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Abu Simbel

Abu Simbel is a set of two temples near the border of Egypt with Sudan. It was constructed for the pharaoh Ramesses II who reigned for 67 years during the 13th century BC (19th Dynasty).

The temples were cut from the rock and shifted to higher ground in the 1960s as the waters of Lake Nasser began to rise following completion of the Aswan High Dam.

The Great Temple is dedicated to Ramesses II and a statue of him is seated with three other gods within the innermost part of the rock-cut temple (the sanctuary). The temple's facade is dominated by four enormous seated statues of the Pharaoh (each over 20 metres or 67 feet high), although one has been damaged since ancient times.

The Small Temple was probably completed ahead of the Great Temple and is dedicated to Ramesses' favourite wife, Nefertari. At the entrance stand six 10-metre-high (33 feet) rock-cut statues - two of Ramesses and one of Nefertari on either side of the doorway.

The temples can be reached by road, air or boat. Arrival by boat is achieved by cruising from the Aswan High Dam on a 3-day journey. The author first made the boat trip on the "Eugenie" in January 1995 with the vessel stopping at various relocated temples along the way. In early 1998, the journey was repeated on the "Nubian Sea", but the number of tourists reaching Abu Simbel in this way remains relatively small. A hydrofoil service from the Aswan High Dam to Abu Simbel was re-introduced in 2000 (there was a service in the 1960s) with two return trips per day.

In early 2001, the author was surprised at the increased number of visitors at Abu Simbel at night and for sunrise. Once it was possible to watch sunrise with just a few others. However, it is still a very special time.

During a visit to Abu Simbel during February 2002 by means of the re-opened highway, buses were required to proceed in a convoy with arrival at the site a little after sunrise and about 2.5 hours spent at the temples before the return journey to Aswan. A security fence has been erected around the site and the cruise boats are now kept off to the sides of the temple site. A new visitors' centre has been opened behind the temples and vendors are now housed in a line of permanent shops leading to the centre.

A very good Sound & Light show also has been introduced for those at Abu Simbel in the evening. This includes projections onto the two temples showing how they once would have looked. The program is presented in a number of languages with the provision of ear pieces.