Why Travel to Egypt
If you are an Africa travel enthusiast, Egypt probably needs no introduction. This North African country has a rich, mystical, and well-known history dating back to the old testament days of the Christian bible. Today, many historical monuments from these ancient days still stand in Egypt, attracting millions of visitors every year. The ancient temples at Abu Simbel are one great example.
Abu Simbel: Background Information
Consisting of two sacred temples carved out of a mountain side, Abu Simbel is the second major ancient man-made tourist attraction in Egypt today, after the great pyramids. The Abu Simbel temples are part of the Nubian monuments in Egypt, which have collectively been declared UNESCO world heritage sites. You should visit Abu Simbel at least once, to appreciate the beauty of the temples and also learn about its mystical history, like thousands of other local and foreign tourists do.
The temples at Abu Simbel are presently situated at the top of an artificial cliff on the western banks of Lake Nasser, about 300 km southwest of the Aswan High Dam. However, this was not their original site. Originally, these ancient temples were located about 200 feet below the current location. They were relocated in the 1960’s to prevent them from being submerged in Lake Nasser, following the construction of the Aswan high dam. The temple relocation and reconstruction is deemed as one of the great engineering feats of the modern world.
The Temples’ Relocation
Done through the combined efforts of the Egyptian Government and UNESCO, the relocation of the Abu Simbel cost over 60 million US dollars and lasted four years. The temples were cut up into huge slabs at their original site, each slab weighing over 3000 kilograms. The slabs were then moved to higher ground very gingerly to avoid damage. At the new site, the pieces were carefully reassembled, taking into consideration all the elements that had been in place at the original site including the accurate construction measurements and the position of the sun. There is a small museum outside the Abu Simbel, where you can get a step by step documentation of the relocation and reassembly of the two temples. The museum also has a lot of other information such as the history of Abu Simbel and the ancient kingdoms who worshiped in it.
Abu Simbel History
The two temples were built during the reign of Pharaoh Ramesses II, reputedly to commemorate his victory at the Battle of Kadesh.
Touring Abu Simbel
Four gigantic statues of Pharaoh Ramesses sit at the front of the Abu Simbel. This is the mesmerizing sight that greets your eyes as you approach the temple. You will feel both dwarfed and amazed by its sheer size. One of the statues in the middle has however been destroyed from the head to the waist by a past earthquake. At the feet of these gigantic statues are much smaller statues, probably of members of the then royal family.
When you tour the Abu Simbel, you will most likely be in the company of travel guides who will awe you with stories of the rise and fall of ancient kingdoms, and of gods who could spit fire and turn day into night. By the time you get past the first entrance of the Abu Simbel, you may be so spooked that you will not want to fall even a step behind the tour group. The first entrance leads to a corridor lined with more statues, wall engravings and cave paintings.
Most of the history about the temples has been concluded from the illustrations carved on these walls. However, some of these illustrations have never been fully interpreted. As you go deeper inside the temples, it gets more beautiful, interesting and almost unsettling. If you love mysteries and scary stories, you are sure to have an unforgettable experience here.
At the innermost shrine inside the temple, you will find four statues of the main gods seated on a high platform. The most remarkable thing about this shrine is that it was constructed in such a way that twice a year, in late February and late October, the first rays of the sun shine directly down on the back wall of the shrine illuminating the gods and giving the shrine an eerie yet powerful presence. This phenomenon points to the extraordinary sense of design and planning that ancient Egyptians had, particularly when it came to the sun and other heavenly bodies.
The temples are still considered sacred by some Egyptians and don’t be surprised if you find a group of people outside the temple saying a prayer while facing the sun. Most people who believe in the sanctity of the Abu Simbel like to visit the site in February and October when the rays of the sun light up the innermost shine and make the statues of the gods “come alive”.
To travel to Abu Simbel, you can take a flight from Cairo or Aswan to the airstrip behind Abu Simbel, or you can go by bus. The temples are located in a very remote setting with very few inhabitants in the area. The area is largely desert land and temperatures can soar to uncomfortable heights during the day and then drop to skin penetrating cold during the night.