Abu Simbel Temple

The most magnificent of the monuments Ramses II built, Abu Simbel is both the perfect example of the ambition of this pharaoh's reign and also a model illustration for modern engineering. The entire temple was transplanted from its original location and lifted piece by piece to its current site by an international UNESCO team working against the clock to preserve it from being flooded by the Aswan High Dam in the 1960s.

The colossal stone statues that grace the facade are Pharaoh Ramses II's attempt to achieve immortality. It has worked. Today, visitors here still crane their necks in disbelief at the behemoth temples just as the pharaoh's subjects would have done when the temples were first raised.

Abu Simbel is 280 kilometers south of Aswan. Most people visit on a day trip from Aswan, although it is possible to stay the night in Abu Simbel village.

Temple of Ramses II

Forecourt & Terrace: The Main Courtyard

Although today, the entire Forecourt in front of the temple is open, originally it would have been enclosed on the north and south by brick walls, while the east side of the court would have been open, looking on to the Nile. From the Forecourt, a flight of steps leads you up to the Terrace in front of the temple. If you look to the right and left, just before the ramp, you'll see two recesses, which probably contained basins for ritual ablutions. In the recesses are stelae depicting Ramses II making offerings.

Along the front of the Terrace is a decorative frieze portraying representatives of many different people making obeisance to the pharaoh. In front of the balustrade, which has a dedicatory inscription running along its entire length, are figures of falcons alternating with small statues of Ramses II. The figures at the south end of the balustrade were probably destroyed by the collapse of the upper part of the second of the colossi figures.

Colossi of Ramses II: The Guards of the Inner Temple

Colossi of Ramses II: The Guards of the Inner Temple

Four colossal figures hewn from solid rock guard the massive 33-meter-high facade of the temple. Seated on thrones, these 20-meter-high Colossi of finely carved features and stylized harmony represent a deified Ramses II. The two on the left depict the pharaoh as Heka-tawi and Re-en-hekaw. The two to the right of the doorway show Ramses II as Meri-Amun and Meri-Atum. The pharaoh's mild countenance and characteristic nose are best preserved in the first of the Colossi (at the far left). The second figure lost its head and shoulders in ancient times, perhaps as a result of a rock fall or an earthquake (or a combination of both), and these now lie on the ground in front of it.

The Pharaoh's family

The Ramses figures wear the double crown of Egypt and are represented with the formal spade-like beard. On his breast and upper arms and between his legs, you can see royal cartouches. To the right and left of each statue and between their legs are figures on a smaller scale but still larger-than-life size, representing members of the royal family.

Flanking the first colossus is the Princesses Nebt-tawi (left) and Bent-anat (right), with an unnamed Princess between the legs, and flanking the second colossus is the pharaoh's mother, Tue (left), and his wife Queen Nefertari (right), with Prince Amen-herkhopshef between the legs.

On the inner sides of the thrones of the two central Colossi, flanking the entrance to the temple, are figures of the two Nile gods wreathing the floral emblems of Upper and Lower Egypt, the papyrus and the lotus, around the hieroglyphic sign meaning "unite," while below are rows of Kushite and Syrian prisoners.

On the two southern Colossi, you can see Greek, Carian, and Phoenician inscriptions carved by mercenaries who had passed this way on various military expeditions.

Hypostyle Hall: The Inner Temple

Hypostyle Hall: The Inner Temple 

The grand entrance leads you into the huge 17.7-meter-long Hypostyle Hall. It is divided into three aisles (the central one being twice the width of the other two) by two rows of four square pillars, and on the inner sides are ten-meter-high Osiris figures of the pharaoh holding the scourge and the crook. The figures on the right hand side wear the double crown of Upper and Lower Egypt, while those on the left wear the crown of Upper Egypt. The stylized symmetry of these massive figures is striking. The ceiling of the central aisle has paintings of flying vultures; those of the lateral aisles are adorned with stars.

To the right and left of the Hypostyle Hall are eight small side chambers, some of which served as treasuries and store rooms. Their decoration is of varying quality, but in general is simpler than that of the main chambers of the temple. Some of the rooms have stone tables along the walls.

Interior wall relief detail

Don't Miss: Abu Simbel is most famous for the fabulous mural reliefs in the Hypostyle Hall depicting the pharaoh's campaign against the Hittites in the Battle of Kadesh (reliefs of the battle can also be seen in Luxor's Ramesseum and in the Temples of Abydos).

The Battle of Kadesh scenes take over the Hypostyle Hall's northern wall. In the lower register, at the left hand end, the Egyptian army is depicted on the march. The various activities in the camp are portrayed in a lively way - the horses being given their fodder, and the troops resting after their march. The third scene shows Ramses II holding a Council of War, while below, two enemy spies are being beaten. The last scene depicts the battle between Egyptian and Hittite charioteers.

The scenes in the upper register take us into the thick of the battle. To the left, the pharaoh is shown dashing against his enemies, who have surrounded him with their chariots. In the center is the enemy stronghold of Qadesh, encircled by the River Orontes, with the defenders looking down from the battlements. To the right, Ramses II in his chariot watches while his officers count the severed hands and limbs of the enemy and bring in prisoners.

In the right-hand half of the rear wall, the pharaoh is shown leading two files of Hittite prisoners into the presence of Re-Harakhty, his own deified effigy, and the lion-headed Wert-hekaw. In the left hand half, he presents Kushite prisoners to Amun, the deified Ramses and Mut