The Most Dramatic Monument in Egypt IS… ABU SIMBEL

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.”

Great Temple, Abu Simbel, Egypt

Great Temple, Abu Simbel, Egypt

Small Temple, Abu Simbel, Egypt,

Small Temple, Abu Simbel, Egypt (120 degrees that day!)

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.

Ramesses II, Abu Simbel, Egypt

Ramesses II, Abu Simbel, Egypt

Ramesses II, Abu Simbel, Egypt

Ramesses II, Abu Simbel, Egypt

Grand Temple interior, Abu Simbel, Egypt

Grand Temple interior, Abu Simbel, Egypt

Grand Temple interior, Abu Simbel, Egypt

Grand Temple interior, Abu Simbel, Egypt

Grand Temple inner sanctuary, Abu Simbel, Egypt

Grand Temple inner sanctuary, Abu Simbel, Egypt

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.

Small Temple, Abu Simbel, Egypt

Small Temple, Abu Simbel, Egypt

Small Temple interior, Abu Simbel, Egypt

Small Temple interior, Abu Simbel, Egypt

Small Temple interior, Abu Simbel, Egypt

Small Temple interior, Abu Simbel, Egypt

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_move

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.

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The Real House Wives of Ancient Egypt

Nefertiti

Nefertiti

Is there a reader on your Christmas list who is fascinated with ancient Egypt?
How about you? Here are three page-turners, full of real, historical intrigue and well-drawn, relatable characters – Michelle Moran’s historical fiction novels about three of ancient Egypt’s most famous women:

Nerfertiti
Nerfertiti was the wife of the iconoclastic pharaoh Akhenaten, best known for his monotheism. He worshiped the sun god Aten, to the exclusion of the many other Egyptian gods. Nefertiti is popularly known for her great beauty, based on the bust pictured above. There is no question she was at the center of one of ancient Egypt’s most interesting periods.

The Heretic Queen
This is the story of Nefertari, queen of Ramesses II (the Great), who reigned for 66 years and is widely considered Egypt’s most powerful pharaoh and possibly the pharaoh, Moses’ adopted brother, who refused to set the Hebrew slaves free in the Exodus story. Ramesses II’s love and respect for Nefertari is exemplified in the temple he built for her at Abu Simbel. Not only is it one of the few temples built in the name of a queen but it’s the only known instance in ancient Egyptian art where a queen is portrayed equal in size to the pharaoh. Nefertari’s tomb is spectacular, the most beautiful of all the royal tombs discovered in Egypt.

Cleopatra’s Daughter
Cleopatra was the last pharaoh of Egypt, although she was actually Greek and didn’t even speak Egyptian. She was a member of the Ptolemaic Dynasty that ruled Egypt from the conquest of Alexander the Great to that of Rome. Cleopatra’s daughter, Cleopatra Selene II and her twin brother Alexander Helios were the products of Cleopatra’s affair with the Roman officer Mark Antony. This book tells the story of Cleopatra Selena II after the death of her parents, when she was taken to Rome by her parents’ rival, Octavian, the future Roman Emperor Augustus.