Unlike most of Egypt‘s most iconic monuments, the Abu Simbel isn’t located in Cairo, Luxor or even Alexandria. The soaring rock-cut temples are located in the small village of Abu Simbel, located in Aswan near the corner with Sudan. They sit on the western bank of Lake Nasser, 140 miles (230 km) southwest of Aswan and they form a complex that is part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site known as ‘the Nubian Monuments’. Looking to learn more about this pharaonic landmark? From relocations to forgotten pharaohs, here are some interesting facts about Abu Simbel you might not have heard before.
Interesting Facts About Abu Simbel in Egypt
1. Abu Simbel hasn’t always been in Abu Simbel
It relocated. Originally, the temple complex sat on the banks of the River Nile. But over the years, the water began to rise and pose a threat to the ancient temple. The government decided to relocate the temple in 1964. Managed by UNESCO, experts cut the temples into several pieces to ensure nothing got damaged. They moved the temple 200 metres back from the river, away from the rising Lake Nasser waters. Even today, it’s considered one of the most challenging archaeological processes in history. It wasn’t cheap either. Countries around the globe raised around $42 million to safely move the temple.
The temple is just as sturdy as it was 2,000 years ago. According to experts, if a 10-Rich earthquake hit the temple, it would survive.
2. It isn’t just dedicated to one god
King Ramses II dedicated the Great Temple to the sun gods Amon-Re, Ptah and Re-Horakhte. At the front of the temple, you’ll find four seated colossi representing each of the gods. It also marks the Battle of Kadesh, the most important battle fought during King Ramses II’s reign.
Inside, the Grand Temple boasts the largest concert dome in the world. Its diameter measures a staggering 65 metres with a height of 23 metres. This acts as protection for the statues.
3. The Abu Simbel was forgotten for centuries
For centuries, the temples were buried up to 10 metres under the sand. Jean-Louis Burckhard, a Swiss orientalist, discovered the ruins in 1814. Thankfully, the tippy-top of the main temple’s frieze was visible in the sand. The Italian explore Giovanni Belzoni first entered the temple in 1818.
4. Construction began a long time ago
Experts believe that work began in 1274 BC. It took thirty years to complete the temple, with works finishing around 1244 BC.
5. The temple aligns with the sun
The Grand Temple aligns with the sun, with light passing through the temple at two specific points of the year. This takes place in February and October, during the planting and flooding seasons. These two seasons represent the birth and coronation of King Rameses II. The rays of sunlight three statues but the fourth statue, which represents Ptah god of darkness, remains in the dark. Archaeologists believe the location of these statues is intentional but how the temples were constructed remains a mystery.
6. It consists of two temples
The Abu Simble Temple complex is actually two main temples. The Grand Temple contains a handful of winding paths and rooms, with writings detailing Ramses’ II military victories. The temple reaches nearly 100 ft (38 metres) high and 115 ft (35 metres) long. You can easily identify the Grand Temple by the four seated colossi at the entrance.
Ramses II also built the Small Temple for Queen Nefertari, his favourite wife. It stands 150 metres ways from the Grand Temple and features four great seated colossi of Queen Nefertari, as well as Ramses II.
7. You can fly to the temple
Well, almost. You might be surprised to learn that it’s easier to get to Abu Simble than you think. The village has its own airport – ABS. Domestic and international routes serve the airport, but the most popular routes are Abu Simbel – Aswan and Abu Simbel – Cairo. Egyptair Express flies more frequently.