Abu Simbel Temple is a famous place, originally divided into a solid rock cliff, in southern Egypt and located at the second cataract of the Nile River.
The two temples, including the Great Temple and the Little Temple, were founded during the reign of Ramses II (c. 1279 – c. 1213 BC) either between 1264 – 1244 BC or 1244-1224 BC.
The discrepancy in the dates is due to the different interpretations of the life of Ramses II by scholars.
Certainly, based on large-scale artwork within the Great Temple, the structures were, at least in part, to celebrate Ramses’s victory over the Hittites at the Battle of Kadesh in 1274 BC.
For some scholars, this refers to a possible date of 1264 BC for the initial construction because a victory would have been new in people’s memory.
However, the decision to build a large monument at this specific site, on the border with the lands that invaded Nubia, was a reference to other scholars later in 1244 BC because it had to begin after the Nubian campaigns and it was a symbol of the Egyptian war power.
The Origin of the Temple of Abu Simbel
Whatever the date of construction began, history says that it took twenty years to establish the synagogue and that the temples were dedicated to the gods of Ra Horakhty and Ptah, the god Ramses II (the Great Temple), the goddess Hathor and Queen Nefertiti, Ramses’ favorite wife (the small temple).
While the name, “Abu Simbel”, is a designation of the complex in ancient times, this is not. The Swiss explorer Burckhardt allegedly drove to the site by a boy named Abu Simbel in 1813 and the site was named after him.
Burckhardt, however, was unable to uncover the site, which was buried in sand up to the necks of the grand colossi, and later mentioned this experience to his friend and fellow explorer Giovanni Belzoni.
It was Belzoni who uncovered and first excavated (or looted) Abu Simbel in 1817 and it is considered likely that it was he, not Burckhardt, who was led to the site by the young boy and who named the complex after him.
As with other aspects regarding Abu Simbel (such as the date it was begun), the truth of either version of the story is open to interpretation and all that is known is that the original name for the complex if it had a specific designation, has been lost.
Description of Abu Simbel Temple
The Great Temple stands 98 feet (30 meters) high and 115 feet (35 meters) long with four seated colossi in the entrance, two to each side, depicting Ramses II on his throne; each one 65 feet (20 meters) tall.
Beneath these giant figures are smaller statues (still larger than life-sized) depicting Ramses’ conquered enemies, the Nubians, Libyans, and Hittites.
Further statues represent his family members and various protecting gods and symbols of power.
Passing through the temple, through the central entrance, the ancients decorated the interior of the temple with inscriptions showing Ramses and Nefertiti praising the gods.
Ramesses has a great victory in Kadesh (modern scholars see more than an Egyptian victory) and the writings tell it in detail across the north wall of the Hall of the Columns.
According to the scholars Oakes and Gahlin, these engravings of the events surrounding the battle.
Present a lively account in both reliefs and text. Preparations for the battle in Egypt are ready. They equip horses or feed them while someone wears their wounds.
The king’s tent was conceived while another scene shows a war council between Ramses and his soldiers. They captured two Hittite spies and beat them until they uncover the true place of Matloui, the Hittite king.
Finally, the two sides engage in battle, the Egyptians charging in neat formation while the Hittites are in confusion, chariots crashing, horses bolting, and soldiers falling into the River Orontes.
In the text, Ramses takes on the whole of the Hittite army single-handed, apart from support rendered by [the god] Amun who defends him in battle and finally hands him the victory.
Historical details of the temple of Abu Simbel
The Small Temple stands nearby at a height of 40 feet (12 meters) and 92 feet (28 meters) long.
This temple also adorns a huge statue across the front, three on either side of the door, depicting the statue of Ramesses and Queen Nefertiti (four statues of the king and two of the queen) at a height of 32 feet (10 meters).
The queen’s prestige is evident in this, usually, where the female is on a much smaller scale than the pharaoh, while in Abu Simbel, Nefertiti is offered the same size as Ramses.
The Small Temple is also notable in that it is the second time in ancient Egyptian history that a ruler dedicated a temple to his wife (the first time being the Pharaoh Akhenaton, 1353-1336 BC, who dedicated a temple to his queen Nefertiti).
The walls of this temple are dedicated to the portraits of Ramesses and Nefertiti and offer performances to the goddess Hathor.
A SACRED TEMPLE
The site was a sacred place for Hathor long before the temples were built, and Ramses carefully selected it for this very reason.
In both temples, Ramses is a god among other gods, and his choice of sacred language reinforced this impression among people.
The temples are also in line with the east, with the sun shining twice a year on February 21 and October 21 directly to the sanctuary of the great temple to illuminate the statues of Ramesses and Amun.
Dates probably coincide with Ramses’ birthday and coronation. The unification of sacred structures with sunrise or sunset, or with the position of the sun at coups, was common throughout the ancient world, but the sanctuary of the great temple differs from these other sites in that the statue of the god Ptah, which stands among others, where he puts it carefully so that it does not light At what time.