Discovering the temples of Abu Simbel
On my adventure in Egypt, Abu Simbel stood out as one of the most remarkable archaeological sites, not only for its brilliant examples of Ancient Egyptian art but also for its sheer engineering feat. Located at the southernmost point of the country, where the mighty River Nile merges into the manmade Lake Nasser, this imposing complex is far off the trodden path. As a result, you will share it with just a fraction of the visitors you might encounter elsewhere in Egypt.
I had high expectations of the Temples of Ramses II at Abu Simbel, which were carved out of rock in the 13th century in honour of the great Pharaoh Ramses II and his wife Nefertari, but they were even more impressive than I could have imagined. Four statues of Ramses II stand proud at the entrance of the larger of the two.
My guide brought the place to life with many stories, but I found one particularly extraordinary: the astonishing UNESCO-funded rescue campaign of the 1960s. Due to the construction of the new Aswan Dam, the rising waters of the Nile threatened to submerge these historically important buildings. However, at a cost of US$43 million, 150,000 cubic metres of rock was cut, dismantled and reassembled in a new position high above the water level. The detailed inscriptions on the walls inside the tomb are simply spectacular, and surprisingly intact despite their relocation. It’s useful to know that guides are not permitted to explain within the buildings, only outside.
The journey to Abu Simbel involves an early start from Aswan. The infrastructure is limited and there are just two options, both with advantages and disadvantages. It’s possible to take a round-trip domestic flight, which is only a 40-minute hop from Aswan, but this allows for about an hour and a half of exploration by foot, before returning to the airport. For some, this understandably isn’t enough time, so the alternative would be to travel by car. This allows greater flexibility, more time at the compound and the potential to see the superb Abu Simbel Son et Lumière (sound and light show) but the journey is about three hours each way through barren desert scenery.
If you have time to spare, and don’t mind some extra travelling, I would highly recommend a visit to unearth the ancient history behind this spellbinding place.
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