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January 26, 2009
From journal An Unforgettable 10 Days in Egypt
Quogue, New York
February 23, 2004
You can get there from Aswan by a 4-hour bus ride or a 35-minute flight. We went by plane early in the morning. Sitting on the left side seemed to afford a good view of the High Dam and the temples - at least it did so on this particular flight.
After a few minutes’ bus ride through a small nondescript town (not touristy at all), we were quickly ushered past 30 or so shops that were just opening (time for shopping later) in order to enter the temple area to start our tour before it got too crowded.
It is a very busy, well-controlled, and quite well-managed site - Even at 9am, at least 30 buses were dropping off groups. The temples are huge - the largest is that of Ramses, and the smaller one was built for his favorite wife Nefertari (Nefer means beautiful).
It is difficult to imagine that these temples were built so long ago and unimaginable that they were also moved so far with very little damage and also placed in the absolute same orientation.
After the half-hour tour and informational talk by your guide, you are free to wander for and hour or so. You must visit a tent set up with the "story in pictures" of the feat of this move that the US assisted in both monetarily and on site. This temple was originally positioned so perfectly as to allow light to shine on the altar which is deep inside the tomb, on only two specific days each year - once in the spring and once in the fall. After it was moved - light still shines on the altar twice a year - only one day later - amazing!! The Egyptians are very grateful for our aid.
You can leisurely walk the expansive grounds overlooking the Nile - there is an outdoor cafe for snacks and coffee or an outdoor market, but only one restroom for all these visitors.
Back to the market shops - a jolt back to the 21st century and capitalism!! The market is beautifully done, with curved walkways, flowering shrubs, a waiting area for the buses with benches and lots of shops. For the moment, you forget that you're in Egypt. What a shame - they should have built it at the airport instead and allowed the temples their environmentally natural spot without the commercialism.
From journal Nile River Cruise 2003
July 11, 2002
As with Philae, this entire temple complex was dismantled stone by stone & reassembled high above its original site in order to save it from the rising waters caused by the construction of the Aswan High Dam--a remarkable feat of engineering & international cooperation. Director-General of UNESCO, Dr. V. Veronese, speaking @ the Abu Simbel appeal in 1960, said of Abu Simbel--"These monuments do not belong solely to the countries who hold them in trust. The whole world has the right to see them endure."
Twice a year, the dawn rays of the sun reach far into the heart of the sanctuary to shine on the three statues on the right. The one on the far left remains in darkness, as he is the god of the underground.
"There was a morning of mornings when we lay opposite the rock-hewn Temple of Abu Simbel...one felt rather than saw that there were four figures in the pit of gloom below it...The stronger light flooded them red from head to foot, & they became alive--as horridly & tensely yet blindly alive as pinioned men in the death-chair before the current is switched on. One felt that if by a miracle the dawn could be delayed a second longer, they would tear themselves free, & leap forth to heaven knows what sort of vengeance." -Rudyard Kipling (1913)-
From journal Aswan to Abu Simbel & More
LONDON, United Kingdom
July 9, 2002
An armed convoy forms on the outskirts of Aswan every morning at 4am, as the desert between Aswan and Abu Simbel is reknowned for hijackers and Islamic extremist terrorists. They herd luxury coaches and clapped out minibuses then race across the desert like migrating wildebeests.
You can book a place on the trip at most hotels – prices start from about 15USD (entry not included), but you get what you pay for in terms of comfort. If you’re going for the bottom end of the market you may wish to stipulate when paying which seat you want on the bus (offering a little extra) – a 600km round trip on a hard fold-down seat is no joke, take it from someone who’s tried it!
Entry is about 6USD, but if you’re not part of an organised tour, you may want to run from your bus to the ticket booths (stiff joints allowing) – there’s only 2 and long queues can build up very quickly (and tempers flare!).
Turning left or right after the entrance brings you round in a semi-circle to the site – consisting of a pair of temples carved into (fake) mounds. The temple of Ramses II is the more impressive with its four massive seated colossi (3 of which are in good condition) and spectacular paintings inside. If you have any time left at the end then head back to the site entrance for a look at the visitor centre with its photos of the painstaking dismantling and reconstruction of the site.
Everybody then climbs back on to their buses and races back to Aswan, arriving back at lunchtime as if it had never happened.
Your tour may include a stop off at the High Dam – if you’re planning to see the dam, then do it this way, as it’s not really worth a trip on its own (see story on dam).
From journal Aswan - a cultural tour
March 10, 2002
We checked into the Nefertari Hotel and walked five minutes down a lonely sandy road, and we were there. Oddly enough, a whole row of security guards lined the entrance, staring sternly as we walked past. We were the only tourists. As we rounded the mountain, a gradual ascent along a sandy path led to the great monument. Majestic, massive, memorable these mighty statues of Ramses II face the lake. They were built in 1290 BC to intimidate the Nubian people, and remind them who was ruling Egypt.
One of the four statues fell as a result of an earthquake in 27 BC, knocking his upper torso to the ground. His face is in the sand, with only an ear visible. When we saw it, we both cried out, "Ozymandias!" Shelley's poem, Ozymandias, (Greek for Ramses) describes the irony of how the great king immortalized forever in magnificent statues now lies broken in the sand. "Two vast and trunkless legs of stone stand in the desert. Near them on the sand, half sunk, a shattered visage lies...on the pedestal these words appear, ‘My name is Ozymandias, king of kings. Look on my works, ye mighty and despair!' Nothing beside remains. Round the decay of that colossal wreck... sands stretch far away." (Oddly enough, the shattered remains of another statue of Ramses II in the Ramesseum in Luxor is given credit for being the inspiration for Shelley's poem, but if you compare the two sights and reread the poem, there is no question that Abu Simbel is the true site of Ozymandias!)
Staring at the monument, there is much to look at. The four statues differ slightly and are surrounded by smaller statues of the queen, their children, falcons, praying baboons, and hieroglyphic inscriptions.
Yet, inside his temple was even more intriguing. Entering a huge door, we walked between eight more statues of Ramses II facing each other. Straight back, lights illuminate four statues in the inner sanctum, one of Ramses, the other three of gods, showing the importance he placed on himself, that of an equal to the gods. Once encased in gold, these statues gleamed in sunlight twice a year, as rays illuminated them on February 21st and October 21st engineered to celebrate Ramses' birthday and coronation. Incredible! Since the temple was moved to another island to escape rising waters in the 1960's, the date is off by one day.
Corridors and narrow inner rooms extend like fingers from the center, each decorated differently. Walls highlighted Ramses' achievements and companionship with the gods, with pictures of battles, chariots, offerings, and hieroglyphic inscriptions. Some of the narrow rooms had niches carved into the walls, where objects were stored for worship. Very cool place!
From journal Honeymoon in Aswan & Abu Simbel
January 22, 2002
From journal Aswan Delights
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
November 20, 2000
Like many temples and archeological sites, Abu Simbel temples were threatened by the formation of Lake Nasser. A campaign led by Unesco raised funds and technical assistance to remove these two temples, something that had not been attempted before. Blocks were carefully cut and reassembled 210 m far and 60 m above their original location, a work that took two years of planning and other two for its execution.
Upon arrival we were taken by bus to the site and the entrance fee we paid included the services of a guide, who led us during a quick 90 min tour through the two temples. The largest was built by Ramses II and dedicated to the sun god Re-Herakhte. Four huge statues (23 m high) of the pharaoh, one of them partially destroyed, dominate the façade.
Next to this temple, we saw the smaller temple dedicated to Hathor, wife of Re-Herakhte, but built for Nefertari, Ramses' wife. Again four statues of the pharaoh, flanking two of Nefertari, dominate the façade. We were then taken inside the false mountain built over the rebuilt blocks cut from the original site. There is an immense concrete structure over which rocks and sand were placed to conceal it. Being inside the concrete structure sort of broke the magic of the temple, giving a feeling of being inside a Disney world attraction.
From journal Aswan, past and present