2/5/10

Abu Simbel

four 69-feet tall colossi of Ramses II dwarf visitors at Abu Simbel

the nearby Temple of Hathor is dedicated to Ramses' favorite wife Nefertari

If the Pyramids are the star attractions up in the north, then Abu Simbel is the main reason visitors go this far south in Egypt. From Aswan, where we based ourselves since arriving the night before, Abu Simbel is about 290 kilometers away on a 3-hour drive through the desert (or a half-hour expensive flight from Aswan). As part of the Egyptian government's precautionary measures, all road-bound tourists have to travel on a convoy escorted by police. Oh my God. I wondered how that was going to foil any terrorist attack but since we paid a hefty $80 just to see one of UNESCO's World Heritage Sites, we might as well let the armed bodyguards do their work.

more statues of Ramses II adorn the interior of Abu Simbel

Our wake-up time was 4:00 AM. Waiting outside our hotel (Cleopatra Hotel right smack in the bustling Aswan market) was the coach that would take us to the convoy area where our transport will take its queue. Exactly at 5 AM, vans and coaches started moving southwest. Since it's still dark, we all resumed sleeping after our guide Amir introduced himself to us. Around 7 AM, we awoke to eat our packed breakfast prepared by the hotel - consisting of croissant, bread, jam, boiled egg and fruit juice. We made it into Abu Simbel parking lot at 8 AM - without any untoward incident. Guides shepherded tourists around; independent travelers can not go to Abu Simbel without joining organized tours.

Abu Simbel was rediscovered in 1813 half-buried in sand,
allowing early visitors to carve their names to posterity

Since guides are not allowed to lecture inside the temples, Amir went about his business of history-telling where he proved himself quite good. Right in front of us as we sat listening to him were the two adjacent temples of Abu Simbel and the smaller Temple of Hathor. The Abu Simbel story, just like anything that pertains to ancient Egypt, goes back to some 3,200 years ago when the temples were commissioned by Ramses II, the mightiest of the pharaohs and the most prolific builder. Carved straight from a sandstone cliff, the massive temples still generate awe like they were meant to be even if they're now 65 meters higher than their original site.

Lake Nasser is the largest artificial lake in the world -
submerged underneath is the original site of the temples

our guide explains it all

How did it happen? When the Aswan High Dam being built by Egypt threatened to submerge the temples back in the 1960s, UNESCO led a multi-nation effort to save them. Piece by piece, the temples were carefully sawed into more than 2,000 huge blocks and reassembled to its current site, away from the rising waters of what is now known as Lake Nasser. Just like its original site, engineers ensured the temples were correctly oriented towards each other and still facing eastward. It took more than 4 years to complete - one of the most impressive engineering feats in modern times.

inside the Temple of Hathor

There were signs outside the temples not to take pictures inside. In the past years, I know this was allowed and I just don't get it why we can't do it now - these are stones for heaven's sake! With my camera strapped unto my neck, I stood there visibly awed but discreetly firing away without flash. After two hours visiting the site, we got back on the coach and as I sat there, I couldn't even decide which one actually impressed me the most: that it was built by ancient Egyptians or that it was relocated and reassembled more than 3,000 years later.

if you look closely, there are more graffiti thanks to early 19th-century visitors

overview of the temples at the edge of the lake -
just 40 kms. from here is the border of Sudan

19 comments:

  1. the photos alone are already breathtaking; i can just imagine how you felt being there.
    awesome, dennis! thanks for sharing.

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  2. and i actually thought that i will already be impressed with the exterior not until you included photos of the statues inside. amazing!

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  3. The Nomadic Pinoy10:27:00 PM

    China is definitely on my wish list. There's plenty to cover just like India.

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  4. The Nomadic Pinoy10:29:00 PM

    Lol on "Killroy"! I was actually amused looking at those old graffiti. Those early European visitors were so lucky their names are now being photographed!

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  5. The Nomadic Pinoy10:30:00 PM

    One day, you and your family might come and see Egypt for yourselves.

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  6. The Nomadic Pinoy10:31:00 PM

    I was stubborn Dong - there were signs outside but I just don't see the reason why we can't take photos like they use to allow several years ago.

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  7. Oh my god. By the way, I noticed that you guys had guides all the way, but are these sites visitable without one?

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  8. The Nomadic Pinoy8:28:00 PM

    Unfortunately, due to the distance and safety concerns, there's no way visitors can independently go to Abu Simbel. One must join a guided tour from Aswan.

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  9. WOW!

    im speechless. the photos say it all...

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  10. this is a must see pla, never really heard of this before, but wow, this looks like a better place to visit.

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  11. Fantastic! Btw, did you observe any fishing at Lake Nasser?

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  12. sidney19:51:00 PM

    I am in awe...
    Your pictures are really good! So intense in colors !

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  13. The first time I heard about this. The photos give justice to its history.

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  14. The Nomadic Pinoy9:51:00 PM

    Next to the pyramids, Abu Simbel is considered a must-see in Egypt and I truly agree.

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  15. The Nomadic Pinoy9:51:00 PM

    I haven't noticed anyone Bert, not at least in the area within the temples.

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  16. The Nomadic Pinoy9:51:00 PM

    Thanks Sidney, we were there early morning so the light was very good for taking pictures.

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  17. The Nomadic Pinoy9:51:00 PM

    Abu Simbel is usually overshadowed by the more popular pyramids but it surely is worth visiting.

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  18. The ancient Egyptian heritage is amazing, reminds me the giant mountain stone/rcok budda sculptures in China..Indeed both of the countries have the longest history in the world. What a remarkable trip!

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  19. I knew before that these statues were relocated on higher ground because of the dam, but I never understood the magnitude of the project until now. That was an awesome engineering feat indeed.

    I think I saw "Killroy was here" in one of those graffiti. : )

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