Abu Simbel

Overview

Introduction

The two magnificent temples at Egypt's Abu Simbel site overlook Lake Nasser. The facade of the main temple has four 67-ft-/20-m-tall statues of Ramses II (the fact that some of the statues are in partial ruin does not diminish their impact). As you walk through the Grand Hall and other interior rooms, you'll see that Ramses grows increasingly deified, until finally, in the back, he is shown as one of the premier gods of Egypt. A smaller temple at the site was dedicated to the goddess Hathor. Its facade has statues of Ramses II and his queen Nefertari—it's unusual that they're depicted as being the same height.

The two temples are marvels of repeated engineering. When the Aswan High Dam was completed, the temples were in danger of being submerged in the newly formed lake. A massive international effort spearheaded by UNESCO raised the money to move the temples, stone by stone, to higher ground. Before that could be done, however, an artificial hill similar to the one they were taken out of had to be constructed (the entire project took five years).

Aswan is the best staging area for a trip to Abu Simbel. Microbuses, larger air-conditioned buses or short flights are your travel options. You can either go through a well-known travel company (such as AmEx or Thomas Cook) or use a locally organized tour. The trips are rather carefully timed, which means you don't get to spend a lot of time at the temples. You'll do a fair amount of walking, so wear comfortable shoes. If you want to take pictures, be aware that flash photography is not permitted inside the temples.

Most people return to Aswan the same day, though there are several hotels—some are clean and most are even affordable—very close to the temple. We suggest spending the night, as the best light on the temples is at sunrise. (The site has the added advantage of being nearly deserted then, as most of the day-trippers have not yet arrived.) If you can't see them in the morning, then try to see them at sunset. The temples also host one of the best sound-and-light shows in Egypt in the evening. Be prepared for delays on the flights to and from Abu Simbel. Although the flight from Aswan only takes about 35 minutes, the delays can sometimes add hours to this excursion.

Abu Simbel is located 180 mi/300 km south of Aswan and 770 mi/1,135 km south of Cairo.

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