Temple of Abu Simbel
The statues of the façade of the Abu Simbel temple are one of the main symbols of ancient Egypt, like the Egyptian pyramids or the mask of Tutankhamun in the Cairo Museum . Probably, every reader at least once saw pictures from Abu Simbel in promotional booklets of excursion bureaus, in glossy travel magazines or, in extreme cases, in school history books. See the photo below.
Despite such popularity in magazines and on TV, the place of Abu Simbel is visited by very few tourists. This is the most southern landmark of Egypt right on the border with neighboring Sudan (see map ). It's difficult to get here, but it's worth the trip.
Saying the phrase "Abu Simbel temple" is incorrect, because there is not one but two temples, it's right to say "Abu Simbel temples". In Egypt, you can find a lot of ancient religious buildings, but the vast majority of them are structures built of stone blocks. Both temples in Abu Simbel are not like that, they are carved right in the rock.
The small temple is dedicated to the wife of Pharaoh Ramses II - Queen Nefertari. The very fact for Egypt is extraordinary when a temple is dedicated to a woman. In the history of Egypt, you can find just two such cases, the first - Abu Simbel, and the second - a temple that Pharaoh Akhnaton dedicated to Queen Nefertiti.
The facade of the small church is decorated with statues of Pharaoh Ramses II and Queen Nefertari, and the statues of the spouses have the same height - unique to ancient Egypt. On all other monuments the sculptures of the queens are always no higher than the tribe of the pharaoh. Abu Simbel can be called a monument of love and the most romantic sight of Egypt.
The love of Ramses II and Nefertari was probably just insane. Not only that Ramses II dedicated the temple to her, but also built a magnificent tomb in the Valley of the Tsars, which is generally recognized as the most beautiful among all the tombs of rulers and their wives of the era of the New Kingdom. Now the tomb of Nefertari can be viewed by every tourist, its index is QV66.
Abu Simbel is the name of the village near which this temple complex was discovered. Naturally, the ancient Egyptians called them differently: "Temple of Ramses, a favorite of Amun."
How to get to Abu Simbel
It's not as easy as getting to Luxor or seeing the sights of Cairo . Abu Simbel is 300 kilometers from the nearest major city of Aswan. Usually, travel companies combine an excursion to Aswan and Abu Simbel. Even from Aswan, the trip here takes almost the whole day.
These 300 kilometers of tourists are carried in buses as part of an organized guarded convoy. Egyptian deserts are dangerous places, it's only for the time of safari that the Bedouins are peaceful and entertain tourists. Real Bedouins often plunder cars passing by and even kidnap people. Do not expect to get to Abu Simbel by taxi , you have to buy an excursion, the question is - which is better?
The trip from Hurghada to Abu Simbel takes more than 10 hours, for this reason one-day excursions are not suitable here.
From the popular resorts of Egypt on the Red Sea, organize two-day tours on the route Luxor - Aswan - Abu Simbel. Such tours are very popular, they can be bought at any tour desk or at the hotel guide.
Another kind of tour - on an airplane of local airlines, such a trip just fits in one full day. The flight time from Hurghada to Aswan is 5 hours. Theoretically, you can fly directly to Abu Simbel, because it has its own airport. But we never saw such tours. Look, maybe you'll be lucky.
The best way to see Abu Simbel is a cruise on the Nile, which begins with a tour of the pyramids in Giza, the Cairo Museum, the citadel of Cairo and the mosque of Mohammed Ali .
Then tourists on the cruise river liner (pictured right) sail to Luxor and watch the Colossi of Memnon , the temple of Hatshepsut , the Valley of the Kings and the tomb of Tutankhamun . On the east bank in Luxor look Karnak and Luxor temples.
After swimming further up the Nile to Edfu , then Kom Ombo and the cruise ends with a tour of Aswan and the hamam of Abu Simbel.
Such a cruise is an opportunity to see all the important sights of Egypt for one trip. Of the most important tourist destinations in Egypt, you will miss only Mount Moses and the Monastery of St. Catherine , as they are far from the Nile - on the Sinai peninsula.
It is important to know - to whom the temples of Abu Simbel are dedicated
All the guides tell the following version: The Great Temple is dedicated to Pharaoh Ramses II, and the small queen Nefertari. The version is erroneous, since it was not customary to dedicate the temple only to a ruler in ancient Egypt. Temples were dedicated to Pharaoh together with other gods.
The great temple is dedicated to the gods Ptahu, Amon, Ra-Horakti (god Horus) and Pharaoh Ramses II. Small goddess Hathor and Queen Nefertari.
The second version - the temple was erected in honor of the victory of the army of Ramses II in the Battle of Kadesh. This hypothesis was not born accidentally. Inside the Great Church there are several bas-reliefs that tell of the battles of Ramses. Including the famous bas-relief about the Battle of Kadesh.
This version is completely implausible. In ancient Egypt, the temples were not dedicated to military victories. To perpetuate feats of arms, put special stele, obelisks or made bas-reliefs in temples.
A bit of history
The construction in Abu Simbel began in 1264 BC. and lasted 20 years. For Pharaoh Ramses II, such a term was not extraordinary, we recall that he ruled 64 years and went down in history as one of the most famous pharaohs .
In total, 6 similar temples were built in this region (according to another version 7). They had to strengthen the position of Egypt and the Egyptian religion in Nubia. Unfortunately, the rest of the temples have not survived to this day.
After the decline of the New Kingdom, the place of Abu Simbel was abandoned. Fortunately, the buildings were carved into the rock, and not built from blocks. Otherwise, they would simply be stolen by building materials, as happened with many ancient monuments in Egypt.
The temples gradually fell asleep with sand, brought by the wind from the desert. By the time when Europeans appeared here, the buildings were buried under a layer of sand completely.
In 1813 the Swiss Jean-Louis Burckhardt found a curb of the facade of the Great Temple, he told about a find to his friend - the Italian researcher Giovanni Belzoni. Then in 1813 they could not unearth the temple complex, even the entrance was not found.
Belzoni returned in 1817, dug out the temples and found the entrance. The first description of the Abu Simbel complex was made by the Englishman Edward William Lane in his book "Description of Egypt".
The transfer of the temples of Abu Simbel
In 1958, on December 27, Egypt and the USSR concluded an agreement on the construction of the Aswan dam and hydroelectric power station. The project provided for the formation behind a dam of a huge lake, later named "Lake Nasser" in honor of the President of Egypt.
According to the project, the temples of Abu Simbel were supposed to be under water, and in 100-200 years all the hieroglyphs on the walls would be erased, and the statues turned into remnants.
In 1959, a large-scale fundraising company began to raise funds for the rescue of the monument. Several projects were proposed. There was even one very extravagant plan - to protect Abu Simbel dam, creating around the temples a lake with clean water, as clean water will not harm statues and bas-reliefs. If this plan of William McQuiti was realized, tourists would now watch the temples of Abu Simbel through the glass of the underground tunnel.
But as a result, the plan was adopted to move the complex to an artificial hill 65 meters above and 200 meters further from the Nile River. At this point the temples of Abu Simbel were safe. From 1964 to 1968, they sawed into pieces, transported to a new place and there they were gathered back.
It was a titanic work of archaeologists and engineers from all over the world. Blocks weighed up to 30 tons, and the project cost 40 million dollars - astronomical for those times the amount. Thanks to this unique archaeological operation, we can now see first-hand the temples of Abu Simbel.
What to see - The facade of a large temple
The main elements of the facade are four huge statues of Ramses II, about 20 meters high. On the head of the pharaoh is the crown of Upper and Lower Egypt, which is called "pent". The total width of the facade is 35 meters.
On the facade there is another very interesting detail that most tourists simply do not notice. At the top are 22 small statues of baboon monkeys praying to the sun. They are difficult to see, you can try to see in the photo on the right.
Now many readers will ask: "And where does the baboons in general? What is special about them? "
These animals were revered in ancient Egypt. Baboons were considered the harbingers of the dawn, dispersing the darkness. One of the gods named Hapi was portrayed with the head of a baboon. This god was the guard of the throne of Osiris. The main thing is not to confuse it with another god Hapi - the patron of the Nile. The two gods have the same names.
One of the statues to the left of the entrance was badly damaged by the earthquake, its legs in place, but the upper part of the body and the head fell down. This torso and head are still lying at the entrance, you can look at them.
Near the large statues of Ramses II you can see small sculptures of his wives and children. According to tradition, their height is not higher than the knees of the statues of the pharaoh. It shows: the queen of Nefertari, the queen mother of Mut-Tuya, the first two sons: Amenherhe-Peipsheff and Ramesses and six daughters: Bent-Anat, Bucketmouth, Nefertari, Meritamon, Nebettaoui and Isetnofret.
Of course, these are not all the children of Pharaoh Ramses II. Recall that he lived about 90 years, he had 6 lawful wives and concubines. Scientists have not counted all his sons and daughters, but the figure is exactly above 100. There would not have been enough on all the seats on the facade.
Right above the entrance you can see the statue of the god Ra Harakti, it is the same god of the Mountains with the head of the falcon, just in the epoch of the New Kingdom it was "combined" with Ra - the main god of Heliopolis. To the right and to the left of the statue of Ra-Horakti on the bas-reliefs is depicted the praying to him pharaoh Ramses II.
Another interesting detail on the facade is the memorable stele, which tells about the marriage of Ramses II and the daughter of the king of the Hittite kingdom - Hattusili II. This marriage was very important, as he ended the war between Egypt and the Hittites. Recall that Ramses II signed the first in the history of our planet written international treaty, and this was the contract with the Hittites.
What to see - Inside the Great Temple
Inside the temples of Abu Simbel can not be photographed. Although, who ever stopped it? Tourists manage to photograph on the phone even inside the mausoleum of Mao Tse-tung, although there the security carefully checks every visitor.
It is here that there is a very famous bas-relief on which Ramses II is depicted with a bow and chariot in the battle of Kadesh (pictured right). It is worth a look, it is one of the main attractions of Egypt.
After entering, visitors enter the large hall 18 meters long and 16.7 meters wide. This hypostyle (meaning - with columns) the hall contains eight large columns showing the connection of Ramses II with Osiris - the god of the afterlife. On the walls of this room you can see a lot of bas-reliefs, mostly military themes.
Then there is another hypostyle hall, but smaller than the size. On the walls there are also beautiful bas-reliefs showing the rituals of offering to the gods. And behind it is a sanctuary where four statues depict Ramses II himself and the gods Ptah, Ra-Harapty and Amon-Ra.
In addition to these halls, there are many side rooms inside, each in its own way of interest.
What to see - The facade of a small temple
The second (Small) temple is dedicated to the goddess Hathor and Queen Nefertari. This is the second case in ancient Egyptian history, when the temple is dedicated to the queen. The first precedent - Pharaoh Amenhotep IV (Akhenaten) dedicated one of the temples to his wife Nefertiti.
To the left and right of the entrance to the Small Church there are two groups of statues about 10 meters high (pictured left). These sculptures depict Ramses II and Nefertari, and all the statues of the same size - an unprecedented case. Usually the statues of the princesses and children of the pharaoh do not exceed the height of the knee of the ruler.
Similar small statues on the facade are also available, they depict the children of Ramses and Nefertari. These are the princesses Meritamon, Hennutavi and the princes Rahirvenemem and Amen-kher-hepeshef.
Of course, compared with the Great Temple, the facade of the Small looks modest. There are no baboons here, but all the statues are completely intact.
What to see - Inside a small temple
It is also forbidden to take pictures, although tourists do not stop. On the Internet, you can find thousands of photos taken inside the temples of Abu Simbel.
In the first room you can see the columns depicting the goddess Hathor, they even got their name - the Hathoric. In general, the layout of the premises here is similar to the Great Temple, only all smaller rooms.
The bas-reliefs depict Ramses and Nefertari offering gifts to the gods.
In comparison with the Great Temple, where much is devoted to the military victories of Ramses II, Maly looks very peaceful. No wonder, because Hathor is the goddess of love, beauty and femininity. And at the same time she patronizes motherhood and fertility, songs, dances and all the other joys of life. Perhaps, this is the most positive goddess in the pantheon of the ancient Egyptians.
At this bell-ringed note, we end our story about Abu Simbel. Read other interesting articles about Egypt on our website ( links below ).
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