Rameses II launched the building site at the beginning of his reign, he wanted to continue the work of the pharaoh who served as his model, Amenhotep III, who had built monumental sanctuaries in Upper Nubia. He thus wished to return to the prosperity that had reigned under his predecessor, the temples should please the gods, and ensure the food security of his subjects thanks to the good cycle of the Nile floods. It is the royal son of Kush III of Nubia who is in charge of the works: Youny then his successor Hekanakht.
The small temple dedicated to Nefertari was the first to be discovered. The large temple dedicated to Ramses II was discovered on 22 March 1813 by the Swiss historian Johann Ludwig Burckhardt. He discovered it by chance while moving away from the small temple he had come to visit. About a hundred meters to the east, he saw the half-sanded façade of the great temple, which revealed only the top of the four statues bearing the effigy of Ramses II. It was not until four years later, on August 1, 1817, that the Italian explorer Giovanni Battista Belzoni managed to remove the sand and open the entrance to the great temple.