The temples of Egypt are completely stunning. There is no other way to put it. From the pyramids outside of Cairo, to the massive complex of Karnak and the hidden sites at the Valley of the Kings, Egypt has it all. One site in particular stands out as being what we consider to be the most beautiful temple in the world: Abu Simbel.
The Most Beautiful Temple in the World
Abu Simbel is the home to the Great Temple of Ramses II whose nearly 70 year reign in the 13th century BC is one of the most understood of all the Egyptian Pharaohs. This isn’t too terribly shocking, as artifacts of Ramses II life is present in nearly every aspect of Egyptian culture through recordings of his major military campaigns and his affinity to building many large temples, monuments, and statues.
The temples at Abu Simbel are like something out of an Indiana Jones movie. To get in you must take either one of the few daily round-trip flights or board three hour convoy out of Aswan between the hours of 3am and 11am complete with AK-47 wielding guards. If you haven’t seen the sunrise rise over the desert by reaching Aswan, this convoy will most certainly do the trick. When you arrive to the temple grounds, about 40 km north of the Sudanese border, it is time to explore.
An Impressive Entrance to Abu Simbel
Much like the temples of Petra in Jordan, the view of Abu Simbel comes from a distance as you make your way down the marked trail from behind the temple. As you get closer the four giant statues of Ramses II present themselves in full beauty. But before you are allowed to go explore the temple grounds, the tour guide drops a major piece of information – the entire temple was moved!
Due to an impending rise in the Nile after the construction of the high dam in Aswan, a scheme was set in place in the 1960s to move the temples of Abu Simbel to higher ground. Brick-by-brick and for a cost estimated to be around $40 million, both of the major temples at the site were moved some 65 meters higher and 200 meters away from the original spot and meticulously recreated with near perfect accuracy.
The relocation of a temple does not sound like a great feat by today’s standards, but one detail should be kept in mind. The temple of Abu Simbel was designed with statues of four gods positioned at the far wall inside the main hall of the temple (Amun, Ra-Horakhty, Ptah, and Ramses II himself). Twice a year, said to be the day of Ramses II birth and coronation, the rays of the sun shine all the way through the temple to the back wall and illuminate all of the statues. The one exception is Ptah who was connected to the underworld and kept in darkness. The relocation of the temple was so precise that it only introduced a one day difference, although other sources suggest that the date of this occurrence may have shifted one day due to the slight movements of the Earth over time.
In either case, movement of such an intricate temple is something that only adds to the allure that Abu Simbel has going for it. If that isn’t enough, the second temple at the site, dedicated to Ramses II beloved wife Nefertari has an equally impressive design that was also moved brick by brick during this major expansion.
Visiting Abu Simbel is not what you would call a budget activity by any standards and takes over 6 hours of waiting on a bus to only spend a few hours at the temples. It may seem less than ideal after spending many days prior exploring the other beautiful temples of Egypt, but we can assure you, this is one you should not miss and has been waiting nearly 3,500 years for you to get there.
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