The World's Greatest Architecture: Past & Present
Abu Simbel lies about 174 miles south of Aswan, in ancient Nubia. The region was first conquered by the Egyptians during the Middle Kingdom, and was ruled by them, with intervals, until the late 8th century, when the position was reversed and the Nubians briefly ruled Egypt, until drive out by the Assyrians.
The great temple of Abu Simbel was built during the long reign of Ramses II and proclaims the formidable power of that might pharaoh. On the rock-cut facade are four colossi of Ramses, each about 65 ft high, accompanied by comparatively tine figures of his family, who cluster at his feet like satellites around a planet. The plan of the temple is in the customary form, with two large, hypo-style halls, surrounded by other chambers and apartments. The temple was built so that at the most important festivals of the year, 20 February and 20 October, the rays of the sun would shine directly along the main axis to illuminate the sanctuary. The inner walls were decorated with painted low-reliefs celebrating the activities of the divine king, including his famous battles against the Hittites in Syria, the first military campaign in history that can be reconstructed from surviving records. There is also a rather more attractive, smaller temple, dedicated to Ramses' chief wife, Nefertari.
The proposal to build the Aswan High Dam in the 1960s threatened Abu SImbel with inundation, and a remarkable rescue effort was mounted under the auspices of UNESCO. The entire complex was dismantled in pieces and raised to a position 200 ft higher, where it was reassembled and protected from the vast piles of rock introduced to emulate its original setting by a gigantic concrete dome. The whole operate took four years and cost over $40 million, a modern technological achievement to match the skill and effort of the original temple builders.