Abu Simbel

By the Editors of the Madain Project

Abu Simbel (also Abu Simbal, Ebsambul or Isambul; Arabic: أبو سنبل‎, translit. Abū Sinbal or Arabic: أبو سمبل‎, translit. Abū Simbal) is a village in the Egyptian part of Nubia, about 240 kilometers southwest of Aswan and near the border with Sudan. As of 2012, it has about 2600 inhabitants. It is best known as the site of the Abu Simbel temples.

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Abu Simbel is one of the most recognizable ancient sites in Egypt, dating back to the time of Ramesses the Great. Abu Simbel is in southern Egypt, not far from the border with Sudan. It is administratively part of the Aswan Governorate.

Historically Abu Simbel was located on the west bank of the Nile between the first and second Cataracts of the Nile. The construction of the Abu Simbel temple compound there was meant to demonstrate the power and eternal supremacy of Egypt with respect to the tributary Nubia.

The name Abu Simbel is European, a cacography of the Arabic Abu Sunbul, due in part to assimilation. Abu Sunbul is itself a derivative of the ancient place name Ipsambul. In the New Kingdom period, the region in which the temple was built may have been called Meha, but this is not certain. About 20 km southwest of Abu Simbel was the small village of Ibshek, which was somewhat north of the Second Cataract of the Nile, in present-day Sudan (Wadi Halfa Salient) flooded by Lake Nubia, near the border with Egypt.

The temples at Abu Simbel were formerly located further down the hillside, facing the Nile in the same relative positions, but due to the rising waters of Lake Nasser, the original locations are underwater. In the 1960's, each temple was carefully sawed into numbered stone cubes, moved uphill, and reassembled before the water rose.


circa 1300 BCE

Temple of Ramesses II
The great temple of Rameses II at Abu Simbel is one of the two royal temples. It was dedicated to the gods Amun, Ra-Horakhty, and Ptah, as well as to the deified Rameses himself, and took about twenty years to build, was completed around year 24 of the reign of Ramesses, circa 1265 BCE. The temple is dedicated to the most important gods of the New Kingdom, Ptah (the creator god of Memphis), Amun-Re (the great god of Thebes) and Re-Harakhte (sun god of Heliopolis), as well as to the Pharaoh Ramses II himself.

circa 1300 BCE

Temple of Nefertari
Lesser Temple of Nefertari, also known as the Small Temple, was built about one hundred meters northeast of the temple of pharaoh Ramesses II and was dedicated to the goddess Hathor and Ramesses II's chief consort, Nefertari. The rock-cut facade is decorated with two groups of colossi that are separated by the large gateway. The statues, slightly more than ten meters high, are of the king and his queen.

circa 1970 BCE

Relocation of Twin Temples
The salvage and relocation began in 1964 by a multinational team of archeologists, engineers and skilled heavy equipment operators working together under the UNESCO banner. Between 1964 and 1968, the entire site was carefully cut into large blocks (up to 30 tons, averaging 20 tons), dismantled, lifted and reassembled in a new location 65 metres higher and 200 metres back from the river. Some structures were even saved from under the waters of Lake Nasser.

Lake Nasser

circa 1300 BCE

Lake Nasser is a vast reservoir in southern Egypt and northern Sudan. It is one of the largest man-made lakes in the world. The massive fortress of Buhen were flooded becuase of the creation of this lake and are now at the bottom of the lake. The lake was created as a result of the construction of the Aswan High Dam across the waters of the Nile between 1958 and 1970. The lake is named after Gamal Abdel Nasser, one of the leaders of the Egyptian Revolution of 1952, and the second President of Egypt.


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