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Aswan to Abu Simbel

September 24, 2023

The next day we were up at 4:30 a.m. for the long drive to Abu Simbel, a city in the south of Egypt — inexplicably called Upper Egypt — with a temple of the same name. Our guide, Maggie, told us we’d be driving through the desert and there’d be nothing to see, and she was right. Flat beige sand as far as the eye could see. When dawn broke we saw activity off to our east, and it turned out that they’re building a city in the desert to alleviate overcrowding along the Nile. Egypt is 95% desert, mostly uninhabited except for a few Bedouin tribes that live in the few oases. Water to this new community will be supplied by a canal fed by Lake Nasser, an artificial lake the size of Rhode Island.

The Pharaoh Ramses II, called the greatest of Egypt’s kings, built two temples at Abu Simbel in the 13th century BC; one is faced with four colossi of himself, the other smaller structure is dedicated to his favorite wife (of 41), Nefertari (not to be confused with Nefertiti) and the goddess Hathor. Entering past the 65-foot-tall colossi, one enters a series of halls containing more statues, along with wall carvings and hieroglyphics depicting the monarch’s life and conquests.

In 1964, as a result of the creation of Lake Nasser behind the Aswan High Dam, the temples were threatened with submersion under the rising waters of the Nile. UNESCO undertook a massive effort to relocate Abu Simbel, along with several other significant monuments at risk, under the banner Saving the Monuments of Nubia. Over a four-year period, the mountain and its temples were cut into massive blocks, disassembled and reassembled on a cliff 65 meters above and 200 meters back from the river. It is still considered one of the greatest challenges in archaeological engineering history.

Our first trip on the Nile took us to the Temple of Philae, dedicated to the goddess Isis. This was another site relocated to save it from the inundation of the river during the construction of the dam.

Much newer than Abu Simbel, this temple dates from the 3rd century BC, and Isis was worshipped here until the 7th century AD.

We wrapped up our temple viewing with a tasty lunch at a colorful Nubian restaurant along the shore. These water taxis are ubiquitous, especially at key sites along the river.

The Merit was to be our floating home for the next four days, and we were excited to board the dahabiya after a long, hot day. We will sail during the day and dock at night.

One Comment
  1. Marlo Quick permalink

    I am not sure which feat is more impressive, the building of the temples or moving them. The creation and artistry of a building that will last for millennia is a lost art in this day and age of disposable everything and deserves to be venerated and preserved.

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