On no sleep, I left the Egyptian riverboat and entered the minibus at 4am. It was a bumpy three hour ride from Aswan to the UNESCO World Heritage site of Abu Simbel and I barely got a chance to sleep on the way.
Our group arrived to see hordes of buses lined up in the parking lot. Sem Sem led us through the gates and along the path to the ruins. While everyone piled into the nearer of the two temples, he took us to the further, smaller one, where nobody was trolling around (good move!). There, he gave us a quick lecture about the temples and an hour to explore on our own.
Abu Simbel is two temples built by Ramses II around 1264 BC, not too far from the modern border with Sudan. They were built to impress the Nubian people to the south. The temples were rediscovered in 1813 and had to be relocated during the building of the Aswan Dam in the 1960s. Amazingly, they were reconstructed on the cliffs just above their originally location at the exact same angle as when they were first built. The original site of the temples has been submerged by Lake Nasser. Legend has it that the complex is named after a young boy who guided the explorers that rediscovered the temples.
We then moved on to the larger Temple of Ramses II. This is the temple you see on numerous postcards of Egypt. It has four colossal statues depicting Ramses at different points in his life. The temple itself is 33m tall.
A head of one of the colossi heads fell during an earthquake in 27 BC. When relocating the temple, archaeologists decided to leave it exactly as it was.
Several statues sit in front of the colossi, and if you look closely at the legs, you can see graffiti left by 19th century travelers.
Above the entrance to the temple is a statue of the god Ra-Harakhty. On both sides are reliefs of the slaves of Ramses II. One side depicts Nubian slaves while the other depicts slaves of other nationalities.
The inside of the temple is just as impressive. The entrance is through a hypostyle hall. The walls contain colorful scenes of the life of Ramses, including his conquests. Just a reminder – please don’t take photos inside (more on that below).
In the Inner Sanctuary of the temple, Ramses II is seated with the gods Amon-Ra, Ptah, and Ra-Harakhty. It was designed so that every year on October 22 and February 22, the sun shines directly on Ramses II. The reconstruction of the temple in the new location achieves this feat.
Now, a little note about the pictures I posted from the inside of the temple – don’t try to get away with it like I did. We were told not to do it numerous times. We didn’t listen. We got caught by one of the guards as Ana was using her camera. He was very angry and was threatening to fine us E£100 each. Luckily, when I showed him the photo roll on my phone, I switched to a different album with no photos from that day. He made Ana erase all of hers and he left us alone.
BUT…she and I were the last ones in the temple. The guard returned with a smile and said “Hurry up, take pictures!” We asked if it was ok, if he was setting us up, and his response was “I’m Nubian! I don’t care!”, so we snapped a few more, had a quick chat with him, and gave him a nice tip. Then it was off to the minibus for the agonizing three hour ride back to Aswan.
A side note for those of you not going on a full tour of Egypt – you can book a tour to Abu Simbel easily from Aswan, either by bus or plane. If the plane doesn’t fit in your budget, my advice is to take the early tour that leaves around 4am. You return around noon and have the rest of the day ahead of you to explore.