Abu Simbel Temples

The temples of Abu Simbel are considered among the most celebrated achievements of ancient Egypt. The two temples were cut in the cliffs about 310 Km south of Aswan. The Great Temple was built for Ramses II (1279-1213 BC), while the Small Temple was built for his beloved wife, Queen Nefertari.

It is a strange fact that Abu Simbel, one of the most famous monuments of Egypt, was almost totally unknown even as late as the 19th century. On 23 March 1813 Johann Ludwig Burckhardt, a Swiss historian, accompanied by the local guide to visit the temple of Nefertari. He saw a part of the head of one of the colossal statues of the façade when the temple was totally covered with sand. Just four years later, on 1 August 1817, Giovanni Battista Belzoni managed to remove the sand and discover the entrance. And because of the rising water of Aswan High Dam, the temples had to be saved and rescued in a magnificent world rescue operation of temples in Lower Nubia.

Let’s explore Abu Simbel Temples.

The Great Temple of Ramses II:

The temple of Abu Simbel is an exact transferal of the architectural form of an Egyptian inner sanctuary temple cut deep inside the rock. The façade of the temple was built imitating a pylon, about 30 meters high and 40 meters wide. Four colossi of Ramses II are decorating the façade, each is about 20 meters high. The pharaoh is represented with hands resting in his lap, wearing the double crown and a headdress. Around and between the legs of Ramses II are some of his wives, sons, and daughters. The first statue on the left-hand side is destroyed and part of the head and body lie on the ground, maybe from the earthquake of 27 BC. On the base and along the sides of the seats are figures of African and Asiatic prisoners.

Temple of Ramses II at Abu Simbel

Just above the entrance, is a large high-relief statue of God Re-Herakhty with a falcon’s head, flanked by two images of Ramses II worshipping him. On the top of the façade is a line of 22 seated baboons, each two and a half meters high, with raised hands greeting the sun.

First Hypostyle Hall:

You pass from light to the interior where the shadowy light emphasizes the mysterious and evocative atmosphere. The Hypostyle Hall is about 18 meters wide and about 20 meters long. In the middle of the hall are 8 pillars supporting 8 statues of Ramses II as Osiris, each is ten meters high. The statues on the left wear the white crown of Upper Egypt, while the right ones wear the double crown of Upper and Lower Egypt. Their arms, crossed over their chests, holding the scepter and the flail. Decorating the roof of the central nave is the great vulture of the goddess Nekhbet, protectress of Upper Egypt, while the aisles on either side are painted with stars.

Hypostyle hall of Ramses II’s Temple

Most of the hall’s scenes are military. On the extreme right side of the entrance are scenes showing Ramses II smashing the heads of Egypt’s enemies before Re-Herakhty. On the right wall of the hall, there are some scenes from the Battle of Qadesh against Hittites. Ramses II is represented with his army in their camp in Syria and during his attacks against the Hittites.

On the extreme left side of the entrance are some scenes showing Ramses II punishing his enemies before Amun-Re. On the left side of the Hypostyle Hall are some military scenes showing Ramses II while attacking a fortress and driving some captives to Amun-Re.

In the rear wall of the hall, there are three doors. Two doors lead to side rooms while the central door is leading to the second Hypostyle Hall.

Second Hypostyle Hall:

This hall is smaller than the first one. It is 12 meters long and 8 meters wide. It contains four pillars supporting its ceiling. The pillars are decorated with scenes of the king embraced by some gods.

This hall leads to the vestibule.

The Vestibule:

The vestibule is decorated with religious scenes showing Ramses II’s offering to different gods. There are three doors in the rear wall of the vestibule. The side doors lead to undecorated rooms, while the middle leads to the sanctuary.

The Sanctuary & Sun Miracle:

65 meters from the entrance, deep in the heart of the mountain, is the sanctuary. The most intimate and secret part of the temple, a small room, four meters by seven. Four statues of Re-Herakhty, Ramses II, Amun-Re, and Ptah sit at the end of the sanctuary.

Sanctuary of Ramses II’s Temple

It was obvious ever since discovery in the 19th century that nothing in the temple was left to chance and that it was built according to a very precise logic and pre-established plan. Champollion was the first of several scholars to note what has become known as the “Sun Miracle”.

Abu Simbel was built along a pre-determined axis: twice a year, corresponding to the equinoxes, the rising sun penetrates the heart of the mountain and illuminates the statues in the sanctuary. The first rays of the sun follow the axis of the temple precisely, crossing its entire length and gradually flooding into the sanctuary. On the 22nd of February (said to be Ramses II’s coronation day) and 22nd of October (said to be Ramses II’s birthday) the sun would shine all the way from the entrance directed on the faces of the statues but the statue of Ptah because he was the god of Darkness and death in ancient Egypt.

The Small Temple of Nefertari:

To the north of the Great Temple of Ramses II and not far from it lies the Small Temple of Queen Nefertari, which is dedicated to goddess Hathor. On each side of the façade of the temple is three statues, two of them are of Ramses and one in the middle of Nefertari. Nefertari is represented as Hathor with the horns of the sacred cow, the solar disk, and two plumes.

Nefertari’s Temple
The Hypostyle Hall:

The divine consecration of the queen is also celebrated in the delightfully simple interior. The Hypostyle Hall is an almost square hall. There are six pillars with the head of Hathor on top of each of them in two rows. The walls of the hall are also decorated with the customary scenes of offering and smiting the enemies. On the right wall of the hall are scenes showing Ramses II punishing a Libyan prisoner before god Re-Herakhty. Ramses II is also shown offering to gods Ptah and Harepshef of Ihnasia while Nefertari is presenting some offerings to Hathor.

Hypostyle hall of Nefertari’s Temple

On the left wall of the hall, Ramses punishes a Nubian prisoner before god Amun-Re. Also, Ramses II is shown crowned by Horus and Seth. Queen Nefertari makes an offering before goddess Anukit. On the rear wall of the hall, Nefertari is in the company of Hathor and Mut.

The Vestibule:

Three doors at the end of the Hypostyle hall lead to the vestibule. The vestibule is decorated with scenes depicting Ramses II and Nefertari with gods. Goddess Hathor is depicted as a full cow. Two side doors lead to undecorated rooms.

The Sanctuary:

The middle door of the vestibule leads to the sanctuary. The sanctuary is small and is not in very good condition. Its walls are decorated with scenes depicting Ramses honoring Hathor, identified as his consort. Set between two pillars, and portrayed in the likeness of the sacred cow.

The temples of Abu Simbel are some of the must-sees in Egypt, so they are included in some of our Egypt Tour Packages and in some of Aswan Day Tours.