Amazing Abu Simbel

Pushing south from Aswan brought us to Abu Simbel and the temple of the pharaoh Ramses II. It was built in roughly 1,200 BC to venerate his powers as the embodiment on earth of the sun god Ra.

If Petra in Jordan — constructed 1,000 years after Ramses’ temple — is stunning, the god-king’s massive structure is similarly breathtaking. The temple faces east and on two days each year the rising sun penetrates to the deepest reaches of the interior of the temple, illustrating the ancient Egyptian’s understanding of the cosmos.

Equally amazing is that the entire structure, including an adjacent smaller temple dedicated to Ramses’ wife Nefertari, were moved from their original location nearby in the 1960s. Construction of the Aswan High Dam was destined to flood the original site and Egypt asked for help saving them. The international community responded and it was an engineering feat to cut the massive statues and the temple structures inside of the mountain into huge blocks and reassemble them at the current site. (Note that the Philae Temple discussed in the Aswan High post was similarly moved but it was already largely submerged when the work started.)

Temple of Nefertari.

The majesty of the Abu Simbel temples is obvious from the photos. Abu Simbel is a four-hour bus ride south through the desert from Aswan, about 30 miles from the Sudan border. Blame Ramses for putting it there.

Some tour operators do a day trip to the site from Aswan, which would be a long day. There are also cruise operators on Lake Nasser that can discharge passengers at the site, but we overnighted at the Abu Simbel Lake Resort. It allowed us to see the evening sound and light show at the temple, which was fun. The crowds during the day weren’t overwhelming, though it could get crowded inside.

Night view during the sound and light show.

The resort sits aside Lake Nasser. Any property would pale in comparison to the Old Cataract, but the Abu Simbel hotel overall afforded a pleasant setting. The food was blah for the first time on this trip and was served buffet style, so it felt a bit like being on a cruise ship.

Our view of Lake Nasser.

Adding to that cruise vibe was a local musician crooning American classics like John Denver’s “Take Me Home Country Roads.” You could at least buy a drink if desired, which helped one endure the background music.

Next we are off to board our dahebaya, an Egyptian sailing yacht, for five nights of leisurely cruising on the Nile. Wi-fi could be spotty so updates might be affected though I am squeezing this one in.

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