Abu Simbel is an archaeological site comprising of two enormous rock temples (Ramses II and Nerfertary) in southern Egypt along the Nile about 290 km southwest of Aswan. It is part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site of "Nubian Monuments" which run from Abu Simbel downriver to Philae. The Great Temple of Ramses II (a 19th dynasty pharaoh of Egypt who ruled for 67 years during the 13th century BC, the apogee of Ancient Egypt's power and glory) at Abu Simbel consists of four seated massive statues of Ramses II carved into the mountain, forming one of the boldest temple facades in the world. It is aligned so the sun's rays travel through the mountain and illuminate Ramses' sanctuary twice a year -- on October 22 and February 22. The larger one, Ramesses is dedicated to Ra-Harakhty, Ptah and Amun, Egypt's three state deities of the time, and features four large statues of Ramesses II in the facade. The smaller temple is dedicated to the goddess Hathor, personified by Nefertari, Ramesses's most beloved wife (in total, the pharaoh had some 200 wives and concubines).
Construction of the temple started in 1244BC and lasted for 20 years. It was one of the six temples built during the long reign of Ramesses II. Their purpose was to impress Egypt's southern neighbors, and also to reinforce the status of Egyptian religion in the region. Historians say that the design of Abu Simbel expresses a measure of ego and pride in Ramesses II. The temples were later covered in sand as time passed being forgotten until 1813 when a Swiss orientalist J.L Burckhardt found the top frieze of the main temple.
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.
The salvage of the Abu Simbel Temples began in 1964, costing around USD $80 million. Between 1964 and 1968, the entire site was cut into large blocks, disassembled and reassembled in a new location 65 m higher and 200 m back from the river, in what many consider one of the greatest feats of archaeological engineering. A similar project was undertaken at the island of Philae downriver which is why today, thousands of tourists visit the temples daily. Tour guides at the site relate the legend that "Abu Simbel" was 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, Abu Simbel.
How to get there
There is a flight between Aswan and Abu Simbel that takes 45 minutes which is a little bit expensive. The plane lands at an airfield specially constructed for the temple complex.
A cheaper alternative is to go by road in the convoy. Guarded convoys of buses and cars depart twice a day from Aswan. The trip takes about 3.5 hours to cover the 280km distance.
What to see
The two temples
TheTemple of Ramses II at Abu Simbel is generally considered the grandest and most beautiful of the temples commissioned during the reign of Ramses II, and one of the most beautiful in Egypt. The facade is 33 meters high, and 38 meters broad, and guarded by four statues, each of which is 20 meters high. They were sculptured directly from the rock in which the temple was located before it was moved.
Several smaller figures are situated at the feet of the four statues, depicting members of the pharaoh's family. They include his mother Tuya, Nefertari, and some of his sons and daughters. Above the entrance there is a statue of a falcon-headed Ra-Harakhte, with the pharaoh shown worshipping on both sides of him. Below the statue there is an ancient rebus, showing the throne name of Ramesses: Waser-ma'at.
The interior 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 first hall of the temple features eight statues of the deified Rameses II in the shape of Osiris, serving as pillars. The walls depict scenes of Egyptian victories in Libya, Syria and Nubia, including images from the Battle of Kadesh. The second hall depicts Ramesses and Nefertari with the sacred boats of Amun and Ra-Horakthy.
Thesanctuarycontains four seated statues of Ra-Horakhty, Ptah, Amun and Ramesses. The temple was constructed in such a way that the sun shines directly on all four statues during two days of the year, February 20 and October 20. These dates are allegedly the king's birthday and coronation day respectively, but there is no evidence to support this. Due to the displacement of the temple, it is widely believed that this event now occurs one day later than it did originally.
The Temple of Nefetari is located north of the Great Temple of Ramses II. It was carved in the rock by Ramses II and dedicated to Hathor, the goddess of love and beauty, and also to his favorite wife, Nefertari, for "whose sake the very sun doeth shine." The façade is adorned by six statues, four of Ramses 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 Ramses II striking the enemy before Ra-Harakhte and Amun-Ra. Other wall scenes show Rameses II and Nefertari offering sacrifices to the gods.
Where to stay
Seti Abu Simbel Lake Resort: The only hotel at the foot of the Grand Temple of Ramses, Seti Abu Simbel lies in the heart of one of Ancient Egypt's most majestic locations. With its Nubian style domes, flowing waterfalls and gardens, the hotel itself is a view to behold. All 138 cosy guestrooms and suites, built on 2 levels, are equipped with every thinkable amenity. For sumptuous cuisine, the Toshka Restaurant, Layalina Cafe, Fish Restaurant, pool bar, or even at the ice cream corner are available.
Nefertart Abu Simbel: With its central location, Nefertari Abu Simbel Hotel is within easy reach of most tourist attractions and business addresses in Abu Simbel. All 122 guestrooms at the hotel provide all the comforts and conveniences guests would expect in a hotel in this class. Each guestroom is tastefully appointed with non smoking rooms, air conditioning, hair dryer, in room safe, television, mini bar, balcony/terrace, coffee/tea maker. Services and amenities available for guests at this Abu Simbel accommodation consist of 24hr room service, restaurant, salon, disabled facilities, tours, babysitting, poolside bar. Leisure and sports facilities available on the hotel's property comprise massage, gym, spa.
Abu Simbel Tourist Village /Hotel Abbas:
Abu Simbel Tourist Village is mainly known for its hospitality. This resort is a typical budget hotel. This resort is famous as Hotel Abbas after the name of its owner. Can easily access the two great temples as these are located within 30 minutes walking distance. Guests can also enjoy 24-hour room service.
Alternatively visitors can opt to stay in Cairo or Aswan and commute to the temple.
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