Travel to Abu Simbel – Legendary Temples of the King of Kings
Rightly designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site the massive seated figures of Ramses II at Abu Simbel which terrified raiders from the southern lands of Kush again amaze all who see them since they were reclaimed from the desert sand in the early 19th century. Their story is one of an egotistical Pharaoh and of an engineering miracle.
Ramses II, ‘the Great’, is hailed by some as the King of Kings. His Great Temple at Abu Simbel, 280 km south of Aswan, was carved from the rock creating a façade of 4 seated colossi of the pharaoh. Inside a series of halls and chambers are decorated with reliefs of the Pharaoh making offerings to the gods. Close by is the Temple of Nefertari, his wife, itself a remarkable temple in its own right.
History indicates that Ramses’ expansionist vision of again annexing Asia Minor was foiled by the Hittites at Kadesh, but you would not know it when ‘reading’ the reliefs inside the right-hand wall, where he is shown leading his warriors into battle and destroying his enemies.
At the far end of the temple lies the sanctuary where the three gods of Memphis – Ptah, Amun-Re and Re-Harakhte – are seated and where on the 21st of February and October each year were illuminated by the rays of the rising sun. Next to this massive temple lies another, this time dedicated to Nefertari, Ramses II’s wife. She too is deified here, her image mixed with that of Hathor to whom the temple is ostensibly dedicated.
The site of these temples is a modern construction phenomenon; originally they were some 60m lower but, as with Philae, they were de-constructed by UNESCO and reassembles higher up to prevent the rising waters of Lake Nasser swamping them when the New Dam was built at Aswan. As a result the sun now illuminates the Sanctuary in the Great Temple on the morning of the 22nd of February and October each year, one day later than in Pharaonic times.
A visit to Abu Simbel is arguably a highlight of any stay in Aswan and should not be missed. You can travel to the site by road or air. The road journey is inevitably long given the site’s location, 280km south of Aswan, a 4 hour journey each way. The flying time from Aswan is around an hour.
The site can be busy so its worth finding a quiet spot to sit above the lake and admire Ramses’ visionary work.
The temples lie some 3.5 to 4 hours by road from Aswan, a long and tiring journey. Flights to Abu Simbel airport sell out at busy times and you are advised to book well in advance. If taking a local guide from Aswan you will need to pay for his ticket to, but this may be deemed worthwhile as those actually at the site are generally very poor. Flights depart Aswan in the morning, take 40 minutes and leave sufficient time to explore the site before returning to Aswan.