Ramses II liked building fuck off great big things to remind everyone of his general badassery and the temples at Abu Simbel are a fine example of this. They reckon he built this particular imposing temple in that location to warn those coming up the Nile from the south of his absolute power and to keep the Nubian people in check. It is ego hewn in rock. Why just have one statue of yourself when you can have many? And you know what? Make them fucking colossal. His father, Seti I, only built one temple and one tomb but Ramses II was all about quantity over quality.
They were rock-cut in the 13th Century BC, so they were basically just carved into the mountain right there. They weren’t sculpted elsewhere and ferried in down the Nile, someone would have had to have planned out exactly where to chip away to get the colossal statues and pillars they wanted and if you chiselled of his nose in the process you were fucked. Not only that but it was positioned so that twice a year, once on Ramses’ birthday and again on the anniversary of his coronation, the sun would rise at exactly the right angle to illuminate the whole damn thing on the inside, right to the back, lighting up three out of four statues that sit there on a bench. All of this happened over 3000 years ago. My poor little brain isn’t equipped to deal with any of this.
What makes it even more impressive is the fact that in the 1960s they dismantled the whole thing by cutting it into blocks and shifted it back and up, like, 60 metres or something to save it from the absolutely vast Lake Nasser created by the High Dam they built in 1970 south of Aswan. The dam was needed to control the annual Nile floods but it would drown a lot of important monuments so a huge campaign was launched to save what they could. A shit tonne of countries were involved and literally millions of dollars were hurled at it, but it worked. You can’t even tell it’s not meant to be there, and the sun still lights up the temple twice a year, just a day later.
Getting here is a bit of a swine. You can take the local bus but you might want to consider staying overnight in that case and it’s not super cheap. The budget way of doing it is to drag yourself out of bed at some god awful hour to be picked up at 4am in a shared minibus where you can proceed to drool all over the upholstery, waking yourself up occasionally because your neck isn’t meant to bend that way. We rolled into the car park just before 8am, I scraped the sleep from my eyes, off we fucked to go and see what Ramses the Great was all about. Guys, it’s immense! I’m just going to stick a bunch of photos around the place for your eyeholes’ pleasure.
There’s a smaller temple too which he built to honour his favourite, Nefertari. Bear in mind this guy was the original player, he had over 100 concubines and a couple of hundred kids knocking about but he loved Nefertari above all. We know this because the statues of her are the same height as the statues of him in the small temple which was unheard of, the queens were usually depicted around knee height given, y’know, their lesser importance. He still managed to make the temple dedicated to her all about him of course, there are four huge statues of him outside and only two of Nefertari but still. The symbolism isn’t lost.
Two hours is plenty of time to have a look around, wait for enough people to fuck off to get a decent shot, get ripped off by a souvenir vendor and have a wee before you have to sit in a van again for 3.5 hours. But is it worth it? 7 hours of driving for 2 hours of rubbing your eyeballs all over a fancy rock? Fuck yes, for me it’s absolutely worth it. Not just for the sheer breathtaking awe of it but also for what it represents in the conservation of antiquities.
Abu Simbel, Aswan Governorate, Egypt
أبو سمبل ، محافظة أسوان ، مصر
Stayed at: Mozamel Home, Aswan
Useful shit to know…
- Your guesthouse will be able to arrange a shared car for you, or you can find something online.
- We were meant to pay US$20 each which at the time was LE460 but the driver charged us LE500. We’d budgeted that for his tip anyway so we just didn’t add anything on top.
- Another guy we met paid LE350 with someone he found online so it probably pays to do some legwork.
- You can take a guide but they’re not allowed inside the temple with you so they’ll need to explain everything to you on the way.
- It took 3.5 hours each way to drive there and back, and we spent 2 hours there. 2 hours is plenty.
- It costs LE275 to get into the temples. If you’re there for the solar festival, which I’m assuming is the 22nd of February and the 22nd September, you’ll pay LE500.