Ancient Egypt - The Temples at Abu Simbel


Ramesses II began construction of two temples at Abu Simbel, in Nubia. This project lasted 20 years and became his most famous construction. Carved out of a mountain, it was a great piece of architectural propaganda for the Nubians sailing north on the Nile, as its walls were shown depicting bound Nubian captives. The front of the great temple consisted of four colossal 60 foot high seated figures of the king that flanked the entrance in two pairs. One of the heads of the colossal 60 foot statues of Ramesses fell during his lifetime from an earthquake.


A wonder of ancient engineering, its orientation was so exact that the rising sun at the equinox on the 22nd of February and the 22nd of October flooded directly through the great entrance to illuminate 3 of the 4 gods carved seated in the sanctuary over 200 feet inside the mountain. These were the gods Ra- Horakhty, the deified King Ramesses II, and Amun-Ra. The fourth of the seated gods, Ptah, does not become illuminated because he is the god associated with the underworld.



The smaller temple was dedicated to Hathor and his wife, Nefertari. Remarkably, the small temple was one of the few instances in Egyptian art where the statues of the king and his consort were the same size. He also inscribed above the doorway to her temple:


'She for whom the sun does shine'.


These temples would later be moved to higher ground by UNESCO in the 1960s when the Aswan Dam was built. They were dismantled and reassembled exactly as they would have appeared in ancient times, fallen statues and all. During the move, there was an interesting conversation about what to do with the fallen colossal head of Ramesses. They could have repaired the head with rods and made it look just as it was when it was built. A decision was made to place the head on the ground just as it was in ancient times.


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