Abu Simbel, the Temple Named for a Boy
A legend tells that over 2,000 years later a local boy guided explorers to the site. It was almost completely covered in sand at this point, having fallen into disuse as many ancient Egyptian temples did, with only the top of the main temple visible. The four massive statues of Ramesses II, sitting tall at 66 feet (20 meters), which guard the entrance to the main temple were totally submerged. It took years to dig through the sand to clear the complex and find the temple. When they did, they named the find after the boy who led them there, calling it Abu Simbel.
Six rock temples were built in the area during Ramesses II’s long reign. Some say Abu Simbel temple, which took 20 years to build, is the most beautiful of all the temples the pharaoh commissioned; the grand temple complex of Karnak also being one he had a hand in. Unlike its neighbor downstream in Luxor though, this temple wasn’t meant to just mark his victory in battle or give praise to gods like Ptah and Amun. Ab Simbel temple was also meant to intimidate the nearby neighbors to the south in Nubia.
Abu Simbel isn’t just a marvel of design and construction from the days of the New Kingdom, it is also one of modern engineering. Starting in 1964, the temples were moved in their entirety from danger as the Aswan Dam was built on the Nile River to create a massive reservoir. Had it been left, the waters would’ve covered it as the sands once did. Instead it now sits safely 656 feet (200 meters) away on the bank. This was done by cutting the hills into huge blocks, up to 30 tons in weight, and carefully moving them to safety.
Egypt's Abu Simbel temple has prominently been displayed in pop culture, most notably the Bond film “The Spy Who Loved Me,” as well as “The Mummy Returns” and “Star Wars Episode One,” but at its best it is an experience to be savored due to its surreal ancient history. Tourists and travelers now venture to the site and stand in awe of an impressive display, especially of Ramesses II’s ego, that shouldn’t be missed. Abu Simbel temple is part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site, known as the “Nubian Monuments,” and it’s obvious why when taking in this complex.
When to Go to Abu Simbel
On two particular days of the year February 22 and October 22, the sun dispels the darkness that typically covers the inside of Abu Simbel, illuminating the statues and carving of the temple's inner sanctum. It is said that these days correspond with pharaoh Ramses II birthday and coronation, but the validity of this has never been proven.
Odds n' Ends
Also, make sure to have plenty of small bills easily accessible in your pockets for baksheesh, or tips. Many Egyptians work off tips by showing tourists different things at such sites, like Abu Simbel. It's considered socially unacceptable and rude if you don't tip them for their efforts.
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