces the gateway) are, from left to right, princes Meryatum and Meryre, princesses Meritamen and Henuttawy, and princes Rahirwenemef and Amun-her-khepeshef, while on the north side the same figures are in reverse order. The plan of the Small Temple is a simplified version of that of the Great Temple.

As the larger temple dedicated to the king, the hypostyle hall or pronaos is supported by six pillars in this case, however, they are not Osiris pillars depicting the king, but are decorated with scenes with the queen playing the sistrum (an instrument sacred to the goddess Hathor), together with the gods Horus, Khnum, Khonsu, and Thoth, and the goddesses Hathor, Isis, Maat, Mut of Asher, Satis and Taweret in one scene Ramesses is presenting flowers or burning incense. The capitals of the pillars bear the face of the goddess Hathor this type of column is known as Hathoric. The bas-reliefs in the pillared hall illustrate the deification of the king, the destruction of his enemies in the north and south (in this scenes the king is accompanied by his wife), and the queen making offerings to the goddess Hathor and Mut. The hypostyle hall is followed by a vestibule, access to which is given by three large doors. On the south and the north walls of this chamber there are two graceful and poetic bas-reliefs of the king and his consort presenting papyrus plants to Hathor, who is depicted as a cow on a boat sailing in a thicket of papyri. On the west wall, Ramesses II and Nefertari are depicted making offerings to god Horus and the divinities of the Cataracts — Satis, Anubis and Khnum.

The rock cut sanctuary and the two side chambers are connected to the transverse vestibule and are aligned with the axis of the temple. The bas-reliefs on the side walls of the small sanctuary represent scenes of offerings to various gods made either by the pharaoh or the queen. On the back wall, which lies to the west along the axis of the temple, there is a niche in which Hathor, as a divine cow, seems to be coming out of the mountain: the goddess is depicted as the Mistress of the temple dedicated to her and to queen Nefertari, who is intimately linked to the goddess.

Each temple had its own priest that represents the king in daily religious ceremonies. In theory, the Pharaoh would have been the only celebrant in daily religious ceremonies performed in different temples throughout Egypt. In reality, the high priest also played that role. To reach that position, an extensive education in art and science was necessary, like the one pharaoh had. Reading, writing, engineering, arithmetic, geometry, astronomy, space measurement, time calculations, were all part of this learning. The priests of Heliopolis, for example, became guardians of sacred knowledge and earned the reputation of wise men.

Relocation

In 1959, an international donations campaign to save the monuments of Nubia began: the southernmost relics of this ancient human civilization were under threat from the rising waters of the Nile that were about to result from the construction of the Aswan High Dam.

One scheme to save the temples was based on an idea by William MacQuitty to build a clear fresh water dam around the temples, with the water inside kept at the same height as the Nile. There were to be underwater viewing chambers. In 1962 the idea was made into a proposal by architects Jane Drew and Maxwell Fry and civil engineer Ove Arup. They considered that raising the temples ignored the effect of erosion of the sandstone by desert winds. However the proposal, though acknowledged to be extremely elegant, was rejected.

The salvage of the Abu Simbel temples began in 1964 by a multinational team of archeologists, engineers and skilled heavy equipment operators working together under the UNESCO banner it cost some $40 million at the time. Between 1964 and 1968, the entire site was carefully cut into large blocks (up to 30 tons, averaging 20 tons), dismantled, lifted and reassembled in a new location 65 meters higher and 200 meters back from the river, in one of the greatest challenges of archaeological engineering in history. Some structures were even saved from under the waters of Lake Nasser. Today, a few hundred tourists visit the temples daily. Guarded convoys of buses and cars depart twice a day from Aswan, the nearest city. Many visitors also arrive by plane, at an airfield that was specially constructed for the temple complex.


Watch the video: Moving the Ancient Egyptian Temples of Abu Simbel in 1968 + Rare Archive Film. Ancient Architects (May 2022).