There are many rock temples in Egypt. But nowhere are they as big and imposing as in Abu Simbel. With four gigantic statues of Ramses II guarding the Great Temple, it is one of Egypt's most impressive sights and my favorite temple!
Off to adventure! Through the desert to the temple of Abu Simbel
Still in the dark we get into a minibus and drive 280 km south to Sudan. Just beyond the city limits of Aswan in Egypt, the buses gather to travel in convoy on Road 75 to the temples of Abu Simbel. In the east we see Lake Nasser glittering in the rising sun. I would love to continue driving, always along the Nile, deep into the heart of Africa, through Sudan, the south of Ethiopia and Uganda, like a real explorer.
Unfortunately it ends at the Abu Simbel parking lot. And I don't feel quite as excited to explore anymore, because a relatively large crowd of people probably had the same idea. A little disappointed, I leave the parking lot and follow the signs. The temples are located on the edge of the Sahara, the largest desert in the world - the reservoir on whose banks Abu Simbel was rebuilt glitters like a mirage. When I see the first head of Ramses II appear behind the rock face, I forgot about the other tourists: I'm blown away.
My tip: Since a lot of tourists come with the convoy, the temple is very full at the beginning. I used this time to look at the interiors of the two temples as most people just take selfies in front of the temple. Later it will be quieter and you can admire the outdoor area in peace. The huge golden keys for the entrance gate, which the guards show you (usually for a small tip), are also great.
Abu Simbel - the most beautiful temple in Egypt?
From afar you can see the enthroned giant statues of the pharaoh, who had the temples carved into the rock more than three thousand years ago. No doubt: the two mysterious rock temples of Abu Simbel are among the most important and impressive buildings from the time of the pharaohs.
The Great Temple of Abu Simbel was completed in around twenty years of construction around the year 24 (corresponds to 1265 BC) under Ramses the Great. Ramses had dedicated it to the gods Amun, Ra-Horakhty, Ptah and himself.
Our leader Mohammed is not a big fan of Ramses:
“Ramses II was a narcissist - who else would build a temple with four sculptures of himself in front of it? A classic case of me, myself and I!”
None of the other sculptures are higher than his knee. This also says a lot about the pharaoh's self-image.
Who was Ramses II?
Ramses II ca. 1303 BC - 1213 BC Known as Ramses the Great, he was an Egyptian pharaoh. He was the third ruler of the Nineteenth Dynasty. Together with Thutmose III. of the Eighteenth Dynasty, he is often considered the greatest, most famous, and most powerful pharaoh of the New Kingdom, which in turn was the most powerful period of Ancient Egypt. He is also considered one of the most successful military pharaohs of Ancient Egypt, leading no fewer than 15 campaigns, all of which (except one) ended victoriously.
In the early part of his reign he concentrated on building cities, temples and monuments. To this day he is probably one of the most famous rulers of Ancient Egypt:
Rames II lived to be 93 years old, ruled the New Kingdom for around 66 years and is said to have fathered over 100 children during this time.
The Great Temple
The single entrance is flanked by four colossal 20m high statues depicting Ramses II seated on a throne and wearing the double crown of Upper and Lower Egypt. The statue immediately to the left of the entrance was damaged in an earthquake, causing its head and torso to fall off; These parts were not restored when the statue was relocated (more on this later) but were placed in their original position at the feet of the statue. Beside the legs of Ramses are a number of smaller statues, none of which are higher than the pharaoh's knees. They represent his wife Nefertari Meritmut, his queen mother Mut-Tuy and his children.
The interior is illuminated by the sun twice a year.
It is believed that the axis of the temple was designed by the Egyptian builders so that on October 22nd and February 22nd the sun's rays would penetrate the sanctuary and illuminate the sculptures on the back wall, with the exception of the Statue of Ptah, a god associated with the realm of the dead and always remaining in the dark. On these days, people gather in Abu Simbel to witness this spectacle.
Supposedly it is the king's birthday or the day of his coronation. There is no direct evidence of this. However, it is logical to assume that these dates have some connection with an important event.
The Small Temple
The Temple of Hathor and Nefertari, also called the Small Temple, was built about 100 m northeast of the Temple of Ramses II and was dedicated to the goddess Hathor and Ramses II's main wife, Nefertari. It was the second time in ancient Egyptian history that a temple was dedicated to a queen. The first time it was Akhenaten who dedicated a temple to his royal wife Nefertiti.
It is noteworthy that this is one of the few cases in Egyptian art where the statues of the king and his wife are the same size,
the great Ramses must have really been in love...
Traditionally the statues were of the queens next to those of the Pharaoh, but never higher than his knees (as in the great temple).
Discovery of Abu Simbel
Half-buried by sand, the temple was forgotten far to the south for centuries (one can almost say millennia). Until the Swiss adventurer Johann Ludwig Burckhardt traveled to the area in 1813 and inspired more and more Europeans to come here through his stories. Eventually, archaeologists completely excavated the half-buried temple and examined the inscriptions and wall paintings. Today Abu Simbel is a World Heritage Site because of its uniqueness.
Relocation of the temples
When the Aswan High Dam was built, it was realized that the large temples would sink into the resulting reservoir. But (fortunately) no one wanted to give up this unique cultural miracle. Engineers from all over the world thought about how to save the temples. The relocation of the two Abu Simbel temples finally took place between November 1963 and September 1968 as a worldwide joint project. They were carefully sawn into thousands of blocks by a German construction company and reassembled at a higher location.
You can watch an impressive film about it in the entrance area.
Some of the blocks were huge and weighed many tons. The world cultural organization UNESCO has made a lot of money available to pay for the construction machinery, the engineers and the many workers. People from all over the world also donated to finance the project. This is how the two temples of Abu Simbel were moved. So when you visit the temple today, you won't see it where it was originally built, but at a higher point above the lake.
Here you can find more blog posts about Egypt
You can actually book a transfair to the Abu Simbel Temple at any hotel reception. Make sure you have enough time on site.
You can take a taxi safely with Ube. The best thing to do is download the app. This makes it possible to track who picked you up, especially if you order it at the hotel reception.
A single cabin costs $130.
Accommodation on the night train is in two-bed cabins that are comfortable and air-conditioned. Bedding is provided and there are Western-style toilets in each carriage. The overall cleanliness of the train may not be up to the standard you are used to - especially towards the end of the journey. A simple dinner and breakfast are included and served on board. If you have special requests, you better bring them with you.
If you have strong nerves you can, for example, at www.billiger-mietwagen.de book a rental car from €140 per week. However, be warned: Cairo is one of the busiest cities in North Africa and is notorious for its traffic congestion and air pollution. I wouldn't recommend a rental car just for Cairo.
FOOD & DRINK
The King Jamaica Restaurant & Cafe is located in Aswan on Elephantine Island directly on a rock above the Nile. The colorful, cheerful restaurant offers a mix of Nubian and Jamaican cuisine.
Elephantine Island, Sheyakhah Oula, Aswan 1, Aswan Governorate 81111, Egypt
I have Intrepid Travel the 15-day package trip “Explore Egypt” booked for €1,283:
In hindsight, I would probably choose another trip because Hurghada was too cold for me in January and I didn't really find the Alamein military museum near Alexandria that exciting. From the itinerary it sounds Egypt Experience - in retrospect - better.
The paths around the ruins are often rocky. Comfortable footwear is therefore essential. It is particularly hot in Egypt between June and September, but I always recommend a sun hat and sunscreen. Avoid plastic waste and bring your own water bottle and fill it with boiled water. There are kettles in almost all hotels.