Temples of Ramses II at Abu Simbel, Aswan

Temples of Ramses II at Abu Simbel, Aswan

The open-air Museum of Nubia and Aswan brings together cultural properties closely associated with the unfolding of a long sequence of Egyptian Pharaonic history. In addition to the complexes of Abu Simbel and Philae the site includes the temples of Amada, of Derr, those of Ouadi Es Sebouah, Dakka and Maharraqah, the temple of Talmis, and the kiosk of ak-Kartassi, the temple of Beit el Ouali which are both rare and ancient. To these must be added the astonishing granite quarries of Aswan, exploited by pharaohs from early antiquity, where colossal unfinished obelisk-like monuments have been discovered.

This outstanding archaeological area contains such magnificent monuments as the Temples of Ramses II at Abu Simbel and the Sanctuary of Isis at Philae, which were saved from the rising waters of the Nile thanks to the International Campaign launched by UNESCO, in 1960 to 1980.

After the Pyramids of Giza, probably the most recognized monuments in all of Egypt are the two temples of Ramses II carved out of solid rock at a site on the west bank of the Nile, south of Aswan, known today as Abu Simbel. Today Abu Simbel remains one of Egypt’s top tourist attractions receiving millions of visitors a year.

The temples are magnificent, but the fact that they were moved, actually dismantled and raised more than 60 meters up the sandstone cliff from where they had been built more than 3,000 years before is even more remarkable. The temple complex of Abu Simbel is now 61m above where Ramses left it about 32 centuries ago; all thanks to the late-1960s UNESCO project that reassembled it above the rising waters of the new Lake Nasser.

The two temples were built by Rameses II, or Rameses the Great, circa 1244 BC, to honour several Egyptian gods and himself and his favourite wife, Queen Nefertari (the pharaoh was reported to have over 200 wives and concubines during his long reign), as well as to intimidate the various tribes of Nubia south of Egypt's borders (in present-day Sudan). Rameses was known for many things, and one of these was as a great builder, creating monuments and temples all over Egypt.
Temples of Ramses II at Abu Simbel, Aswan
A world heritage site is a place of either cultural or physical significance or one that conserves outstanding cultural or natural importance to the common heritage of humanity.

The movement to protect these sites started in 1954 when Egypt proposed to build Aswan Dam on the Nile, an event that would flood a valley containing treasures of ancient Egypt such as the Abu Simbel temples. The twin massive rock temples in Nubia (referred to as Nubian Monuments) in southern Egypt on the western bank of Lake Nasser were originally carved out of the mountainside during the reign of Pharaoh Ramesses II in the 13th century BC, as a lasting monument to himself and his queen Nefertari, to commemorate his alleged victory at the Battle of Kadesh. It also served to intimidate his Nubian neighbours in the south.

The construction of the Aswan dam would have submerged the valley and the monumental structures. UNESCO then through its 50-member states launched a worldwide safeguarding campaign and eventually the complex was relocated in its entirety in the 1960s at a cost of $80m to an artificial hill high above the Aswan High Dam reservoir.

Within its delicately frescoed interior, guards call incessantly, "No flash! Who flash?", at sightseers seemingly incapable of turning off the automatic flash functions on their cameras.

Outside, the sculptural eloquence of Abu Simbel contrasts with an equally eloquent silence across the surrounding desert and lake. Too soon, we are herded back to the plane for the return shuttle to Aswan.
inside the Temples of Ramses II at Abu Simbel
"...a witness turned to stone as evidence to posterity of the power of the divine pharaoh."

Not only are the two temples at Abu Simbel among the most magnificent monuments in the world but their removal and reconstruction was an historic event in itself. When the temples (280 km from Aswan) were threatened by submersion in Lake Nasser, due to the construction of the High Dam, the Egyptian Government secured the support of UNESCO and launched a world-wide appeal. During the salvage operation, which began in 1964 and continued until 1968, the two temples were dismantled and raised over 60m. up the sandstone cliff where they had been built more than 3,000 years before.

The design of Abu Simbel is unique - rock-hewn "grotto" temples, although unusual in Egypt, are frequently found in Nubia, but there is no other example of twin sanctuaries, in this case dedicated to Ramses himself and to his wife Nefertari, which combine to form a single ensemble. Unlike all the other Nubian temples Abu Simbel was never transformed into a church but was left alone, untouched by later religions, until it was recovered from the sand in 1817.

A short flight from Aswan is Abu Simbel and the Great Temple of Ramses II, and the gods of creation and light, Ptah, Amen and Heru-khuti is the most iconic Ancient Egyptian sight after the Pyramids. The temple has four massive statues of Ramses II and the gods Ra-Horakhty, Amun and Ptah at its entrance. Beyond lie two pillared halls and the sacred sanctuary. Every wall and ceiling is a storybook art gallery of this extraordinary pharaoh's life. (He lived to 90 and is said to have fathered more than 200 children).

In the decades since, the environmental costs of river control systems on the Nile have become starkly apparent: a rising water table, a sinking delta, a loss of soil fertility, river stagnation, soil salinity, a decline in Mediterranean fish populations.

Meanwhile, the protests of Nubian people displaced by the dam are becoming internationally audible-especially as the diaspora widens and new dams under construction in Sudan threaten to flood more Nubian land and villages.

The salvage of the magnificent rock-cut temples at Abu Simbel in the 1960s was celebrated as a triumph of engineering, international co-operation and concern for cultural heritage; but the loss of untold antiquities and relics under Lake Nasser is a source of regret for specialists working in the burgeoning field of Nubian archaeology in Egypt and Sudan.

In spite of all this, the Nasser-era rhetoric about the Aswan High Dam-its association with Egyptian independence, modernisation and might-has never given way to historical reinterpretation. In Egypt today it's hard to find a critic of the dam.

In Hindsight we explore what was lost when Egypt dammed the River Nile at Aswan: an archaeologist's paradise, an ancient cycle of inundation and renewal, and the ancestral homeland of 100,000 Nubian people.
Abu Simbel on the west bank of the Nile, south of Aswan

More details about: Aswan High Dam on the Nile River

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Four-day trips on Egypt's Lake Nasser and stops to visit nearly a dozen of the temples including Great Temple of Ramses II at Abu Simbel

ABU SIMBEL, Egypt — In the 1960s, rising waters from a new dam threatened to submerge the temples and monuments of Nubia, the ancient home of black pharaohs in Egypt's far south. To preserve them, the antiquities were dismantled, moved and reconstructed. Today, most of the surviving monuments can be seen only from the lake created by the waters that nearly destroyed them.

Cruises on the 300-mile-long (480-kilometre-long) Lake Nasser, one of the world's largest manmade lakes, include stops to visit nearly a dozen of the temples. Four-day trips are offered on a pair of elegant cruise ships, the Eugenie and the Kasr Ibrim, that hark back to a golden age of 1920s travel in Egypt and carry more than just a whiff of an Agatha Christie novel.

For tourists, the lake's vast waters also are a welcome respite from the din of Egypt's teeming cities and offer a contrast to the intensely farmed verdant fields of the Nile Valley. Birds wheel overhead and Egypt's last crocodiles slip unseen through the dark waters. The only other sound is the gentle chug of the boat's engine.

The temples, and the story of their survival, are a highlight of the trip. They were saved by the international community in one of the most dramatic feats of engineering and conservation the world had ever seen, painstakingly cut into pieces and rebuilt on higher ground, or in one case, carefully chipped out of the rock and slid on rails for more than a mile and a half (2.5 kilometres).

The most dramatic project was the dismantling of the massive statues of Pharaoh Ramses II at Abu Simbel into a thousand pieces. They were rebuilt on high ground over a period of four years as the rising waters lapped at their feet.

The lake, which crosses over into Sudan, was created when Egypt, with the help of the former Soviet Union, built the High Dam, which would go on to provide half of Egypt's electricity in the 1970s. It also protected the country from the droughts and famines that ravaged east Africa in the ensuing decades.

After contemplating such wonders both ancient and modern for much of the day under a blazing sun, it is a relief to return to the cool environment of the ship, where passengers are greeted with ice cold towels and drinks in the main lounge.

An expansive room with high ceilings and broad windows opening onto the lake's beauty, it is an ideal place to relax, and read, and wait for Detective Hercule Poirot to gather everyone together to reveal the murderer.

Four- or five-day cruises on Egypt's Lake Nasser can be taken on Fridays and Saturdays from Aswan, or on Mondays and Wednesday from Abu Simbel, depending on which boat you choose. Tickets are around $850 during high season, which starts in October and can be booked on the website or through a travel agent. Or contact Belle Epoque Travel, 011-202-2516- 9649. The massive statues of Abu Simbel can also be visited by airplane. More details about this LAKE NASSER CRUISES: or

Sun Fall Holiday to Abu Simbel Enjoy the perpendicular sun fall on the face of Pharaoh Ramses II statue in Abu Simbel Temple. The exquisite phenomenon happens twice a year on 22nd October & on 22nd February. Also spend unforgettable time in Luxor and Aswan.

Tempo Holidays

Tempo Holidays has a 10-day Nile in Style package from $2078 a person twin-share, including transfers in Cairo, Luxor and Aswan, four nights in Cairo, four nights cruising the Nile, one night in Aswan, private Abu Simbel excursion, internal flights and most meals. More: 1300 558 987;

Expeditions Trip

Trip includes two nights at the Four Seasons, private air transfers from Cairo to Abu Simbel and from Abu Simbel to Aswan, four nights aboard the Salacia, private air transfers from Luxor to Cairo, two nights at the Mena House Oberoi, 18 meals, daily escorted sightseeing and taxes. Info: 800-397-3348,

For More Information Visit: Aswan Tourism and Tourist Information

Last Updated on Sunday 5th December 2010