September 8, 2018

THE COLOSSI OF ABU SIMBEL

Three hundred kilometers south of Aswan right in the middle of the Nubian desert close to the border of Sudan, stands this humongous stone temple dedicated to the Egyptian god Ramesses. Rising 21 meters (that’s about 7 stories), the four enthroned statues of Egypt’s greatest pharaoh-god who was described as “a powerful lion with claws extended and a terrible roar”, sat in silence gazing into eternity while facing the sun that rose in the east. I think the primary purpose in building this was to instill awe and fear in the hearts of his enemies, the Nubians who were living at the farthest southern periphery of his empire.

 

Centuries of neglect, however, allowed the desert to move in and slowly bury the site. This was a fortuitous event because it preserved the rock face from the elements that is why today, they are so startlingly sharp in detail and look as though they were just recently carved. It wasn’t until the early 1800s that it was accidentally discovered by a Swiss explorer who saw the upper parts of four giant heads emerge almost as if by magic from the sand. Another explorer, the Italian Belzoni, excavated the place and found the entrance that went into the interior sanctuary. A little further from this Sun Temple stands another smaller hill where Ramesses’ wife, Queen Nefertari and her temple are located. Here, six colossal 9-meter statues of both of them seem to emerge from the rock. They are accompanied by their children who stand knee-high in the shadows.

 

When they built the Aswan Dam, these ancient temples were in danger of being submerged by the rising waters in Lake Naser so that in 1963 a plan was hatched, in cooperation with the U.N., to move the temples to a higher location. Sixty-four meters up to be exact. A reinforced concrete dome was built and the two temples were cut up into blocks, each weighing about 30 tons. Then they were moved like a gigantic 3-dimensional jigsaw puzzle to this newly-built modern shelter that was later covered with filling material. Sand and dust did the rest and the place looks almost natural and the colossi is still such a great sight to behold!

This 20 meter-tall facade shows the four images of the Pharaoh Ramesses topped by a frieze with 22 baboons.
Imagine the awe and fear of the people in his kingdom who stood dwarfed before it!
The entrance to the pharaoh’s inner chamber.
Since access to the site is restricted to visitors during the day, only tourists in the cruise boats like this on Lake Naser can witness the nightly show in the temple.
This is the smaller temple for the pharaoh’s wife, Queen Nefertari.
These are 10-meter high statues of the paraoh and his queen.
The door leading to the inside of the “mountain”.
This man-made mountain was built to hold the relocated rock facade cut into pieces and joined together like a jigsaw puzzle.
We posed in front of the colossi just to have some sense of scale as to how large it really is!
Even from afar, the temple is quite awesome!
Heat waves shimmer above the lake which feeds water to the mighty Aswan Dam.
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