The Abu Simbel complex consists of 2 magnificent temples constructed by the Pharaoh Ramses II in the 13th Century BC to intimidate his neighbours, the Nubians. It was by far and away the most mind-blowing of all the stunning temples I visited in Egypt. Unlike most Egyptian temples which were constructed from the ground up – a staggering enough feat given the equipment available in ancient Egypt – Abu Simbel was carved into a rock face.
The larger temple was dedicated to the Gods Re-Herakte, Amun-Ra, Ptah, and to Ramses himself. The façade of the temple is guarded by 4 colossal 21m high statues of Ramses – the picture of my 5foot7 mother standing next to one of the statues will give you an idea of the sheer scale!
Inside is a layout of room after room leading off each other – and remember these were carved into a rock face – and all decorated with beautiful hieroglyphic frescoes, most of which still retain some of their original colour. At the end of the temple is the altar room where the Gods were honoured, and inside are 4 statues of the Gods (Ramses declared himself to be a God). The alignment of the temple is such that twice a year, on the anniversaries of Ramses birthday and coronation, 3 of the 4 statues are illuminated by the sunlight shining through the temple entrance. The fourth God is the God of darkness, and hence he remains in shadow.
In 1965, due to the risk of flooding, the temples were relocated to higher ground, a project that took 3 years. Despite all the more sophisticated equipment available, the positioning was not as accurate as that of the ancient Egyptians, and the statues are now illuminated 1 day later. Can you see now why I describe the temples as mind-blowing?!
The second temple was for Ramses’ favourite wife Nefertari and dedicated to the Goddess Hathor. The front is guarded by six 10m statues of Ramses & Nefertari. It is thought to be an extreme show of love for his wife that the statues of Nefertari are the same height as those of Ramses.