After much research, Sharleen read that sitting on the right side of the plane would give us the best view of the Abu Simbel complex when we flew in. We did get an incredible view; however the view from the plane did not do this site justice.
The site is massive in its size and is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Built around 1200 BCE by Ramses II as a monument to a victory over the Hittites and a tribute to his wife, the temple becomes even more incredible upon entry. Along the great hall 20 meter statues the line the path. Colored hieroglyphs cover the wall and ceiling. Given that this was all hand carved, and scripted, the only item in modern times that comes close is the Sistine Chapel in Vatican City. The reliefs on the walls show stories of heroic battles and pay homage to Ramses II power and adept skills on the battlefield. Throngs of captured soldiers are depicted. And then, when it couldn’t become any more spectacular we entered the inner chamber which four unassuming small statues were positioned. On 10/22 and 2/22 of each year the sun shines though the great hall illuminating Amun and Ramses (their respective birthdays), but not illuminating the other god Ptah.
Our archaeologist guide in Cairo said that many people miss the point of this. By illuminating Amun and not Ptah, Ramses II used this as proof that Amun was the main god. “You see throughout dynastic Egypt different gods were worshiped and held up as the pre-eminent deity at different times depending on which pharaoh wanted what.” This meant that the pharaohs actively used their scientific knowledge to mislead and manipulate the masses. This is an old strategy, but still well used today.
The level of planning and architectural execution to ensure that the sun only shown in two specific status on two days of the year is quite amazing.
As if this wasn’t amazing enough, this site was moved when the dam at Aswan was built. The waters from the dam would have submerged the site had not the international community banded together to save the site. The entire complex (both temples) were sawed into blocks and then reassembled 65 meters up and 210 meters to the north west.
We left the complex in the late afternoon. I couldn’t help but to think a common thought I had throughout Egypt. This was an amazing undertaking that took decades to create. It last as an incredible monument to Ramses II and Egyptian engineering. It was then swallowed by the desert and forgotten by time, then revived nearly 3000 years after its construction.
Like most monuments in Egypt, I left contemplating what will our current civilization’s contribution be to our posterity?