Located in Southern Egypt on the western side of Lake Nasser, two huge rock temples tower on a hill overlooking the surrounding landscape. This is Abu Simbel, a famous attraction in Egypt. Carved out of the side of a mountain from 1244 BC to about 1224 BC on the order of pharaoh Ramses II, Abu Simbel Temple was intended to serve as both a tribute to Ramses and his queen Nefertari as well as to intimidate and impress the Nubian nation to the south of Egypt.
As the longest ruling pharaoh in ancient Egypt, Ramses
II is a name common at almost every Egyptian tourist attraction.
He ruled for sixty-seven years and his mummy is currently
located in the Egyptian
Museum in Cairo.
Abu Simbel Temple consists of two temples. The more famous and larger of the two has four colossal statues of Ramses sitting patiently but sternly along its face. The four statues are about the height of a five-story building. All four are identical except for one damaged in an earthquake, which has tumbled to the ground. Standing at the feet of the large statues, statues of Ramses II's wife and several of his children are about life sized. This temple is dedicated to the gods Amun-Ra and Ptah along with Ramses himself, who was considered a deity. Twice a year near the spring and fall equinoxes, the sun shines in through the opening of the Abu Simbel Temple all the way to the very back room called the sanctuary, illuminating statues of Ramses and Amun-Ra. Ptah remains in shadow since he is the god of the underworld.
The smaller temple at Abu Simbel Egypt reveres the goddess Hathor and Nefertari, the chief wife of Ramses (no Pharoah stuck with just one wife). There are six statues guarding over this temple-four of Ramses and two of Nefertari. While the statues on the face of this temple are smaller than on that of the pharaoh, what is unique about this Egyptian tourist attraction is that the king and queen are of equal height.
In the 1960s, the Aswan Dam was constructed, creating what is known today as Lake Nasser. As Lake Nasser rose, the Abu Simbel Temple was threatened and an international effort saved the structure from submersion in the lake. The entire two temples were moved piece by piece to higher ground. Since the temple was originally carved into a mountain, an artificial mountain was constructed behind them to complete the look.
Getting to Abu Simbel, as with any Egyptian tourist attraction, is flexible depending on your budget and preferred way to travel. Busses are available from Aswan. However, for security reasons, cars and taxis may not travel to this site. Flights go to Abu Simbel from both Cairo and Aswan. Some Nile cruise lines offer a route that travels through Lake Nasser to the temple as well. Check with your nearest tourist office or hotel front desk for local options as there are many.
While Abu Simbel is quite a bit south of some of the main tourist attractions, the journey by air, river, or bus is worth it if you are interested in great temples from pharaonic times.