After cruising down the Nile with our tour group, my mother and I paid extra to fly to Nubia (a village in Southern Egypt that borders the Sudan) to see the magnificent temples of Abu Simbel and it was so worth it! Upon first sight, my eyes popped and my mouth dropped open. The sheer size, engineering, and beauty made it an amazing sight to behold. Like the pyramids, I marveled at how it was constructed.
The Abu Simbel temples were originally carved out of a mountainside during the reign of pharaoh Ramesses II. Who is Ramesses II, aka Ramesses the Great, some of you may ask? He is only the most regarded, powerful, and celebrated pharaoh of Egypt. So why is it that most have not heard of him while King Tut, a spec in pharaonic history, is so revered? Well the boy king, aka King Tutankhamun (Tut) stepped onto the throne at age 9 and lived only until he was 19 years old. He was buried in the Valley of the Kings and his tomb was found basically intact in 1922 making the find one of the most exciting moments in Egyptian archaeology. It is really the discovery of his tomb that makes King Tut famous, not what he did under his reign. So this begs to question, who the heck is Ramesses II?
Ramesses the Great ruled Egypt from 1279 BC to 1213 BC and is estimated to have died around the age of 91. In entertainment, Ramesses II is one of the most popular candidates for the Pharaoh of the Exodus, but there isn’t any documentation or archaeological evidence to support this. Cue the American spiritual ‘Go Down Moses’ – “Go down, Moses, way down in Egypt’s land… Tell old pharaoh let my people go”. Ramesses the Great built extensively throughout Egypt and Nubia and is responsible for the formation of one of my favorite Egyptian monuments, the Great Temples of Abu Simbel. The two temples were constructed (one for him and one for his queen, Nefertari) to commemorate his victory at the Battle of Kadesh. In yet another amazing engineering feat, both monument complexes were relocated to an artificial hill above the Aswan High Dam near the Nile River. A massive reservoir named Lake Nasser was formed post-construction and had the temples not been moved they would have been submerged under water during its creation. The Great Temple of Abu Simbel took almost 20 years to construct and was dedicated to the main gods Amun, Ra-Horakhty, and Ptah, and in ancient Egyptian fashion, to deified Ramesses himself. It is believed that the axis of the temple was placed in such a way that on October 22nd and February 22nd the rays of the sun would penetrate the sanctuary and illuminate all of the sculptures on the back wall except for the one of Ptah, who was the god connected to the Underworld and who always remained in the dark. Those dates are allegedly Ramesses’s birthday and coronation day respectively, but there is no evidence to support this theory.
This was a magnificent part of my trip to Egypt and I would recommend visiting Abu Simbel to all who are willing and able to visit this great country. You’ll never see anything like it anywhere else in the world! Chat with me below and offer your thoughts on this stunning monument.
- Abu Simbel is the fictional field headquarters of M16 in the James Bond film ‘The Spy Who Loved Me’.
- The temple is the cover illustration for the Earth, Wind & Fire ‘All In All’ album.
- Ramesses the Great, one of Egypt’s greatest pharaohs, reigned for 67 years, had nearly 200 wives, 96 sons, and 60 daughters. He died around 96 years of age and Egypt fell into a steady decline following his death. His 3,000 year old mummy is on display at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo.
- Drink plenty of water; I made the grave mistake of going to Egypt in August and it was over 110 degrees in the shade.
- If you are female, bring a few scarfs in case you want to enter a mosque – one for your head and one to cover your shoulders and upper body if you are showing too much skin.
- Haggle away! They have different prices for people from different countries.
- Research the cost for your itinerary. Some people may charge you to enter places that are actually free to visit.
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