Abu Simbel: Ancient and Modern Engineering at their Finest…Almost.

Salaam friends.  It has been quite a while since my last post due to my return to the States, work, and general laziness.  Since I last posted, I’ve left Egypt, spent a couple of weeks with my girlfriend in England/Sweden, and returned to the Land of the Free.  I’m back to the monotony of working in the construction business as I am scrambling to put money together to cover my tuition/living costs for the coming fall when I will be getting my masters at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in London.

Although for the time being I am no longer living abroad, I have saved up several blog-worthy stories from my time in Egypt as well as some other previous travels so I plan on keeping the blog going.

With this post I am going to pick up where I left off with my trip to Aswan in the south of Egypt, focusing on my trip to Abu Simbel, which is one of the jewels of Egypt’s tourist attractions.

After awaking early and taking the 3 hour trip into the desert via armed convoy, my roommate and I arrived with hundreds of other tourists at Abu Simbel.  Abu Simbel is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is comprised of two massive pharaonic temples situated on Lake Nasser, which is the world’s largest man-made lake.

Upon paying the hundred-dollar entrance fee (an exorbitant amount of money for visiting a site in the Middle East) I entered the grounds to the sight of a huge mound or hill.  A path led the droves of tourists around the mound and toward Lake Nasser.  I continued around the path and closed in on the other side of the mound.  Finally I saw what I paid the big bucks to see as two massive statues carved into the face of the large limestone hill that I had been circumnavigating for several minutes came into view.  Pretty jaw dropping to be frank.  This was the entrance to the Great Temple.  A smaller, although no-less-grand, temple was located to the right of the Great Temple.

It was a pretty amazing scene.  Two massive temples carved into two massive hills with the deep blue waters of Lake Nasser at my back.  Aside from providing a nice backdrop to the temples, Lake Nasser plays an integral role in the interesting story surrounding Abu Simbel’s more modern history.

The temples date back to the 13th century BC but eventually fell into disuse and became lost to the sands of time.  Literally.  The ever shifting desert swallowed up these two beasts of worship.  However, in 1813 a Swiss explorer named Jean-Louis Burckhardt discover the top of the the Great Temple protruding out from beneath the sand.  He later shared his discovery with an Italian explorer named Giovanni Belzoni who had the site, which was eventually named for the guide “Abu Simbel” who led him there, excavated in 1817.

However, with the construction of the High Dam, which began in 1960 and controls the flow of the Nile River and is responsible for creating Lake Nasser, Abu Simbel was put into peril.  At the time, the site was located on land that is now submerged under the waters of the lake.  UNESCO quickly stepped in and implemented a 40 million dollar plan to save Abu Simbel.  From 1964 to 1968 engineers cut the temples into large blocks, disassembled the structures, and reassembled them on ground 65 meters higher and 200 meters back from the original location.  Pretty impressive.

Speaking of engineering marvels, the Great Temple was originally designed in such a way that sunlight entered the temple and cast itself on several sculptures along the back wall, all except for the face of Ptah, god of the Underworld, which remained in darkness.  This phenomenon occurred twice a year, on October 21st (61 days before the Winter Solstice) and February 21st (61 days after the Winter Solstice).  These two dates were also allegedly the birthday and coronation date of Rameses II, the pharaoh that the Temple pays homage to.  Although UNESCO attempted to preserve this incredible feat in engineering during the relocation process, it failed.  The phenomenon is now off by a day.  Good try modern technology.

Perhaps the best part of my visit was when my roommate and I found a path on the backside of the small temple leading up to the precipice of the temple, overlooking Lake Nasser and the Great Temple.  There is a picture of me from this location above.

Rules and regulations can be fickle things in places such as Egypt.  For example, taking pictures inside of the temples is 110 percent against the rules.  There was an army of guards accosting tourists and screaming at them to not take pictures, meanwhile tourists are free to scale a steep path, trample all over a UNESCO Heritage Site, and stand on ledge of a 100 foot drop with little difficulty.  C’est la vie in Egypt.

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One response to “Abu Simbel: Ancient and Modern Engineering at their Finest…Almost.

  1. Perhaps the screaming guards would be a little more lenient about photos if the “bakshi” was worthy of their position!

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