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Abu Simbel A temple complex on the west bank of the Nile, above WADI HALFA in NUBIA, modern Sudan, erected by RAMESES II (r. 1290–1224 B.C.E.) early in his reign. The structures on the site honor the state gods of Egypt and the deified Ramesses II. During the construction of the temples and after their dedication, Abu Simbel employed vast numbers of priests and workers. Some records indicate that an earthquake in the region damaged the temples shortly after they were opened, and SETAU, the viceroy of Nubia, conducted repairs to restore the complex to its original splendor. Between 1964 and 1968, the temples of Abu Simbel, endangered because of the Aswan Dam, were relocated to a more elevated position on the Nile.

This remarkable feat was a worldwide effort, costing some $40 million, much of the funds being raised by international donations, sponsored by UNESCO and member states. A gateway leads to the forecourt and terrace of the Great Temple of Abu Simbel, presenting a unique rock-cut facade and four seated colossi of Ramesses II, each around 65 feet in height. Smaller figures of Ramesses II’s favorite queen, NEFERTARI, and elder sons, as well as his mother, Queen TUYA, are depicted standing beside the legs of the colossi. A niche above the temple entry displays the god RÉ as a falcon and baboons saluting the rising sun, as certain species of these animals do in nature. At the north end of the terrace, there is a covered court that depicts Ramesses II worshiping the sun also. A large number of stelae are part of this court, including the Marriage Stela, which announces the arrival of a Hittite bride.

Abu Simbel Temple
Abu Simbel Temple

As the temple recedes, the scale of the inner rooms becomes progressively smaller, and the level of the floor rises. These architectural conventions, common in most Egyptian temples, focus the structural axis toward the sanctuary, where the god resides. The first pillared hall, however, is on a grand scale, with eight Osiride statues of Ramesses forming roof support or pillars. The walls are covered with battle scenes commemorating Ramesses II’s military prowess, including the slaughter of captives and the Battle of KADESH. A second hall has four large pillars and presents religious scenes of offerings. Side rooms are attached for cultic storage areas, and the entire suite leads to the sanctuary. Within this chamber, an ALTAR is still evident as well as four statues, seated against the back wall and representing the deities RÉ-HARNAKHTE, AMUN-RÉ, PTAH, and the deified Ramesses II. The original temple was designed to allow the sunlight appearing on the eastern bank of the Nile to penetrate the halls and sanctuary on two days each year. The seated figures on the rear wall were illuminated on these days as the sun’s rays moved like a laser beam through the rooms.
The reconstructed temple, completed in 1968, provides the same penetration of the sun, but the original day upon which the phenomenon occurs could not be duplicated. The sun enters the temple two days short of the original. Beyond the Great Temple at Abu Simbel lies a small chapel dedicated to The god THOTH and, beyond that, a temple to HATHOR. This temple glorifies Queen NEFERTARI Merymut, Ramesses II’s favorite consort. At the entrance to the temple, she is depicted between two standing colossi of the pharaoh. Nefertari Merymut is also presented on the walls of an interior pillared hall. The goddess Hathor is shown in the temple’s shrine area.