After a busy day in Aswan, it was time to check out from our Nile cruise and move on to the next city. But first our day started with a very early morning so we could drive to Abu Simbel. The drive took approximately 3 ½ hours and was through nothing but flat, dry desert. The village is located on the western side of Lake Nasser near the border with Sudan. Suffice to say there was absolutely nothing to be seen during the 300 kms except one very small road side stop called the Oasis - aptly named. For this drive we had two drivers in case something was to happen to the first since there is nowhere to stop for assistance. Now that I have experienced this drive I definitely recommend to clients that they take the quick flight from Aswan to Abu Simbel. Our guide spoke to us as we approached the temples and let us know about why this site is one of the most fascinating in Egypt.
The Abu Simbel temples are an UNESCO World Heritage Site and are part of the collection of temples known as the Nubian Monuments. They date back to the 13th century and were commissioned by Ramses II. The massive temples were built to commemorate Ramses’ victory at the Battle of Kadesh and are basically a tribute to himself and his Queen – Nefertari.
There are two temples on the site – the Grand Temple and the Small Temple. Both are incredible to see. As the names imply the Grand Temple is larger and took almost 20 years to build. All four of the large statues on the outside are huge depictions of Ramses himself – reaching 20m (66 feet) in height. Around his legs are smaller statues of his wife, mother and daughters. The interior is amazing with a triangular layout and each room decreasing in size until you get to the sanctuary. The hall has massive columns and carvings on the walls that show battle scenes. Once inside the sanctuary you can see four statues cut into the wall – Ramses and three gods. An interesting fact is regarding the position of the axis of the temple that allows twice a year - in October and February the rays of the sun to come through the sanctuary and illuminate all but one of the statues – the god of darkness. Check out my video below that is filmed from outside the temple and also from within the sanctuary.
The columns and carvings are in impeccable shape and this is even more amazing once you understand that the temples were actually abandoned and over time became covered by sand. They were eventually discovered by a Swiss orientalist who after many attempts was able to have the temples dug out and successfully entered inside. In the late 1950’s the Aswan High Dam was being constructed and it was apparent that many of the Nubian monuments were in danger due to the rising waters of the Nile. It was publicized that relics from this ancient human civilization were under threat and international donations were collected to fund a solution. It became clear that the temples would need to be moved. During 1964 to 1968 the entire site was dismantled, lifted and moved to a new location 65m higher and 200m back from the river. The blocks weighed an average of 20 tons and were painstakingly moved and reassembled in the new location. It is really hard to believe that such a challenge was even able to be completed.
The Small Temple is not really small – since the statues out front are still 10m (33 feet) tall. These are of Ramses and his wife Queen Nefertari. And interestingly they are the same height which was unusual since Ramses typically made statues depicting himself larger than any other. The inside has pillars and drawings depicting the queen, Ramses and many different gods.
After wandering both the temples for a couple of hours, we had an interesting exchange with a security guard who asked if we would like to hold his machine gun for pictures! We politely declined but to make sure we didn’t insult him we did take a photo with him and also gave him a gratuity so he remained content. Our guide then took us to a lovely spot for lunch where we enjoyed the coolness of the inside seating.
Our lunch was delightful and just what we needed before the long ride back to Aswan where we would catch a flight to Cairo. This was going to make for a very long day with tons of driving since upon arrival in Cairo we were picked up and our driver took us onward to Alexandria. I must say that it was a very quiet ride since we were all very tired and mostly slept along the way. We arrived into Alexandria at 1:00am which was still very much awake due to Ramadan festivities. We fell into bed at the Alexandria Windsor Palace Hotel looking forward to exploring Alexandria the next day.
Continue to Day 9 - click here.
Sharing Our Travel Dreams
Sharing our personal experiences onboard and on the road, along with tips and insight for creating memorable vacations.