The famous rock cut of Rameses II towers over the edge of the Nile in another postcard Egypt moment. Rameses II ruled in the New Kingdom from 1279 BC- 1213 BC. A spectacular edifice, it had to be relocated in the 1960s because of concern that the dam that was being renovated in Aswan, downstream, would flood it in its old location. This process was certainly not an easy task – a massive undertaking moved the entire temple 90 metres up and behind from its original position.
Abu Simbel – the Temple of Rameses II
Of the seven temples that Rameses II is responsible for, Abu Simbel is considered to be the most impressive. The facade of the main temple is 32 metres high and 38 metres wide with four colossal seated statues of the pharaoh himself, sitting pretty at a height of 20 metres. Most of Rameses’ temples are located near to the border of Nubia (now integrated as part of southern Egypt and northern Sudan), where he often sought to facilitate peaceful relations. One feature of these statues is particularly interesting in this respect – Ramses’ hands are not shown in the typical power-demonstrating pose. Instead of having the hands closed and thumb forward, these statues depict his hands lying open, palms down, on his legs – a rather non-threatening move where it is thought he was trying to suggest that he, nor his people, meant the Nubians any harm.
The four statues on the façade also represent the pharaoh in his lifetime – from the youngest on the left to the elder on the far right. Twice a year the sun is said to beam right inside the temple, illuminating the area, which houses four sacred gods. In fact, only three are illuminated, as the god of darkness is kept away from the light. Yet another example how the Egyptians engineered structures intricately and specifically to best use the sunlight.
These sculptures are carved out of solid rock. At the foot of each of the four statues are the various wives and children of Rameses II, of which there were plenty – some estimate that he had over 100 children.
Like the Sphinx, this large temple has suffered some of the abuses of time – the Turks used it for target practice and, as can be seen from the front, one of the four statues lost its upper body.