Slowly, more tourists are beginning to once again visit the magnificent ruins of Egypt. Unrest has been a part of the Egyptian civilization for thousands of years and several years ago unrest returned to this ancient civilization making touring Egypt extremely risky for foreigners. As tension is subsiding and stability starting to return, tour companies are beginning to run tours to Egypt again and to the incredible sites that are on many peoples bucket list.
We had the good fortune of visiting Egypt, before the latest unrest broke out, and were able to take in most of the highlights that are on any tourists list of must see places. We did have the feeling that visiting Egypt was not quite the same as visiting the ruins in Rome, as we had armed guards on our tour bus and armed guards at our hotel. Even with this, we found Egypt a fascinating country and the majority of citizens accommodating. In Cairo, we took in the usual sites of the Pyramids of Giza, the Step Pyramid, the older Museum of Egyptology (there is a new museum now) and a visit to Alexandria. One of the ancient sites we also took in was the temple complex along the western bank of Lake Nasser known as Abu Simbel. These incredible ruins are part of the UNESCO World Heritage site known as the Nubian Monuments. There are two sets of temples located here in southern Egypt, near the Sudan border. The temples were originally carved out of the mountainside, before the creation of Lake Nasser. They were carved during the reign of Pharaoh Ramesses II, in the 13th century B.C. They were said to be a lasting monument to Ramesses and his Queen, Nefertari, to commemorate his victory at the Battle of Kadesh. It took 20 years to construct and is one of six rock temples erected to Ramesses in Egypt.
Over the centuries, the temples were completely covered by sand, up to the neck of the huge colossi statues. Because the temples are located at the southern end of Egypt, they were forgotten about until 1813, when Swiss explorer Jean-Louis Burckhardt, working with Italian Giovanni Belzoni, heard about the possibility of the existence of the temples and were led to the site. Legend has it that a young, local boy, Abu Simbel, led people on tours of the site prior to the explorers visiting the site. The legend says he led Belzoni and Burckhardt to the temples and they named them after the boy. The sand was so deep and covered so much of the entrance, Belzoni was not able to enter the site until 1817 after clearing sand away from the entrances. There seems to be disagreement on whether Belzoni was more of an explorer or looter who stole and sold a lot of the treasurers he found inside the temple. A number of drawings were made showing the exploration of the temple.
As time passed and the country of Egypt grew in population, it became necessary to build a series of dams along the Nile to aide in controlling the flooding that occurred each year. Along with this was the building of the huge Aswan Dam and the creation of what would be called Lake Nasser. To do this would mean the temple complex of Abu Simbel would be covered by the waters of Lake Nasser. In 1959, an international donations campaign began to save the monuments. Work would begin in 1964 to literally cut the temple complex into huge puzzle pieces that would be reassembled in an area on the edge of Lake Nasser. This would include building a massive man-made hill to resemble the landscape of Egypt that would enclose the temples. Between 1964-1968, the temple was cut into large blocks, some up to 30 tons in weight. The blocks averaged 20 tons each. Huge cranes lifted the blocks over 213 feet high what would be the shore line and placed 690 feet back from the shore line. The project was completed in 1968 at a cost of over $40 million. One amazing feature was positioning the axis of the temple so that the rays of the sun would penetrate the sanctuary on the king’s birthday and coronation day, just as it did in the original location of the temple. The dates originally were October 21 and February 21. When the new temple complex was completed, due to the new height of the temple the dates of the sun penetrating the entrance to the temple changed to October 22 and February 22.
Once the new temple complex was completed. The local airport was expanded and the Abu Simbel site is now the most visited place in Egypt behind the Pyramids of Giza. As the temple complex is located a plane flight from Cairo, the temperature here can get extremely hot. The day we were there the temperature was hovering at 120 degrees. The average temperature at Abu Simbel is 102 degrees.
As far as the complex itself, the largest temple was dedicated to Ra-Harakhty, Ptah and Amun. The front façade of the temple entrance features four large statues of Ramesses II, each 66 feet tall. Next to the legs are statues of Queen Nefertari, his queen mother Mut-Tuy, his first two sons and his first 6 daughters. Each is 32 feet high. Inside the largest Temple of Ramesses, the room is 185 feet long and 115 feet high. The smaller temple is dedicated to the goddess Hathor, personified by Nefertari. The inside of this temple stretches 92 feet long and is 40 feet high.
At times, as you visit the must see places on your tours, they start to look the same. The museums, the churches, the castles, the parks can tend to blend together in appearance. Abu Simbel is like no other ancient ruin in Egypt and most certainly should be included on a trip to Egypt, if you are daring enough to visit this fascinating country.
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