The mighty rock temple Abu Simbel in the Nubian desert was built by Pharaoh Ramses II more than 3,000 years ago as a monument to himself. The huge temple complex also includes the smaller Hathor temple for his wife Nefertari.
Abu Simbel, the colossal ancient Egyptian rock temple on the shore of the mighty Lake Nasser, is probably the best testimony to the former power of the pharaohs, or rather of the slightly megalomaniac Ramses II, who, also called Ramses the Great, had it chiseled out of the stone in his 30th year of reign in 1257 BC in his own honor and to praise the gods. It is so gigantic that it is almost impossible to photograph it with a normal lens.
Abu Simbel has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1979 and also has a permanent place on our list of the top 10 sights of Egypt.
Due to its remote location near the Sudanese border, Abu Simbel was not discovered until 1813 - at that time, only the heads of Ramses protruded from the sand of the Great Rock Temple. Under the direction of the Egyptologist Giovanni Battista Belzoni, the gigantic rock temple was excavated and explored from 1817.
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What is the best way to get to Abu Simbel?
Abu Simbel is now located about 300km south of Aswan and is the southernmost of the famous sites on the banks of the Nile. Due to its remote location, the airplane is the first choice for most tourists to reach Abu Simbel. Flights to Abu Simbel depart from Cairo, Luxor and Aswan. From Aswan the flight takes 1 hour.
By car the trip takes about 3 hours. There are also buses that go from Aswan to Abu Simbel. However, these start at the crack of dawn, take another hour longer than a rental car or cab and are not necessarily recommended for safety and convenience reasons. Another often used option is the booking of a private driver, whose prices are self-negotiated by a lot lower than with agencies in the hotel.
Tip: If you take the long journey to Abu Simbel, you should not fly / drive back on the same day, but stay one night. With an accommodation directly on site, the rock temple can be explored longer and secondly, the spectacular light show at night can be witnessed.
Best time to visit Abu Simbel
Abu Simbel is most beautiful in the early morning and forenoon, because then the colossal statues of Ramses II are directly illuminated by the sun. However, from about 8 o'clock in the morning, most tourists are also to be found. The later in the day, the quieter it gets.
Night tours to Abu Simbel are also popular. In the dark, the monumental building shines in the spotlight and exudes an absolutely unique atmosphere. Tourists are then of course hardly to be found.
Great rock temple in Abu Simbel
The entrance to the Great Rock Temple of Ramses II is guarded by 4 statues of himself over 20m high. One of them was destroyed in an earthquake and only the legs are still visible. At his feet other members of the royal family are depicted considerably smaller. Enthroned in a niche above the entrance is the Egyptian sun god Re-Harachte. A row of baboons, which in mythology contributed to the victory over darkness, praises the sun gods every time the sun rises.
The interior of the Great Rock Temple consists of caves, halls and corridors that reach about 60 meters into the rock. The first hall is flanked by 8 Osiris-like statues of Ramses. 2 doors lead to other chambers, through the third door you enter a room supported by four massive pillars. On the walls, elaborate reliefs depict war scenes from battles against the Hittites, Lybians and Nubians.
Behind this room is the innermost shrine of Abu Simbel, to which Ramses II paid a very special homage. Twice a year, on February 22 and October 22, the ruler's birthday and coronation day, the morning sun shines through a "light channel" directly into the most sacred chamber of Abu Simbel and illuminates the statues of the gods Ptah, Amun-Re (the "Imperial Triad"), Re-Harach and the deified Ramses II himself, sitting there, like a natural spotlight.
Small rock temple in Abu Simbel
The small rock temple was built for the goddess Hathor, to whom the place where Abu Simbel was built was consecrated before. Its entrance is flanked by six statues 10 meters high. 4 of Ramses II and and 2 of his wife Nefertari. At their feet are depicted other family members, presumably children. Inside the temple are portraits of Nefertari, equal to Ramses II, performing ritual ceremonies.
The laying of Abu Simbel
Previously, Abu Simbel was closer to Aswan, but due to the construction of the Aswan Dam, it was in danger of being flooded by the resulting Nasser Lake. Without further ado, it was decided to move the monumental structure.
The massive relocation project was implemented with the combined forces of the UN, UNESCO and the Egyptian government. From 1963 to 1968, the temple was cut out of the rock, sawed into over a thousand pieces and reassembled 180 meters to the south on an artificial hill overlooking Lake Nasser. It can be reached from the village of Abu Simbel via a causeway. This circumstance brought the colossal temple still a proper push at world fame more.
In the process, the engineers even managed to realign the temple complex exactly so that the spectacle of the rising sun planned over 3,000 years ago could take place again; it was only postponed by one day and now takes place on the 21st each year.