Way down in the far, far south of Egypt stand the temples of Abu Simbel, my pick for the most dramatic monument in Egypt. That’s saying a lot, because, as you know, Egypt is full of dramatic monuments. I think the impression of Abu Simbel is amplified by its lonely, barren location. It’s really in the middle of nowhere, raised in the 13th century BCE by Ramesses the Great to impress visitors on his southern frontier. Traders and ambassadors knew they entered a rich and powerful nation, potential invaders knew what they were up against if they chose to push forward, like a border sign reading, “Welcome to Egypt, Don’t get on our bad side.”
The Great Temple is dedicated to Ramesses, as well as the three main gods of the time, Amun, Ra-Horakhty and Ptah, and features four 65-ft. colossal statues of the seated pharaoh on the facade. Inside the temple, two hypostyle halls lead to the spooky inner sanctuary with seated statues of the pharaoh and gods. The halls through the temple are covered in bas-relief and painted scenes of Ramesses doing kingly things, like crushing his enemies and consorting with the gods, and colossal statues of the pharaoh line the walls on either side.
The Small Temple is dedicated to the goddess Hathor and Ramesses’ queen, Nefertari.
It’s less grand but more elegant, with six 33-foot standing statues on the facade – 2 of the king and 1 of the queen on either side of the portal. Never before or after was a queen shown the same size as the king in Egyptian art.
The setting of the temples really enhances their impact. Blue water, blue sky, brown earth is pretty much all you see for hundreds of miles – forlorn, forgotten, untouched and then suddenly the temples are there like a smack in the face, in a good way.
In the 1960s, the temples at Abu Simbel were moved from their original location, which was due to be flooded after the construction of the Aswan High Dam down river.
The temples were cut into 20-ton blocks and moved about 200 feet to higher ground. The temples were originally carved into the face of a mountain, so part of the move included building an artificial mountain. The hollow mountain is open to visitors and contains an exhibit about the temples’ rescue.
Abu Simbel is reached from Aswan by about an hour flight or a 3-4 hour overland convoy of motor coaches and mini vans. It’s also possible to cruise from Aswan across Lake Nasser to Abu Simbel.
The most famous remains of ancient Thebes is the rambling Karnak Temple. Within the temple, the Hypostyle Hall is a forest of massive columns, some 70-feet tall. The columns are covered in carvings detailing adventures of ancient kings. The columns were originally also covered in brilliant color, traces of which still remain in some areas.
Can you name that country?
See below for answers.
The Red Pyramid at Dahhsur, built by the pharaoh Senefru, was the first successful smooth-sided pyramid. Senefru’s first attempt at a smooth-sided pyramid, the Meidum Pyramid, collapsed. Next, he built the Bent Pyramid, which alters its angle of inclination part way up, probably as a precaution after the collapse of the pyramid at Meidum. The Red Pyramid was built at a cautious incline to avoid the disaster of Meidum and appears rather squat in comparison to the famous pyramids of Giza, which were built by Senefru’s son, grandson and great grandson, after developments in pyramid engineering.
The Red Pyramid gets its name from the exposed red limestone blocks, once hidden by a white limestone façade, which was looted for other buildings long ago.
Dahshur is an hour’s drive from Cairo and is usually combined with a visit to the Bent Pyramid, a few kilometers away. Meidum is about an hour from Dahshur.
Visit www.yallatours.com/egypt/ to see tours that include a visit to Dahshur.
One of the most important cities of Ancient Egypt, Memphis was the capital of the unified country during the Early Dynastic and Old Kingdom periods, which lasted about 1,000 years in the 3rd millennium BCE. (As a point of reference – the famous pyramids at Giza were built during the Old Kingdom.) The city was founded by Menes (or Narmer? it’s unclear, they may be one in the same), who united the country and became its first pharaoh.
Located at the head of the Nile delta in the north of the country, Memphis was a major port city and commercial and religious center and remained so, for thousands of years after the capital moved south to Thebes (Luxor today).
Alexander the Great took Egypt in 332BCE and made himself king in the great Temple of Ptah in Memphis. When he died 9 years later in Babylon, his body was brought to Memphis and later moved to Alexandria, the city he established on the Mediterranean coast of Egypt. The location of his tomb is unknown today.
When Egypt became a Roman province in 30BCE, the commercial power of Memphis was eclipsed by Alexandria, which was more accessible to the rest of the empire.
When Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire in the 4th century CE, the city’s status as religious center was finished and it descended into ruin.
Today, Memphis is an open-air museum with scattered remains, including numerous temples, palaces, statues and a sphinx. Memphis is about 12 miles south of Cairo and is usually visited in conjunction with Sakkara, the necropolis of Memphis and site of the Step Pyramid, less than 2 miles away. Most of our Egypt tours include a visit to Memphis.