Abu Simbel temple, the most striking monument in Egypt
Egypt is packed with incredible attractions and locations to visit, and Abu Simbel is one of the most striking monuments in the country. The temple complex was declared a part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site known as the “Nubian Monuments”. It’s located next to the border of Sudan, on the western bank of Lake Nasser, and about 300 km south of Aswan. The complex consist of two temples cut into the rock dating back to more than 3000 years ago, covered with statues and engravings of various gods and symbols. The temples were built by Ramesses II (1279-1213 b.C.), one of ancient Egypt’s most known and powerful pharaohs, that wished to demonstrate his power and his divine nature. The biggest, known as the Great Temple, is dedicated to Ramesses II itself, the other, known as The small temple, is dedicated to Nefertiti, the pharaoh wife. The unbelievable thing is that the entire Abu Simbel complex was displaced from its original location. In the early 1960s, the temples had to move due to the rising water levels of Lake Nasser, which were elevated because of the construction of a new dam in Aswan. Incredibly, each temple was carefully sawed into numbered stone cubes, moved uphill and reconstructed in almost five years.
When to Go
The best period to visit Egypt, especially the south part of the country, is from November to February when the temperatures are bearable. The summer season is too hot to get around and it’s better to skip it.
How to reach Abu Simbel
Most tourists visit Abu Simbel on a roundtrip from Cairo o Aswan (the closest major city) as the temples’ visit takes only an hour or a bit more. The only airline that serves the small Abu Simbel airport is Egyptair. There are only two flights from Aswan to Abu Simbel, and the price is about 200 USD. The company offers a free shuttle bus – called Happy Year Transport – from the airport to the complex. Once at the temple parking lot, the bus will wait for you 1 hour and a half before going back to the airport. Alternatively, you’ll find many taxies just outside the arrival hall. We only found one direct flight from Cairo to Abu Simbel (and vice versa). If you don’t find a seat on that flight, you have to stop over in Aswan. It means your flight will be Cairo – Aswan – Abu Simbel – Aswan – Cairo. It’s worth it? Without a doubt!
Another option is to travel by land from Aswan by renting a car or with a local tour operator. Many hotels in Aswan offer a day trip to Abu Simbel. One-way is about 300 km and takes 3 hours. You can have a look at the web platforms Viator.com and GetYourGuide.com where the local operators advertise their trips and activities.
Where to sleep
In case you decide to spend here a night to see the sunrise or the sunset at the temples, there are a few accommodations in the small town of Abu Simbel. You can have a look at Seti Abu Simbel Lake Resort, Applicators Hotel, Karaba Nubian House, Safari Abu Simbel, Eskaleh Nubian House.
How to visit the temples
It takes only a few minutes to reach the Abu Simbel parking lot from the airport. From here, you have to walk in the direction of the small buildings where you find food stands, bathrooms and a small dining area. Here, you’ll also see a signpost indicating the Visitor Centre of the complex. Next to the Visitor Centre, is the ticket booth. The fee is 300 EGP (19 USD) per person and 300 EGP for the camera. Anyway, if you want to take pictures only with your smartphone, you don’t have to pay the camera fee. After a quick security screening, follow the paved path to reach the temples.
The Great Temple is simply stunning. The four massive statues on its facade are marvellous, and they all represent King Ramesses II on his throne. Each statue is 20 metres high. One of the four statues is broken and was damaged by an earthquake just after the construction of the temple. On the sides of the giant statues, other smaller ones represent the mother, Tuia, and the pharaoh wife Nefertari, while between the legs, there are the statues of some of his children. Inside the temple, there are 8 statues of Osiris, with the facial features of Ramesses II and several chambers. The temple interior’s highlight is the sanctuary, a small chamber in the back of the monument that contains the seated statues of deified Ramesses II, Amon-Ra, Ra-Horakthi and Ptah. The incredible thing is that twice a year, on February 22nd and October 22nd, the first rays of the sun penetrate this room for a few minutes lighting 3 statues out of 4. The statue of Ptah is the only one not illuminated by the sun as he is considered the god of darkness. The first date is to celebrate the season of agriculture and cultivation, while the second date celebrates the flooding. Both dates also coincide with the birth and coronation of Ramesses II.
Even the Small Temple is wonderful. It’s the Temple of Hator, a goddess of the sky, and is dedicated to Nefertiti, wife of Ramesses II. Six statues, four of the pharaoh Ramses II and two of Nefertari, each about 11 metres high, decorate the facade of the rock temple. On the sides of the statues, there are smaller statues representing the sons and daughters of the pharaoh. The peculiarity of the Small Temple is that it is the only monument of ancient Egypt where the queen has the same importance as the pharaoh. The interior of the structure contains columns beautifully decorated with the head of Hator and decorations with scenes depicting the king and queen making offerings to different deities. Legend says that Queen Nefertiti died at the entrance to the temple while historians agree that she died before the completion of the work.