Abu Simbel temples
|Location||Aswan Governorate, Egypt|
|Founded||Approximately 1264 BCE|
|Periods||New Kingdom of Egypt|
|Official name||Nubian Monuments from Abu Simbel to Philae|
|Criteria||i, iii, vi|
|Designated||1979 (3rd session)|
The Abu Simbel temples are two massive rock temples at Abu Simbel (Arabic: أبو سمبل), a village in Nubia, Upper Egypt, near the border with Sudan. They are situated on the western bank of Lake Nasser, about 230 km (140 mi) southwest of Aswan (about 300 km (190 mi) by road). The complex is part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site known as the "Nubian Monuments", which run from Abu Simbel downriver to Philae (near Aswan). The twin temples were originally carved out of the mountainside in the 13th century BC, during the 19th dynasty reign of the Pharaoh Ramesses II. They serve as a lasting monument to the king and his queen Nefertari, and commemorate his victory at the Battle of Kadesh. Their huge external rock relief figures have become iconic.
The complex was relocated in its entirety in 1968 under the supervision of a Polish archaeologist, Kazimierz Michałowski, on an artificial hill made from a domed structure, high above the Aswan High Dam reservoir. The relocation of the temples was necessary or they would have been submerged during the creation of Lake Nasser, the massive artificial water reservoir formed after the building of the Aswan High Dam on the Nile River.
During his reign, Ramesses II embarked on an extensive building program throughout Egypt and Nubia, which Egypt controlled. Nubia was very important to the Egyptians because it was a source of gold and many other precious trade goods. He therefore built several grand temples there in order to impress upon the Nubians Egypt's might and Egyptianize the people of Nubia. The most famous temples are the rock-cut temples in Meha, now called Abu Simbel, at the Second Nile Cataract, the border between Lower Nubia and Upper Nubia. There are two temples, the Great Temple, dedicated to Ramesses II himself, and the Small Temple, dedicated to his chief wife Queen Nefertari.
Construction of the temple complex started in approximately 1264 BC and lasted for about 20 years, until 1244 BC. It was known as the "Temple of Ramesses, beloved by Amun".
With the passage of time, the temples fell into disuse and eventually became covered by sand. By the 6th century BC, the sand already covered the statues of the main temple up to their knees. The temple was forgotten until 1813, when Swiss orientalist Jean-Louis Burckhardt found the top frieze of the main temple. Burckhardt talked about his discovery with Italian explorer Giovanni Belzoni, who travelled to the site, but was unable to dig out an entry to the temple. Belzoni returned in 1817, this time succeeding in his attempt to enter the complex. A detailed early description of the temples, together with contemporaneous line drawings, can be found in Edward William Lane's Description of Egypt (1825–1828).
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.
One scheme to save the temples was based on an idea by William MacQuitty to build a clear fresh water dam around the temples, with the water inside kept at the same height as the Nile. There were to be underwater viewing chambers. In 1962 the idea was made into a proposal by architects Jane Drew and Maxwell Fry and civil engineer Ove Arup. They considered that raising the temples ignored the effect of erosion of the sandstone by desert winds. However the proposal, though acknowledged to be extremely elegant, was rejected.
The salvage of the Abu Simbel temples began in 1964 by a multinational team of archeologists, engineers and skilled heavy equipment operators working together under the UNESCO banner; it cost some US$40 million at the time (equal to $300 million in 2017 dollars). Between 1964 and 1968, the entire site was carefully cut into large blocks (up to 30 tons, averaging 20 tons), dismantled, lifted and reassembled in a new location 65 meters higher and 200 meters back from the river, in one of the greatest challenges of archaeological engineering in history. Some structures were even saved from under the waters of Lake Nasser. Today, a few hundred tourists visit the temples daily. Guarded convoys of buses and cars depart twice a day from Aswan, the nearest city. Many visitors also arrive by plane at an airfield that was specially constructed for the temple complex.
The complex consists of two temples. The larger one 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 of his many wives. The temple is now open to the public.
The Great Temple at Abu Simbel, which took about twenty years to build, was completed around year 24 of the reign of Ramesses the Great (which corresponds to 1265 BC). It was dedicated to the gods Amun, Ra-Horakhty, and Ptah, as well as to the deified Rameses himself. It is generally considered the grandest and most beautiful of the temples commissioned during the reign of Rameses II, and one of the most beautiful in Egypt.
Four colossal 20 meter statues of the pharaoh with the double Atef crown of Upper and Lower Egypt decorate the facade of the temple, which is 35 meters wide and is topped by a frieze with 22 baboons, worshippers of the sun and flank the entrance. The colossal statues were sculpted directly from the rock in which the temple was located before it was moved. All statues represent Ramesses II, seated on a throne and wearing the double crown of Upper and Lower Egypt. The statue to the left of the entrance was damaged in an earthquake, leaving only the lower part of the statue still intact. The head and torso can still be seen at the statue's feet.
Next to the legs of the colossi, there are other statues no higher than the knees of the pharaoh. These depict Nefertari, Ramesses's chief wife, and queen mother Mut-Tuy, his first two sons Amun-her-khepeshef, Ramesses, and his first six daughters Bintanath, Baketmut, Nefertari, Meritamen, Nebettawy and Isetnofret.
The entrance itself is crowned by a bas-relief representing two images of the king worshipping the falcon-headed Ra Harakhti, whose statue stands in a large niche. This god is holding the hieroglyph "user" and a feather in his right hand, with Ma'at, (the goddess of truth and justice) in his left; this is nothing less than a gigantic cryptogram for Ramesses II's throne name, User-Maat-Re. The facade is topped by a row of 22 baboons, their arms raised in the air, supposedly worshipping the rising sun. Another notable feature of the facade is a stele which records the marriage of Ramesses with a daughter of king Hattusili III, which sealed the peace between Egypt and the Hittites.
The inner part 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 temple is complex in structure and quite unusual because of its many side chambers. The hypostyle hall (sometimes also called a pronaos) is 18 meters long and 16.7 meters wide and is supported by eight huge Osirid pillars depicting the deified Ramses linked to the god Osiris, the god of the Underworld, to indicate the everlasting nature of the pharaoh. The colossal statues along the left-hand wall bear the white crown of Upper Egypt, while those on the opposite side are wearing the double crown of Upper and Lower Egypt (pschent). The bas-reliefs on the walls of the pronaos depict battle scenes in the military campaigns the ruler waged. Much of the sculpture is given to the Battle of Kadesh, on the Orontes river in present-day Syria, in which the Egyptian king fought against the Hittites. The most famous relief shows the king on his chariot shooting arrows against his fleeing enemies, who are being taken prisoner. Other scenes show Egyptian victories in Libya and Nubia.
From the hypostyle hall, one enters the second pillared hall, which has four pillars decorated with beautiful scenes of offerings to the gods. There are depictions of Ramesses and Nefertari with the sacred boats of Amun and Ra-Harakhti. This hall gives access to a transverse vestibule in the middle of which is the entrance to the sanctuary. Here, on a black wall, are rock cut sculptures of four seated figures: Ra-Horakhty, the deified king Ramesses, and the gods Amun Ra and Ptah. Ra-Horakhty, Amun Ra and Ptah were the main divinities in that period and their cult centers were at Heliopolis, Thebes and Memphis respectively.
It is believed that the axis of the temple was positioned by the ancient Egyptian architects in such a way that on October 22 and February 22, the rays of the sun would penetrate the sanctuary and illuminate the sculptures on the back wall, except for the statue of Ptah, a god connected with the Underworld, who always remained in the dark. People gather at Abu Simbel to witness this remarkable sight, on October 21 and February 21.[clarification needed]
These dates are allegedly the king's birthday and coronation day, respectively. There is no direct evidence to support this. It is logical to assume, however, that these dates had some relation to a great event, such as the jubilee celebrating the thirtieth anniversary of the pharaoh's rule. In fact, according to calculations made on the basis of the heliacal rising of the star Sirius (Sothis) and inscriptions found by archaeologists, this date must have been October 22. This image of the king was enhanced and revitalized by the energy of the solar star, and the deified Ramesses the Great could take his place next to Amun Ra and Ra-Horakhty.
Due to the displacement of the temple and/or the accumulated drift of the Tropic of Cancer during the past 3,280 years, it is widely believed[by whom?] that each of these two events has moved one day closer to the Solstice, so they would be occurring on October 22 and February 20 (60 days before and 60 days after the Solstice, respectively).
A well-known graffito inscribed in Greek on the left leg of the colossal seated statue of Ramesses II, on the south side of the entrance to the temple records that:
"When King Psammetichus (i.e., Psamtik II) came to Elephantine, this was written by those who sailed with Psammetichus the son of Theocles, and they came beyond Kerkis as far as the river permits. Those who spoke foreign tongues (Greek and Carians who also scratched their names on the monument) were led by Potasimto, the Egyptians by Amasis.
Kerkis was located near the Fifth Cataract of the Nile "which stood well within the Cushite Kingdom."
The temple of Hathor and Nefertari, also known as the Small Temple, was built about one hundred meters northeast of the temple of pharaoh Ramesses II and was dedicated to the goddess Hathor and Ramesses II's chief consort, Nefertari. This was in fact the second time in ancient Egyptian history that a temple was dedicated to a queen. The first time, Akhenaten dedicated a temple to his great royal wife, Nefertiti. The rock-cut facade is decorated with two groups of colossi that are separated by the large gateway. The statues, slightly more than ten meters high, are of the king and his queen. On either side of the portal are two statues of the king, wearing the white crown of Upper Egypt (south colossus) and the double crown (north colossus); these are flanked by statues of the queen.
Remarkably, this is one of very few instances in Egyptian art where the statues of the king and his consort have equal size. Traditionally, the statues of the queens stood next to those of the pharaoh, but were never taller than his knees. Ramesses went to Abu Simbel with his wife in the 24th year of his reign. As the Great Temple of the king, there are small statues of princes and princesses next to their parents. In this case they are positioned symmetrically: on the south side (at left as one faces the gateway) are, from left to right, princes Meryatum and Meryre, princesses Meritamen and Henuttawy, and princes Rahirwenemef and Amun-her-khepeshef, while on the north side the same figures are in reverse order. The plan of the Small Temple is a simplified version of that of the Great Temple.
As the larger temple dedicated to the king, the hypostyle hall or pronaos is supported by six pillars; in this case, however, they are not Osiris pillars depicting the king, but are decorated with scenes with the queen playing the sistrum (an instrument sacred to the goddess Hathor), together with the gods Horus, Khnum, Khonsu, and Thoth, and the goddesses Hathor, Isis, Maat, Mut of Asher, Satis and Taweret; in one scene Ramesses is presenting flowers or burning incense. The capitals of the pillars bear the face of the goddess Hathor; this type of column is known as Hathoric. The bas-reliefs in the pillared hall illustrate the deification of the king, the destruction of his enemies in the north and south (in this scenes the king is accompanied by his wife), and the queen making offerings to the goddess Hathor and Mut. The hypostyle hall is followed by a vestibule, access to which is given by three large doors. On the south and the north walls of this chamber there are two graceful and poetic bas-reliefs of the king and his consort presenting papyrus plants to Hathor, who is depicted as a cow on a boat sailing in a thicket of papyri. On the west wall, Ramesses II and Nefertari are depicted making offerings to god Horus and the divinities of the Cataracts — Satis, Anubis and Khnum.
The rock cut sanctuary and the two side chambers are connected to the transverse vestibule and are aligned with the axis of the temple. The bas-reliefs on the side walls of the small sanctuary represent scenes of offerings to various gods made either by the pharaoh or the queen. On the back wall, which lies to the west along the axis of the temple, there is a niche in which Hathor, as a divine cow, seems to be coming out of the mountain: the goddess is depicted as the Mistress of the temple dedicated to her and to queen Nefertari, who is intimately linked to the goddess.
|Climate data for Abu Simbel|
|Average high °C (°F)||23.6
|Daily mean °C (°F)||16.4
|Average low °C (°F)||9.2
|Average precipitation mm (inches)||0
|Average rainy days||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Mean daily sunshine hours||10||10||10||10||11||11||11||11||10||10||10||10||10|
|Source #1: Climate-Data.org|
|Source #2: Weather to Travel for sunshine and rainy days|
Westernmost Colossus, 1850 by Maxime Du Camp
Central, inset statue of Ra-Horakhty at the Great Temple
View of the Great Temple from the right, photo credited to William Henry Goodyear (before 1923)
View of the rightmost statue at the Great Temple, partially excavated, with a human figure (possibly William Henry Goodyear) for scale
Ramesses offering to seated god Ptah. Frieze inside the Small Temple.
- Centre, UNESCO World Heritage. "Nubian Monuments from Abu Simbel to Philae". whc.unesco.org. Retrieved 2018-02-24.
- Verner, Miroslav. Temple of the Word: Sanctuaries, Cults and Mysteries of Ancient Egypt. (Cairo: The American University in Cairo Press, 2013).
- Hawass, Zahi. The Mysteries of Abu Simbel. (Cairo: The American University in Cairo Press, 2000).
- Lane E, "Descriptions of Egypt," American University in Cairo Press. pp.493-502.
- Fry Drew Knight Creamer, 1978, London, Lund Humphries
- Spencer, Terence (1966). The Race to Save Abu Simbel Is Won. Life magazine, December 2, 1966.
- Fitzgerald, Stephanie (2008). Ramses II: Egyptian Pharaoh, Warrior and Builder. New York: Compass Point Books. ISBN 978-0-7565-3836-1
- Alberto Siliotti, Egypt: temples, people, gods,1994
- Ania Skliar, Grosse kulturen der welt-Ägypten, 2005
- "king Psammetichus II (Psamtik II)". Touregypt.net. Retrieved 2011-11-20.
- Britannica, p.756
- "Climate: Abu Sinbil – Climate graph, Temperature graph, Climate table". Climate-Data.org. Retrieved 14 August 2013.
- "Abu Simbel Climate and Weather Averages, Egypt". Weather to Travel. Retrieved 12 July 2013.
- Berg, Lennart (1978). "The Salvage of the Abu Simbel Temples" (PDF). International Council on Monuments and Sites. Retrieved 7 March 2015. - Highly detailed article describing the process of saving and creating a new location for the temples.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Abu Simbel temples.|
|Wikivoyage has a travel guide for Abu Simbel.|
|Wikisource has the text of the 1921 Collier's Encyclopedia article Abu-Simbel.|
- Google (20 February 2016). "Abu Simbel archeological site" (Map). Google Maps. Google. Retrieved 20 February 2016.
- Abu Simbel at the website of Egypt State Information Service
- Abu Simbel at Aldokkan
- Abu Simbel temples' plan
- Abu Simbel temples images
- Abu Simbel map, images and info
- Abu Simbel UNESCO page