ABU SIMBEL

Abu Simbel, site of two temples in southern Egypt, on the Nile River, south of Asw‚n. The temples were carved into a sandstone cliff about 1250 BC during the reign of Ramses II. The interior of the larger temple is more than 55 m (about 180 ft) in depth and consists of a series of halls and chambers leading to a central sanctuary. This temple was dedicated by Ramses II to the chief gods of Heliopolis, Memphis, and Thebes. It is oriented so that the rays of the rising sun illuminate the statues of the three gods and of Ramses II in the innermost sanctuary. The smaller temple was dedicated by Ramses to his queen, Nefertari, and to the goddess Hathor. The facade of the larger temple has four sitting statues of Ramses II, each more than 20 m (about 65 ft) in height. Smaller statues of Ramses II, Nefertari, and their children adorn the facade of Nefertari's temple. The larger temple has numerous inscriptions and reliefs, some of them of unusual historical interest. A series of reliefs depicts the battle between the Egyptians and the Hittites at Kadesh. Two of the large sitting statues of Ramses have inscriptions in Greek dating from the 6th century BC. They were written by Greek mercenary soldiers and are among the earliest dated Greek inscriptions.
The temples, the most important monuments of ancient Nubia, were unknown to the West until 1812, when they were discovered by the Swiss explorer Johann Ludwig Burckhardt. In 1964 an international project was begun to save the temples from inundation by Lake Nasser, the reservoir of the Asw‚n High Dam. In a remarkable engineering feat, the temples were cut apart and, in 1968, reassembled on a site 64 m (210 ft) above the river.