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Abu Simbel is considered a World Heritage Site by UNESCO and a symbol of Ramses II's power. But Abu Simbel is also fulfilled by fascinating stories. It is a temple that represented grandiosity, was forgotten for centuries, discovered, and even changed its location. It is definitely a must-see!
The Abu Simbel temples are two temples carved out of the rocks and built by king Ramses II. The big temple called Temple of Ramses is dedicated to Ramses himself and the gods Ptah, Amun, and Re- Harakty. The smaller called Temple of Nefertari is dedicated to Ramses's favourite wife (Nefertari) and the goddess Hathor.
They were built in 1244 BC and finished 20 years later. Abu Simbel was made to worship gods and goddesses but Ramses II also made sure that they would serve as a lasting temple to his and his queen's memory and as a symbol of Egypt's superiority over neighboring lands.
There are four statues by the entrance of the Temple of Ramses, and the pharaoh ordered that his face was sculpted in each god sculpture, thus reinforcing that he was sent by heavens. This was also a way he found out to ensure that any conflict originated by Akhenaton, his antecessor who established monotheism, was over.
Ramses Temple has several rooms dedicated to gods, the pharaoh himself and his family. One of the most fantastic events in Abu Simbel happens in 22 February and 22 October, when the sunrays enter the deepest room in the temple and illuminate the three statues inside. Archeologists believe that these are the dated of Ramses' coronation and birthday, respectively. Actually, the correct dates are 21 February and 21 October but after the temples were moved (we will see it below) a small calculation change occurred.
Not only Abu Simbel's grandiosity impresses but also the love story behind the Temple of Nefertari's construction. Even though it is smaller than the temple of Ramses, it shows through the eternity the love and respect Ramses II felt for his Royal Queen. Even though the pharaoh had other wives (and it is believed he was the father of over 100 children), Nefertari held a special position. They married before his ascension to the throne and played an important political role. Her statue is displayed in the same size as Ramses', something uncommon that time but a proof that he saw her as an equal.
It is said that Nefertari died young and could only see the entrance of her temple. Ramses II mourned her death and kept the title of Royal Queen only to Nefertari, despite having other wives.
Yes. In the 60's the Egyptian Government decided to build Aswan's High Dam to generating more electricity to the country and irrigation to lands. It was a bold project at that time but also due to the implications that would come within, which means temples that would be lost. Abu Simbel was amongst the temples near-to-be-inundated.
Aware of the huge loss it would cause to Egypt, both Egyptian Government and UNESCO combined forces and worked on a plan to literally move the Abu Simbel temples to a safer and higher place. The stones were cut, carried, and set in a new home but the operation took five years, millions of dollars, and required the work of thousands of men. Fortunately for us all the work was worth and we today can admire this masterpiece, as the Temple of Philae, another rescued site. On the other hand, not all temples could be saved and nowadays are found under the waters of Lake Nasser.
We understand that many people when visiting Egypt have a short quantity of days or try to prioritize what to see in order to enjoy more their stay. Abu Simbel indeed is one of the temples considered "out of the route" in terms of distance. Yet, it is the second most important site in Egypt after the Pyramids of Giza, therefore you should include it in your itinerary if you have the chance. We are very fortunate to live in a time of history in which we can admire these beautiful monuments buried for centuries and only discovered in 1813 - something definitely positive as it contributed to the good state the temples were found.
Abu Simbel is 280km away from Aswan and most tourists go by bus or van with their tour agent (around a 3h trip) but there is an independent bus option too (buses leave very early in the morning, so check their timetable prior). For those who want more comfort or are short in time, flights from Aswan to Abu Simbel take place every morning in a 30 minutes trip. Last but not least, if you choose a Nile cruise that sails on the Lake Nasser you do not need to worry about transportation since your ship will take you there.
Most of visitors enjoy going early in the morning to see the sunrise at the temples.