Abu Simbel temple and the neighboring temple built to his beloved wife Nefertari are among the most imposing structures in the world, There are few monuments that have attained such renown.
Yet ironically they remained relatively unknown to the world until threatened by inundation from the waters of the High Dam .
The Great Temple was first discovered by Burckhardt in 1813.
He found it by accident when, journeying along the high western bank of the Nile, he had reason to retrace his steps for a short distance and found himself looking down at a stone figure previously hidden by a fold in the sandstone cliff Three years later Giovanni Belzoni went to Abu Simbel.
All that was then visible was the single head of one of the four colossi It projected above a sand that filled the ravine separating the two temples.
He took measurements of the face.
On his second journey, in 1817, he excavated the temple sufficiently to gain access to the inner chambers.
He was awed by what he saw, and described it in detail in his Narrative in 1820.
But the continued build-up of sand could not be stopped, and soon the dune had obscured the monument again.
Patient clearance was carried out by successive scholars such as Lepsius in 1842-45, Mariette in 1869, and Earsanti in 1910.
However, the sand continued to pile up.
Even when Barsanti tried to divert it by building walls on the upper plateau the problem was solved only temporarily. Scholars and travelers to Abu Simbel who made the long and tedious journey to see the monuments never knew how much would be visible when they arrived.
Four colossal seated statues of the youthful Ramses II form the entrance to the temple.
Each statue measures some twenty-one meters from the soles of the feet to the ‘tip of the double crown, and the pharaoh’s iegs rival in girth the great columns of the hypo style hall at Karnak. Despite their magnitude, however, details of Ramses’ handsome face are finely chiseled: slightly aquiline nose, sensitive nostrils, and well-marked lips with indentations at each side. The inner chambers of the temple, hewn out of the living rock, penetrated sixty-one meters into the mountain.
There, a small statue of Ramses II
was seated in the company of the great gods, Amun-Re, Re- Harakhte, and Ptah.
When it was learned that Abu Simbel would be totally submerged once the new lake started to fill behind the dam in 1964, there was an outcry from scholars around the world.
Egypt appealed for international help, and many rescue schemes were proposed.
Eventually a bold plan was adopted to cut the two temples out of the solid rock and rebuild them directly above their original positions, but clear of the high water level.
This salvage and reconstruction sixty meters above the original site was a story that captured the world’s imagination, and Abu Simbel subsequently became a major tourist attraction.
Domestic flights, road links, and soon a Lake Nasser cruise, have brought it within easy reach of all and it now ranks with the pyramids of Giza and the temple of Karnak as one of the great sites of Egypt.
Yet a traveler would be ill-equipped to appreciate the monuments without first knowing something about the pharaoh who built them.