temple of ramses ii

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How to Move an Ancient Egyptian Temple — The Relocation of the Abu Simbel Temples.

In the 13th century BC the mighty pharaoh Ramses II ordered the construction of two large temples in southern Egypt to commemorate the Battle of Kadesh, to honor his queen Nefertari, and to impress his Nubian enemies to the south.  Carved directly into the sandstone hillsides, the large facade of the temples feature four colossus statues of Ramses himself, each standing 67 feet in height.  The facade itself stands an incredible 100 feet high and 119 feet wide.  Inside of the temples are a network of rooms and hallways with many priceless hieroglyphic carvings detailing Egyptian history, religion, and folklore.

By the 1960’s the Abu Simbel Temples were a national treasure for the new Egyptian nation.  However, Egypt’s industrial modernization would threaten the temples in a way that no pharaoh could have ever predicted.  Near Abu Simbel was the construction of a 364 foot hydroelectric dam known as the Aswan dam.  A key objective of the Egyptian government, the dam would provide electricity for the developing nation and kick start a new agricultural plan which would create a massive irrigation project.  However, Abu Simbel was literally in deep trouble, for construction of the damn would leave the ancient temples submerged at the bottom of the Lake Nasser Reservoir.

To save Abu Simbel, a team of archeologists, historians, engineers, architects, and construction workers were recruited by UNESCO to conduct one of the most ambitious rescue operations of an ancient structure.  The plan was to relocate the ancient temples above the flood plain of Lake Nasser.  Incredibly, the team cut the temple facade and structure into individual blocks weighing 20-30 tons.  Each block was numbered then recorded to keep track of where they would go when reassembled.  The blocks were lifted out of their original foundation using massive cranes, then transported to another site where they could be catalogued and stored for later.  From 1964-1965 over 10,000 stone blocks were cut, lifted, and transported away from the site. 

The new home for the temples was located 200 meters inland and at a height  65 meters higher than the original Abu Simbel site.  To recreate the look of a temple carved from a sandstone hill, artificial hills were created using concrete which simulated sandstone.  Once the new Abu Simbel site was ready, each block was meticulously fitted back into position, reconstructing the ancient temples anew.  In fact the reconstruction is so precise that it would impress ancient Egyptian engineers, on the façade of the temples there are no visible seams where the blocks meet.  Only a few joins can be found from within the temple complex.  The project was completed in 1968 and cost $40 million, over $250 million dollars today.  The cost was well worth it as the Abu Simbel complex is considered one of the great treasures of Egypt and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  Over 500,000 tourists visit the temples every year.

plaster cast restored in colour (1825, British Museum) of the relief represented on the south wall of the Forecourt of the Temple of Amon, Khnum, Horus, and Ramses II, Lower Kush/Nubia (50 km south of Aswan, now called Beit Wali):
the southern war of King Ramses II (in the first few years of His reign) against the kushite rebels.
King Ramses II standing in His War Chariot with drawn bow, charges the Kushites who flee before Him.
Behind the King are represented two of His sons, the Royal Princes Amonherwenemef (another name of Amonherkhepshef, above) and Khaemwaset (below)

King Ramses II (wearing the Blue Crown with the Uraeus) with drawn bow.
Detail from the scene of the Battle of Kadesh in Syria represented on the II Pylon of the “Temple of Millions of Years” of King Ramses II (the “Ramesseum”) at west ‘Uaset’-Thebes,
Image from the “Atlas of Egyptian Art” by Emile Prisse d'Avennes

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plaster cast restored in colour (1825, British Museum) of the relief represented on the south wall of the Forecourt of the Temple of Amon, Khnum, Horus, and Ramses II, Lower Kush/Nubia (50 km south of Aswan, now called Beit Wali):
scene related to the end of the southern war of King Ramses II (in the first few years of His reign) against the kushite rebels.
King Ramses II enthroned in a shrine (topped by a row of uraei) receiving the tributes from the Kushites (to the left, not visible here); the King is represented  holding the ‘Ankh’ (Life) and the white mace, wearing a composite Blue Crown with the Solar disk, the two feathers, ram’s horns, and uraei.
To the left,
(in the upper register) the son of Ramses II, the Royal Prince Amonherwenemef (another name of Amonherkhepshef, at right); and the Viceroy of Kush, Amenemopet (at left);
(in the lower register) two fan-bearers and the vizier

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King Ramses II offering wine before the God Khnum enthroned (ram-headed, wearing the ‘Atef’-Crown with two feathers) and the Goddess Sati (Sṯjt); in the middle, the altar with various offerings. Behind the King is represented the Goddess Anuki (ˁnqt) holding two staves with 'Heb-Sed’ signs (the symbol of the Royal Jubilee of the King).
Scene from the north wall of the Offering Hall of the rock-cut Temple of Amon, Khnum, Horus, and Ramses II, Lower Kush/Nubia (50 km south of Aswan, now called Beit el-Wali)

“Temple of Millions of Years” of King Ramses II at west ‘Uaset’-Thebes (the “Ramesseum”), scene related to the 'Heb-Sed’ (the Feast of the Royal Jubilee of the King) from the lintel (interior side) of the Entrance-Gate of the Pylon:

to the left,
King Ramses II (wearing the Red Crown) performing the course of the 'Heb-Sed’; in front of Him, the Goddess Meret making adorations; on the top left, the Goddess Outo ('Uadjet’) in Her form of serpent-headed vulture spreading Her wings in protection and holding the 'shen’-ring of eternal protection;

to the right,
the personified standard of Seth (topped by the 'sha’, His sacred animal), followed by the personified 'Ankh’-sign and 'Uas’-scepter with the sacred standards of Upuaut and Tekenu, giving the 'Ankh’ (Life) to King Ramses II (wearing the Red Crown) enthroned inside a shrine (the Shrine of Lower Egypt)

the ‘Ipet-Resyt’ Temple of the God Amon at 'Uaset’-Thebes (the “Luxor Temple”):
the entrance-gate of the Pylon, flanked by two colossal votive statues of King Ramses II enthroned. To the left, one of the two obelisks of Ramses II (the other obelisk now is at the center of the Place de la Concorde in Paris). On the background, the First Court, “the Great Court of Ramses II”, and another colossal votive statue of King Ramses II

the Nile-God Hapy in His two forms of Hapy of Upper Egypt (at right, with lilies) and Hapy of Lower Egypt (at left, with papyrus flowers) binding together the symbolic plants of Upper and Lower Egypt, that is the ritual of the “Union of the Two Lands” (’sm3-t3wy’).
On the top of the sm3-t3wy symbol, the cartouche with the name of King Ramses II as “King of Upper and Lower Egypt”:
Wsr-M3ˁt-Rˁ-stp-n-Rˁ , whose meaning is “Powerful is the Maat of Ra, the Chosen-One of Ra”.
Great Temple of Amon, Ra-Harakhty, Ptah, and King Ramses II at Meha (the “Great Temple of Abu Simbel”), Lower Kush/Nubia, scene from the throne of one of the colossal statues of King Ramses II located on the facade.