Visiting Abu Simbel, Egypt

Abu Simbel is one of the most important and magnificent treasures of the Egyptian monuments and a must-see for visitors to Egypt. The remote southern location of this New Kingdom temple site, in the isolated Nubian Desert, adds to the mystique of this startling monument which was erected in the 13th century B.C. To reach Abu Simbel, visitors must travel by air or bus on a day trip, 280 kilometers south of Aswan. The site is 40 kilometers north of the Egyptian border with Sudan. It is possible to stay overnight at a handful of small hotels, however most travelers visit the site on a pre-arranged day trip.

Four enormous seated statues of Ramesses II, each 65 feet high, are carved into a cliff, standing as iconic colossi guardians of the Abu Simbel temple site. Between the knees of these 4 statues are smaller statues of the King’s queen and his sons and daughters. The monuments and temple had been buried in sand from the time of antiquity until they were discovered by European explorers in the early 19th century. The temple was named after a local young boy who assisted the explorers in their discovery of the buried monument. In a rare miracle of modern engineering, the entire temple site and the monuments were dismantled into over 1,000 pieces, weighing 30 tons each, and then re-located and re-assembled at a higher location during the construction of the Aswan Dam in the 1960’s. The feat cost US$40 million; however, had they not been moved, this UNESCO World Heritage Site would have been lost forever beneath Lake Nasser. A Visitors Center on the site gives a detailed tour on how the temple was moved.

Abu Simbel was constructed during the reign of Ramesses II and is really comprised of two temples. The larger, or Great Temple, is dedicated to the Sun god Ra and the gods Ptah and Amun. The Small Temple is dedicated to Hathor and the goddess Nefertarti. These temples were part of a series of temples constructed by the Pharaoh Ramesses as symbols of pride to exhibit Egypt’s strength and power to its Nubian neighbors in the south. The statutes were strategically built to face the south, so that anyone entering Egypt from points in Africa would be confronted with the gaze of the imposing ruler. Another interesting feature of the site was that it was oriented in such a position so that on the Pharaoh’s birthday and his coronation day, the sun shone directly into the inner sanctuary. Beautifully carved reliefs inside both temples depict various scenes between the Pharaoh and the gods and goddesses.

Abu Simbel is one of Egypt’s most breath-taking monuments. Visitors willing to make the trip to this site will be rewarded by the aura surrounded by viewing this historical and architectural masterpiece of the ancient world. Other must see sights in Egypt include the Pyramids at Giza, Great Sphinx, and Valley of the Kings.

Creative Commons License Photo credit: MrSnooks