Friday, 1 February 2013

Abu Simbel

Giant builder, Ramses the Great
Monday 21 January: I'm back in Aswan primarily to visit Ramses the Great's two magnificent temples at Abu Simbel. As a legacy of the turbulent 1990's vehicles heading to the site, 175 miles south of Aswan, must travel in convoy. This gives me two options, either to take the 7:00am local bus, arriving at midday, or opting for a minibus tour, departing at 3:00am. I choose the latter as it will give me more time at the monuments, but I will have to suffer the company of a multitude of package-tourists from the coach convoy (94th mode of transport).
Temple of Ramses II
Arriving at 7:00am I rush ahead of the disorganised tourist hordes and for a while have the colossal rock-sculptured temple frontage all to myself. Awesome is a word often inappropriately used nowadays but the four giant statues of Ramses II are just that. The facial features of each statue are slightly different, ageing slowly from left to right to emphasise the great king's long,19th Dynasty, 67-year reign. The greatest of all the New Kingdom pharaohs, Ramses II built Abu Simbel around 3,250 years ago as a show of strength to any Nubian boatmen approaching from the south. The numerous inner chambers are a delight with colourful reliefs depicting everything from scenes from daily life to warfare scenes showing Ramses II smiting and trampling his northern Hittite enemies at the Battle of Kadesh (no photos allowed).
Temple of Hathor
Ramses II dedicated the nearby Temple of Hathor to his favourite wife, Nefertari, and, unusually at the time, her statues are carved in equal proportion to his own. During his long 96 year life Ramses the Great had 200 wives and legitimate consorts who, between them, bore him as many as 90 sons and 60 daughters, probably more.
Originally carved out of a mountain on the west bank of the Nile, both temples were sliced into manageable blocks and relocated here to avoid being submerged by the rising waters of Lake Nasser. Returning to Aswan we stop briefly to look at the High Dam, four hours drive to the north.
Slideshow of Abu Simbel.

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