The great temples of Abu Simbel are located south of Aswan, in northern Nubia. This monument was built by pharaoh Ramses II -- some say as a gesture of love for his wife Nefertari -- between 1290 and 1224 B.C., when most of Nubia was under Egyptian rule.
The Abu Simbel temples were carved out of a mountain on the west bank of the Nile. There are two: the colossal temple of Ramses, which was dedicated to the Egyptian gods Ra-Horakhty, Amun, and Ptah, and to the deified pharaoh himself. The smaller temple of Nefertari was dedicated to Hathor, the cow-headed Egyptian goddess of love. In the doorway to the main temple are four statues of Ramses, each more than 20 meters high, accompanied by smaller statues of the Queen Mother and Nefertari. Above the doorway stands a figure of the falcon-headed sun-god Ra-Horakhty. Inside, eight statues of Ramses hold up the roof of the Hypostyle Hall; the reliefs on the wall show the pharaoh victorious in various battles. In the next hall, Ramses and Nefertari are shown in front of the gods and the solar barques that will carry them to the underworld. The innermost chamber is the sacred sanctuary, where the gods (including Ramses) sit on their thrones. Every February 22 and October 22 at sunrise, light penetrates the temple and illuminates the faces of these figures1.
Construction of a reservoir for the Aswan High Dam in the mid-1960s threatened the Abu Simbel temples, so an international team reassembled them on higher ground. This reconstruction effort -- which required that entire mountains be cut into blocks, moved, and reconstructed -- took more than four years and cost $40 million.
Compiled by Jamila White
1 From Wonders of the African World (1999) by Henry Louis Gates, Jr.