Three hundred and twenty kilometers from Aswan in Nubia is to be found Abu Simbel the most beautiful and imaginative construction of the greatest and most whimsical pharaoh in Egyptian history. This temple is dedicated to theory to Amon-Ra, Harmakis, and Ptah but practices it was constructed for the greater glory of its builder, Ramses the Great (Ramses II).
To the Pharaoh’s architects, the temple represented a tremendous challenge which, two thousand years later, was to be taken up again by the engineers of the world community in order to save it from the waters of the Nile. In this lonely place lost in the middle of the Nubian desert the temple, which is 38 meters wide by 65 meters long, had been carved out of a single piece of rock. The unusual facade was carved by a <<workmen whose swords had led them to prison>> working under the direction of the chief mason. The facade consists of four colossal statues of the Pharaoh seated on his throne. Each statue is twenty meters high, measures four meters from ear to ear and one meter along the line of the lips. The statues are not only symbols of the attributes of Ramses but are also functional being the columns which support the facade, some 31 meters high. The work of the stonecutters and sculptors was followed by that of the painters which at the time of its execution was remarkable for its wide range of color but which unfortunately has been completely destroyed by the passage of time. Penetrating into the heart of the mountain one reaches the sanctuary where formerly there stood statues of the triad to who dedicated together with one of Ramses himself. It was here that what was called the <<miracle of the sun>> took place. Twice a year, on 21th of February and 21 of October, a ray of sunlight would penetrate the sixty-five meters between the entrance and the shrine and bathes Amon-Ra and Ramses II in a light.
a few minutes later the ray would move on and fall on Harmakis. After about twenty minutes the light disappeared and it is really quite remarkable that the rays of light never struck Ptah, for Ptah is, in fact, the god of darkness.
The temple wall decorations celebrate the military grandeur of Ramses II. The poet Pentaur, serving at the court of the great Pharaoh, composed a long epic poem on the expedition of Ramses the Great in Syria. The poem, written in hieroglyphics, is engraved not only here at Abu Simbel, but also on the walls of other gigantic temples, such as those at Karnak and Luxor. During the long wars waged against Hatti, a belligerent Syrian tribe which had formed alliances with several of the neighboring populations, Pharaoh Ramses II gave his troops proof of rare material valour. In the fifth year of his reign the Pharaoh, at the head of his army, advanced against the city of Atech or Quothshou, the ancient Emesus, to the northwest Tripoli.
Betrayed by false refugees (Bedouin Spies in the pay of the king of the Hatti), Pharaoh fell into an ambush and was suddenly surrounded by enemy troops. Ramses found himself alone with his personal guard, consisting of seventy-five war chariots, against an enemy possessing more than two thousand.
<<Then>> writes the poet Pentaur in an exaltation of the glory of his lord, <<extending his body to its full height, Pharaoh arrayed himself in the proud armor of the warrior. And whipping forward his chariot drawn by two horses, he flung himself into the fray. He was alone, completely alone, with no one beside him! His soldiers and his bodyguard watched from a distance as he leaped to the attack and defended himself like a hero. Two thousand five hundred chariots, each bearing three soldiers, surrounded him and crushed tight about him to cut him off. But he undaunted, had with him neither princes nor generals nor soldiers!…>>.
In this moment of supreme danger, Ramses then addresses this fervent prayer to the supreme god of the pharaohs: <<O thou, divine Amon, Lord of eternity, creator and organizer of the world, God who provides all, Lord of all the kingdoms of the earth… see, I am alone!… Are you not my father and I your son? .. My arm has always done thy will. Have I not rendered you homage with my offerings? Remember the thirty thousand oxen sacrificed in your name and the temples of enormous blocks of granite I have raised to thee! Count the obelisks I have erected in your honor! O divine Amon, now that I am alone and abandoned by all, I extend to you my hands and my prayer. Are you not stronger than a thousand archers, than thousands of heroes?…>>.
Amon responds at last Ramses prayer: << I am your father the sun, my right hand is with thee and, as you have said, I alone am worth more than millions of warriors! When I descend into the tumult of chariots which besiege you, you will see them fall and shatter like vases of clay under your horse’s hooves!… I will turn to ice the hearts of your countless enemies, I will take the strength from their limbs, I will make all the lances and quivers from their hands and I will fling them into the waters like crocodiles!… They will kill each other and cut each other’s throats, and he who has fallen shall never rise again!…>>
Then Ramses calls for help from the generals and horsemen who have not taken part in the battle: << Come forward>> Pharaoh cries to them, <<and tell me who among you has sacrificed himself for his country more than I have done. While you sat tranquility in your camps, I went out alone against the enemy, Were it not for me, you would all be dead!…>>
Evening falls and the poet lets us witness the outcome of the battle. Ramses’ entire army, which had retreated, turns to advance again. <<They advanced over earth covered with a corpse, all red with blood… Their feet found no place to rest, so many were the dead!…>> When the battle is over, the generals acclaim Pharaoh and praise him for the victory: <<O Ramses of the valiant heart, you have done alone more than a whole army could do. Before your victorious sword, the land of the Hatti has bowed down!… Nothing can be compared to you when you fight for your people on the day of battle!… Impelled by the example of their leader, the Egyptian cavalry threw themselves into battle as the sparrow-hawk springs on its prey. The Pharaoh accomplished great of valor. All those who approached him fell beneath his blows. Soon the bodies of the enemy cut to pieces formed a mountain of bloody corpse…>>
The role played by Ramses II in history comes to life in these epic pages. No wonder then that from Djebel Barkal to Narth El Keld ( near Beirut), numerous stelae celebrate the deeds of this king to whom classic legend attributes victories similar to those of Thotmosis III, Seth I and Ramses III.
It is also a singular fact that Ramses II, in the continual glorification of himself, had a much smaller temple, barely ten meters long and dedicated to his wife Nefertari built beside his master piece. Never before in Egypt had the wife of a pharaoh been depicted on the facade of a temple, indeed only the wife of Ramses II ever did attain his honor.
For many long centuries, the temples of Abu Simbel remained there, lapped by the waters of the Nile, perpetuating the memory, the greatness and the divinity of Ramses II. The danger that the temples might disappear beneath the waters of the artificial lake had world wide repercussions. UNESCO immediately set up two commissions to study the problem of salvaging them. However finding a solution was not a simple matter both because of the structure of the temples and because of the material of which they are made. The final choice was a solution proposed by Sweden which involved complete removal of the overhanging rocky mass, the cutting up of the temples into pieces and their reconstruction on a plateau above the original level. First of all 17,000 holes were made in the stone through which resin was injected to consolidate the structure. Thirty-three tonnes or resin and about the same weight of iron braces to prevent the stone from crumbling were found to be necessary.
As the waters of the Nile rose, and they rose much more rapidly than anticipated, the cutting and moving of the stone was started in afrantic race against time. The monuments were swan into one thousand and thirty-six blocks whose average weight was thirty tonnes to which must be added the eleven hundred and ten pieces cut from the surrounding rock.