At Wadi Haifa, near the Second Cataract (now drowned under the waters of Lake Nasser), are the rock temples of Abu Simbel, which rank among the most stupendous monuments of ancient Egypt. Both temples were constructed during the reign of Ramesses II (1290-24 B.C.) to mark the 30th anniversary of his accession. The larger of the two temples was dedicated to Amun-Re of Thebes and Re-Harakhty of Heliopolis, the principal divinities of Upper and Lower Egypt, but Ptah of Memphis and the deified Ramesses himself were also worshiped here.
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Abu Simbel Highlights
New Abu Simbel
When work began on the construction of New Abu Simbel in the spring of 1964 the water level of Lake Nasser was already so high that the temples had to be protected by a coffer dam. They were then sawn up into blocks of a maximum weight of 20 tons (807 blocks for the larger temple, 235 for the smaller), the cutting lines being so arranged that the joins would be as inconspicuous as possible when the temples were re-erected. The blocks, carefully numbered, were then stored until the new site, 215ft/65mhigher up and 200yd/180m farther northwest, was ready to receive them. Thereafter the smaller temple had to be raised another 6.5ft/2m as a result in a change in the design of the High Dam, so that there is now a difference in height between the two temples of only 6ft/1.80 m (previously 12.5ft/3.8m). The interior walls and ceilings of the temples were suspended from a supporting framework of reinforced concrete which provides increased stability. The loss of stone resulting from the sawing process was made good by a mortar of cement and desert sand. The re-erected temples were roofed over by massive reinforced concrete domes with spans of 165ft/50m and 80ft/24m and internal heights of 60ft/19m and 25ft/7m respectively which provided support for the mass of rubble and rock covering the whole structure and which also accommodate the necessary tourist facilities (movie theater, refreshment room, etc.). By the summer of 1968 the work was completed and a cultural monument of outstanding importance had been preserved for future generations. After the re-erection of the larger temple a slight displacement of its principal axis was detected.
The Great Temple was hewn out of the rock to a depth of 207ft/63m. The axis of the temple was aligned from west to east in such a way that twice every year, on February 20 and October 20 (now one day later, on February 21 and October 21), the rays of the rising sun reached the divine figures on the rear wall of the sanctuary.
Great Temple Colossal Figures
In front of the massive facade of the temple, 108ft/33m high, are four colossal figures hewn from the solid rock. Seated on simple thrones, they are 65ft/20m high - comparable in size with the Colossi of Memnon at Thebes. With their finely carved features and their stylized tranquility and harmony they dominate the mighty temple facade. All four represent the deified Ramesses II - the two on the left as Heka-tawi and Re-en-hekaw, the two on the right as Meri-Amun and Meri-Atum. The King's mild countenance and characteristic nose are best preserved in the first of the colossi (far left). The second figure lost its head and shoulders in ancient times, perhaps as a result of a rock fall or an earthquake (or a combination of both), and these now lie on the ground in front of it.Some authorities believe that this collapse may have taken place during the reign of Ramesses II; but in that event the damage would surely have been made good, since the technical skills to do so were available in that period. It must at any rate have taken place not later than the end of the last dynasty, since in Christian times the temple was largely covered by sand. The upper part of the third figure was repaired in the reign of Sethos ll, when a support was added under the right arm.The King wears on his head the royal headcloth, double crown and uraeus and is represented with the formal spade like beard. His hands rest on his knees, and on his breast and upper arms and between his legs are the royal cartouches. To the right and left of each figure and between their legs are figures, on a smaller scale but still over-life-size, representing members of the royal family: flanking the first colossus the Princesses Nebt-tawi (left) and Bent-anat (right), with an unnamed Princess between the legs; flanking the second the King's mother, Tue (left), and his wife Queen Nefertari (right), with Prince Amen-herkhopshef between the legs. On the inner sides of the thrones of the two central colossi, flanking the entrance to the temple, are figures of the two Nile gods wreathing the floral emblems of Upper and Lower Egypt, the papyrus and the lotus, round the hieroglyphic sign meaning "unite", while below are rows of prisoners - on the left Kushites (depicted as Negroes), on the right Syrians.On the two southern colossi are numbers of Greek, Carian and Phoenician inscriptions of great linguistic and historical interest, carved by mercenaries who had passed this way on various military expeditions. On the left leg of the second figure is a Greek inscription written by mercenaries sent by Psammetichus II (26th Dynasty; c. 595-589) from Elephantine into Nubia; after advancing as far as the Second Cataract they had left this record of their passage. The inscription reads: "When King Psammetichus had come to Elephantine this was written by those who traveled with Psammetichus, son of Theocles, and had gone beyond Kerkis so far as the river allowed. The foreigners were led by Potasimto, the Egyptians by Amasis. This was written by Archon, son of Amoibichos, and Pelekos, son of Udamos."
Great Temple Forecourt
The forecourt in front of the temple was enclosed on the north and south by brick walls, at the east ends of which were pylon like towers. The east side of the court was open, looking on to the Nile, while the west side was bounded by the long temple terrace. Remains of the original brick paving have been preserved.
Great Temple Mural Reliefs
The mural reliefs, some of which have preserved their vivid colors, are of great historical interest. On the right hand side of the entrance wall the King, accompanied by his ka, is shown smiting his enemies in the presence of Re-Harakhty, who hands him a curved sword; below this scene are the Princesses with their sistra. On the left hand side of the entrance wall is a similar representation of the King in the presence of Amun-Re, with his sons in the lower part of the scene.On the north wall (to the right) are scenes from the King's campaign against the Hittites, also depicted in the temples of Abydos and Luxor and in the Ramesseum. In the lower register can be seen, at the left hand end, the Egyptian army on the march; then, between two doors to side chambers, the Egyptian camp, with shields set round it in a kind of stockade. The various activities in the camp are depicted in a lively way - the horses being given their fodder, the troops resting after their march, the camp followers and servants, etc. To the right is the royal tent. The third scene shows the King and Princes holding a Council of War, while below two enemy spies are being beaten. The last scene depicts the battle between Egyptian and Hittite charioteers. The scenes in the upper register take us into the thick of the battle. To the left the King is shown dashing against his enemies, who have surrounded him with their chariots; in the center is the enemy stronghold of Qadesh, encircled by the River Orontes, with the defenders looking down from the battlements; and to the right the King in his chariot watches while his officers count the severed hands and limbs of the enemy and bring in prisoners.In the right hand half of the rear wall Ramesses is shown leading two files of Hittite prisoners into the presence of Re-Harakhty, his own deified effigy and the lion headed Wert-hekaw. In the left hand half he presents Negro (Kushite) prisoners to Amun, the deified Ramesses and Mut. Between the last two pillars on the left is a stela dating from the 35th year of Ramesses's reign recording in florid language the buildings and the gifts dedicated by him to Ptah of Memphis.
South Wall Reliefs
On the south wall (to the left of the entrance doorway), in the upper register, are five magnificent reliefs, mainly of religious content, notable among them being the fourth scene, which shows the King kneeling before Re-Harakhty under the sacred persea tree; the fruits of the tree bear his name. In the lower register are three large battle scenes. To the left the King is shown storming a Syrian fortress in his war chariot under the protection of the weapon god Month and shooting the enemy on the battlements, who sue for mercy; he is followed by three Princes, while below a herdsman is shown fleeing into the town with his herd. In the middle scene the King is shown piercing a prostrate Libyan with his lance. The right hand scene depicts his triumphal return from battle with his African prisoners.
Great Temple - Terrace
From the forecourt a flight of nine low steps with a ramp in the middle leads up to the terrace in front of the temple. To the right and left, before the ramp, are steps leading up to two recesses which probably contained basins for ritual ablutions. In the recesses are stelae depicting Ramesses making offerings: on the one to the right (north) he is shown burning incense to Amun-Re, Re-Harakhty and Thoth and offering them flowers, on the one to the left (south) he is making offerings to Amun-Re, Thoth and the lion headed Sakhmet. Along the front of the terrace is a decorative frieze depicting representatives of many different peoples making obeisance to the King, and above this is a cavetto cornice. In front of the balustrade, which has a dedicatory inscription running along its whole length, are figures of falcons alternating with small statues of the King; the figures at the south end of the balustrade were probably destroyed by the collapse of the upper part of the second of the colossal figures.
Great Temple Stele
On the smoothed down south wall of the terrace is a stele of the 34th year of Ramesses II's reign commemorating the Pharaoh's marriage with Naptera, daughter of the Hittite King Hattusilis III, who had been broughtto Egypt by her father in the late summer of the year 1269 and had been given the Egyptian name of Maatneferu-re. In the upper part of the stele is Ramesses seated between two deities under a canopy, with the Hittite Princess and her father in attitudes of veneration in front of them.
Great Temple Facade
Behind the four colossal figures is the trapezoid facade of the temple, which here represents the pylon found in free standing temples. Along the top of the fapade runs a frieze of 22 praying baboons, their hands raised to greet the rising sun, and below this is a cavetto cornice with royal cartouches surrounded by uraeus serpents and representations of Amun-Re (left) and Re-Harakhty (right). Below this again is Ramesses II's dedicatory inscription to Amun-Re and Re-Harakhty. These inscriptions, together with many other representations, show that the southern part of the temple was dedicated to Amun-Re and the northern part to Re-Harakhty.
Great Temple Memorial Inscriptions
The space between the southernmost colossus and the rock face forms a small open recess entered by a doorway. On its west wall is a long poetic inscription in the name of Ramesses II. On the west wall of the space between the northernmost colossus and the rock face is a large memorial inscription, also by Ramesses, representing him in the presence of Re-Harakhty. On the north wall to the left of the entrance to the court dedicated to the worship of the sun at the northern end of the terrace is a memorial inscription by Merneptah Siptah (19th Dynasty; c. 1208-1202 B.C.) in which he is represented burning incense to Amun-Re, Mut, Re-Harakhty and other deities.
Great Temple Entrance Doorway
Above the entrance doorway in the center of the facade is a large figural relief giving the King's name in the form of a rebus. In the middle is the falcon headed figure of the sun god, flanked by the jackal headed staff known as user and by Maat, goddess of truth and justice. Taken together, these give the King's coronation name, User-Maat-Re. On either side of the relief are representations of Ramesses making offerings to the sun god and to his own deified name. On the door lintel he is shown laying the foundation stone of the temple in the presence of Amun and Mut (left) and Re-Harakhty and his lion headed spouse Wert-hekaw (right). The doorway was closed by a single door, opening on the south side.
Great Temple Hypostyle Hall
The doorway gives access to the large Hypostyle Hall, 58ft/17.7m long by 54ft/16.43m across, which here replaces the pillared court of free standing temples. It is divided into three aisles, the central one being twice the width of the other two, by two rows of four square pillars, on the inner sides of which are Osiris figures of the King holding the scourge and the crook, almost 33ft/10m high. The figures on the right hand side were the double crown of Upper and Lower Egypt, those on the left the crown of Upper Egypt. The stylized symmetry of these massive figures is very striking. The finest is the fourth on the right, with its energetic features and well preserved powerful nose. On the other sides of the pillars are representations of the King making offerings, his favorite wife Nefertari and his daughter (later his wife) Bent-anat. The ceiling of the central aisle has paintings of flying vultures; those of the lateral aisles are adorned with stars.
Great Temple - Side Chambers
To the right and left of the Hypostyle Hall are eight small side chambers, some of which served as treasuries and store rooms. Their decoration is of varying quality, but in general is simpler than that of the main chambers of the temple. Some of the rooms have stone tables along the walls.
Great Temple - Vestibule
Beyond the Hypostyle Hall is a second hypostyle hall or Vestibule, 36ft/11m by 25ft/7.58m, divided into three aisles by four square pillars. On the sides of the pillars are representations of the King being received into the company of the gods. On the south all is the barque of Amun-Re, on the north wall that of the deified Ramesses in the form of the divine unity Ramses-meriImen-em-pa-per-Ramses. The barques are borne in procession, preceded by the King and his wife Nefertari making offerings of food and incense. On the south wall the royal couple are shown wearing sandals; on the north wall they are barefoot.
Great Temple - Transverse Chamber
From the Vestibule three doorways lead into a long and narrow Transverse Chamber. On the walls of this chamber the King is shown making offerings to Min, Horus and Khnum (left hand end) and to Atum, Thoth and Ptah (right hand end), who were also worshipped here, almost with the status of guest divinities.
Great Temple - Sanctuary
From the Transverse Chamber three doors lead into three small rooms at the farthest end of the temple. In the center is the rectangular Sanctuary, which could be entered only by the King. On the right hand and left hand walls Ramesses is depicted burning incense. On the rear wall are over-life-size figures of Ptah, Amun-Re, the King himself and Re-Harakhty (from left to right), again giving expression to the King's complete equality with the gods.Every year on February 20 and October 20 (one of which may have been the date of Ramesses II's Coronation) the rays of the rising sun penetrated into the Sanctuary, illuminating the faces of the divine figures. This recurring phenomenon was undoubtedly an occasion for ritual celebration, and is still an impressive spectacle. In front of the figures is the square base, hewn from the rock, of the sacred barque which was kept here.
Small Temple / Temple of Hathor
To the north of the Great Temple, reached by way of a gate constructed by Ramesses in the brick wall enclosing the forecourt, is the Small Temple of Abu Simbel (Temple of Hathor), originally situated on a rocky promontory reaching out towards the Nile and separated from the Great Temple by a sand filled valley. Also built by Ramesses II, this was dedicated to Hathor, goddess of love, and to the deified Nefertari, Ramesses's wife. It is oriented from northwest to southeast. During the Nile inundation it could be reached directly from the river by way of a quay of which no trace survives; it had no forecourt.
Small Temple Facade
The facade, 92ft/28m long and 39ft/12m high, is hewn from the rock in imitation of a pylon with a cavetto cornice (now missing). It does not form an exact right angle with the main axis of the temple, so that there is a gap between the north end of the facade and the rock face. Here the Royal Steward and Scribe Iuni of Heracleopolis, who was probably in charge of the construction of the Abu Simbel temples, had himself represented in the act of demonstrating his devotion to his royal and divine master.
Small Temple Colossal Statues
Along the facade are six colossal statues, more than 33ft/10m high, of Ramesses and his Queen. The colossal figures on either side of the doorway represent the King in the union of the divine beings Heka-tawi with Meri-Imen (to the left) and Re-enhakew with Meri-Atum (to the right). On either side of these central figures are statues of Queen Nefertari, and beyond these again are two further statues of the King. Unusually, the Queen is the same size as the King. Flanking the colossal statues are smaller figures of the royal children, the Princesses (depicted with their left foot advanced in front of them) being larger than the Princes. Beside the figure of Nefertari are the Princesses Merit-Amun (right) and Hent-tawi (left); beside the figures of Ramesses at each end of the facade are the Princes Meri-Atum (right) and Meri-Re (left); and beside the central figures of the King are Amen-her-khopshef (right) and Re-her-unemef (left). Between the colossal figures are projecting sections of rock like buttresses, so that the statues appear to be set in niches. In view of the extreme friability of the stone the whole area of the fagade was plastered and painted. All the buttresses are covered with hieroglyphic inscriptions.
Small Temple Doorway
The doorway is cut through the rather wider central buttress; above it is a broad frieze of royal cobras. In the center of the facade, high above the doorway, is a block of undressed stone, which may have been reserved for a carving of the Hathor cow.
Small Temple - Hypostyle Hall
The doorway leads into an almost exactly square Hypostyle Hall, divided into three aisles by six pillars, on the fronts of which are sistra with the head of the cow eared goddess Hathor. On the other sides of the pillars are figures of the royal couple and various deities.
Small Temple Transverse Chamber
From the Hypostyle Hall three doorways lead into a narrow Transverse Chamber, with reliefs of less interest. To the left and right are two unfinished side chambers, over the doors of which are fine reliefs of the Hathor cow in a papyrus marsh, worshiped respectively by the King and the Queen. Beyond the Transverse Chamber is the Sanctuary in the rear wall of which is a recess in the form of a chapel, its roof supported by sistra. In this recess is a figure in high relief of the goddess Hathor as a cow; under her head (and thus under her protection) is the King. On the left hand wall the Queen offers incense to Mut and Hathor; on the right hand wall the King offers incense and pours a libation in front of his own image and that of the Queen.
Small Temple Mural Reliefs
The mural reliefs are simpler and less colorful than those in the Great Temple but are also of great artistic and historical value. On the entrance wall the King, accompanied by the Queen, is shown smiting a Libyan in the presence of Re-Harakhty and a Negro (Kushite) in the presence of Amun-Re. On the left-hand wall, from left to right, are: 1. Ramesses in the presence of Hathor; 2. Ramesses crowned by Seth and Horus; 3. The Queen in the presence of Anukis; 4. Ramesses presenting an image of Maat to Amun. On the right hand wall, from right to left, are: 1. Ramesses offering food to Ptah; 2. Ramesses in the presence of the ram headed god Herishef of Heracleopolis; 3. The Queen in the presence of Hathor; 4. Ramesses offering a cup to Re-Harakhty. On the rear wall the Queen is depicted in the presence of Hathor (left) and of Mut (right).