Monday, December 27, 2010

Abu Simbel, Egypt

I like getting up early, but waking up at 3:00am to check out of our hotel and be picked up in our lobby at 3:30am was not a great way to start the day. It got a little worse when we circled back to a hotel right next to ours after 45 minutes of picking people up. Then, we went to the caravan meeting point and waited for twenty more minutes. When we finally got underway, the caravan didn't stay together anyway. Ugh. However, we were finally on our way to the grand temples of Abu Simbel.

The desert on the way to Abu Simbel from Aswan.

Abu Simbel is a three hour drive south of Aswan, about 25 miles as the crow flies from the Sudan border. I'd been looking forward to Abu Simbel since my trip had started. I wasn't sure if I would actually make it, especially if biking, but I was hoping. Abu Simbel contains two rock temples. Pharaoh Ramesses II had them built in the 13th century BC as a lasting monument to himself and his queen Nefertari. These temples were originally carved into a mountain side, but were moved when the building of the High Dam caused them to be flooded.

The temples of Abu Simbel.

Putting the face of a colossi back on at the new temple site (notice there is no mountain behind them yet).

I want to stress that they moved these temples. Actually, they didn't just move the temples. They moved the mountains they were carved into block by block. Over a period of 4 years, they cut the temple into 20-30 ton blocks and moved them to the new temple location, 65m higher. When you look at the temples today, you have to look closely to find the joins between the blocks. They have a great exhibit about the move in the visitor's center with step by step photos and descriptions.

Graffiti on the colossus' leg.

A close up of one colossus.

The Great Temple.

When we arrived, we only had a couple hours at the site to find those joins.. The trick was that that whole caravan of people heading down got there almost at the same time. We were ants marching up over the hill to take a look at these great temples. While at times it was crowded, it didn't matter too much. The temples were huge and, unless you went inside right away, gave us plenty of room to spread out.

This looked like a bicycle to me. If you could see the rest of the picture, it is actually a chariot.

Inside the Great Temple.

The Greater Temple is easily identified because it has four 20m colossi. The Smaller Temple has six 10m colossi. The Great Temple has a row of baboons across the top that I don't think I saw anywhere else in Egypt. They are the Watchers of the Dawn. The Great Temple has a number of small statues between the colossi that represent Ramesses' wife and family. The Smaller Temple's colossi represent Ramesses and Nefertari, but this is the only place in Egypt where they have found statues of the queen that were as big as the Pharaoh. Normally, the queens were smaller, no higher than the knee.

Nefertari temple.

One reason the temples were built so large was to help intimidate and impress Egypt's southern neighbors. I'm not sure if it worked, but I know it impressed me. I could have sat there for hours just soaking in their grandeur, but we didn't have the option to spend the night because we took a tour. After too short of a time, we loaded back into our bus for the very long ride back to Aswan.


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