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Abu Simbel Temples
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Abu Simbel Temples
The amazing Abu Simbel Temples are among the largest attractions in Egypt, both by popularity and by sheer size. These two temples are an amazing sight, towering towards the blue sky!

History
An architectural wonder, the Abu Simbel temple was built by the Egyptian emperor Ramses II back in 1250 BC along the banks of the mighty river, Nile in the southern part of Egypt. Known for his genius concepts in architecture and a passion for erecting monuments and structures commemorating his victories in the battles fought, the Pharaoh built the Abu Simbel temple near the Nubia borders in Upper Egypt, during his rule from 1270 to 1213. As the temple was meant to be dedicated to the two Egyptian sun gods, Re-Horakhte and Amen-Re; the entire building was carved out of a single sandstone in a way that the sunrays could enter the inner-most sanctum of the temple and illuminate the seated statues of king Ramses II and the two sun gods, only on two significant days of the year. The Great Temple at Abu Simbel, which took about twenty years to build, was completed around year 24 of the reign of Rameses the Great (which corresponds to 1265 BCE). It was dedicated to the gods Amun, Ra-Horakhty, and Ptah, as well as to the deified Rameses himself. It is generally considered the grandest and most beautiful of the temples commissioned during the reign of Rameses II, and one of the most beautiful in Egypt.

Four colossal 20 meter statues of the pharaoh with the double Atef crown of Upper and Lower Egypt decorate the facade of the temple, which is 35 meters wide and is topped by a frieze with 22 baboons, worshippers of the sun and flank the entrance. The colossal statues were sculptured directly from the rock in which the temple was located before it was moved. All statues represent Ramesses II, seated on a throne and wearing the double crown of Upper and Lower Egypt. The statue to the left of the entrance was damaged in an earthquake, leaving only the lower part of the statue still intact. The head and torso can still be seen at the statue's feet.

Next to the legs of the colossi, there are other statues no higher than the knees of the pharaoh. These depict Nefertari, Ramesses's chief wife, and queen mother Mut-Tuy, his first two sons Amun-her-khepeshef, Ramesses, and his first six daughters Bintanath, Baketmut, Nefertari, Meritamen, Nebettawy and Isetnofret.

The entrance itself is crowned by a bas-relief representing two images of the king worshiping the falcon-headed Ra Harakhti, whose statue stands in a large niche. This god is holding the hieroglyph user in his right hand and a feather while Ma'at, the goddess of truth and justice) in on his left; this is nothing less than a gigantic cryptogram for Ramesses II's throne name, User-Maat-Re. The facade is topped by a row of 22 baboons, their arms raised in the air, supposedly worshipping the rising sun. Another notable feature of the facade is a stele which records the marriage of Ramesses with a daughter of king Hattusili III, which sealed the peace between Egypt and the Hittites.

The Great Temple and the Small Temple
The two temples themselves are known as the Great Temple and the Small Temple. The Great Temple is adorned with statues of Ramesses himself, over 60 feet high, that guard the entrance. Other important figures are represented in smaller statues by Ramesses. The collapsed colossus of the Great Temple supposedly fell during an earthquake shortly after its construction, when moving the temple it was decided to leave it as the face is missing. There are depictions of Ramesses and Nefertari with the sacred boats of Amun and Ra-Harakhti. This hall gives access to a transverse vestibule in the middle of which is the entrance to the sanctuary. Here, on a black wall, are rock cut sculptures of four seated figures: Ra-Horakhty, the deified king Ramesses, and the gods Amun Ra and Ptah. Ra-Horakhty, Amun Ra and Ptah were the main divinities in that period and their cult centers were at Heliopolis, Thebes and Memphis respectively.

The small temples are officially the temple of Hathor and Nefertari. This temple shows some of the regard that Ramesses had for his wife. Of the many statues of kings and their wives in Egypt, these are the only ones where they are represented in equal size. The Abu Simbel temple complex is famous in film and literature, appearing in the works of Agatha Christie and in several Hollywood films. The temple of Hathor and Nefertari, also known as the Small Temple, was built about one hundred meters northeast of the temple of Ramesses II and was dedicated to the goddess Hathor and Ramesses II's chief consort, Nefertari. This was in fact the second time in ancient Egyptian history that a temple was dedicated to a queen. The first time, Akhenaten dedicated a temple to his great royal wife, Nefertiti. The rock-cut facade is decorated with two groups of colossi that are separated by the large gateway. The statues, slightly more than ten meters high, are of the king and his queen. On the other side of the portal are two statues of the king, wearing the white crown of Upper Egypt (south colossus) and the double crown (north colossus); these are flanked by statues of the queen and the king. What is truly surprising is that for the only time in Egyptian art, the statues of the king and his consort are equal in size.

Traditionally, the statues of the queens stood next to those of the pharaoh, but were never taller than his knees. This exception to such a long standing rule bears witness to the special importance attached to Nefertari by Ramesses, who went to Abu Simbel with his beloved wife in the 24th year of his reign. As the Great temple of the king, there are small statues of princes and princesses next to their parents. In this case they are positioned symmetrically: on the south side (at left as you face the gateway) are, from left to right, princes Meryatum and Meryre, princesses Meritamen and Henuttawy, and princes Rahirwenemef and Amun-her-khepeshef, while on the north side the same figures are in reverse order. The plan of the Small Temple is a simplified version of that of the Great Temple.

Each temple has its own priest that represents the king in daily religious ceremonies. In theory, the Pharaoh should be the only celebrant in daily religious ceremonies performed in different temples throughout Egypt. In reality, the high priest also played that role. To reach that position, an extensive education in art and science was necessary, like the one pharaoh had. Reading, writing, engineering, arithmetic, geometry, astronomy, space measurement, time calculations, were all part of this learning. The priests of Heliopolis, for example, became guardians of sacred knowledge and earned the reputation of wise men.

The Dam and the Moving of the Temple
The Egyptians have always had a delicate balance with the Nile River and when the waters were about to be raised by the Aswan High Dam, the Temples of Abu Simbel were again in peril. This time, the world responded with concern instead of greed. The temples were moved, cut into blocks and relocated to a safe location beyond the rising waters. Today thousands of people come here every year to see the fruits of those labors.

The Sun Fall on Ramses II
The Abu Simbel Sun Festival, celebrated at the glorious sun temple in Egypt is a spectacular event that bedazzles all who gets a rare opportunity to observe the phenomenon. On 22 February and 22 October sunlight hits the inner sanctuary of the great Sun Temple by Lake Nasser and visitors gather to commemorate this event. When King Ramses II carved the great Sun Temple into the mountainside, he angled it so that twice a year on his birthday and his ascension date, the inner sanctum of the Temple would be lit by direct sunlight. Every year on 21 February and 21 October, the sun would cast light on three god statues in the inner sanctum: Amun-Ra, Ra-Herakhte and Ramses. The fourth god Ptah of darkness would never be lit. However, under threat of erosion by Lake Nasser, both temples (King Ramses II and Nefertari) were relocated to a hill higher up the Lake Nasser shoreline. For this reason the Sun Festival now takes place one day later on 22 February and 22 October each year.
On these days, shafts of sunlight enter into the temple and illuminate the statues of the great king Ramses II and the two sun gods Re-Horakhte and Amen-Re seated beside the Theban god Ptah, the god of darkness.

As the temple remains in absolute darkness through out the year and receives sunlight on these two very special days, the rare phenomenon is a scene that you just cannot afford to miss. Celebrated in a big way by the locals, undoubtedly the Sun Festival at Abu Simbel is one of the most uncommon and astounding festivals in the world. To be a part of Egypt’s Abu Simbel Sun Festival, reach the temple way before dawn, as it is packed with crowd and watch the spectacular event occur before your eyes. You may also join in the celebrations of dance, music, food and fun later in the day to have a wholesome experience at the Abu Simbel Sun Festival in Egypt.

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