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Abu Simbel Temples
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Abu Simbel Temples

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The Abu Simbel Temples are two ancient Egyptian rock-cut temples located near Abu Simbel (Arabic أبو سمبل), in southern Egypt, north of Lake Nasser on the Nile River, about 70 kilometers from the Second Cataract.

Built by Pharaoh Ramses II (19th Dynasty) around 1260 BC to commemorate his victory at the Battle of Qadesh, they were intended for his worship as well as that of Egyptian gods and his wife Nefertari.

These monuments are classified as World Heritage by UNESCO.


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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.

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The big temple

The great temple is a hemispeos originally built on the hill of Meha. It is dedicated to the cult of Amen, Ra, Ptah and the deified Rameses II. Most of it is carved from sandstone, including the façade with four colossal statues of Rameses II seated, and other statues, bas-reliefs, and friezes. The parts not cut from rock are a peribolus and a pylon made of Nile silt bricks. Above the temple doorway, a half-round statue in a rectangular niche depicts Ra-Harakhty, recognizable by the sun disk on his head.

At sunrise, its rays illuminate the back of the sanctuary and, in the pharaoh's time, three of the four statues on February 21 and October 21, which are now illuminated on February 23 and October 23; a shift of one day in the sunrise causes the illuminated portion of the sanctuary to shift by 40 centimeters. This part of the temple is the naos. The fourth statue never lit and located at one end of the sanctuary is that of Ptah, a funerary god and god of darkness, who must always remain in shadow.5

The small temple

The small temple is a speos originally built in the hill of Ibshek. It is dedicated to the cult of Nefertari, deified as Hathor. It is carved out of rock in its entirety, including the façade, which contains six colossal statues of Rameses II and Nefertari as well as other statues, bas-reliefs, and friezes.

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