The Temples of Abu Simbel
The Egyptians are well-known for revering and vigorously protecting their historical resources. In fact, when Lake Nasser was created to provide for improved water resources and the project threatened the Abu Simbel Temples, the Egyptians moved them. Given the scale of the temples, this was no small feat.
There are two temples, constructed by Ramesses II in the 13th Century BC. They were intended to stand as monuments to he and his wife, the famous queen Nefertari. Of course, being constructed by the head of an empire, they were also intended to dissuade the nearby Nubians from taking any actions against Egypt.
Today, far from intimidating foreigners, the Abu Simbel Temples are among Egypt's largest tourist draws.
The temples were lost to the sands of time for thousands of years, literally. They were buried, with only the topmost portions being visible, until the early 1800's when they were discovered by a Swiss explorer, JL Burckhardt. He managed to gain access to the temples in 1817 and, in a scene that happened far too often in Egypt's long history, he took everything that he could carry with him, essentially looting the temples.
The name Abu Simbel comes from the boy who, according to local stories, led Burckhardt to the temples.
The Dam and the Moving of the Temples
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 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 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.