Abu Simbel Temples

Situated in the Nubia region of Egypt, overlooking the emerald waters of Lake Nasser, are the two ancient pharaonic rock temples of Abu Simbel (or the Temple of Ramesses, beloved by Amun) and the Temple of Hathor and Nefertari. The temples are a magnificent examples of ancient Egyptian art and draw the largest number of tourists annually, second only to the Pyramids of Giza.

Construction of the Abu Simbel Temples began around 1264 BC, during the reign of Pharaoh Ramesses II (or Ramesses the Great), and persisted for 20 years. Ramesses II commissioned the temples as a lasting monument to himself and his queen Nefertari, following the alleged triumph at the Battle of Kadesh. It was finally completed in 1265 BC – during the 24th year of his prosperous reign.

The Temple of Ramesses extends an unbelievable 20 metres into the blazing North African skies and was constructed in honour of Ramesses II, as well as Egypt’s three state deities of the time: Amun, Ra-Horakhty and Ptah. Historians suggest the design of the temple expresses a measure of pride and ego in the long-reigning pharaoh. It is also believed the purpose of the grand temples was to impress Egypt’s neighbours to the south and reinforce the status of Egyptian religion.

It was one of six rock temples erected in Nubia during the 67 year reign of Ramesses II and flaunts a spectacular façade 116 feet wide. The four statues each depict the seated pharaoh clad in the double Atef crown of Upper and Lower Egypt, while a frieze emblazoned with 22 baboons (Watchers of the Dawn), their hands raised in worship of the rising sun, rests firmly above the elegant carvings.

The statue flanking the left side of the entrance was damaged during an ancient earthquake – in the 31st year of the pharaoh’s reign. Restoration of the statue was never carried out even though the face was destroyed during the fall. Although only the lower part of the statue remains intact, the head and torso can still be seen resting at the feet of the enormous statue.

Another temple, known as the Temple of Hathor and Nefertari (or simply the Smaller Temple), is located 100 metres northeast of the Temple of Ramesses. While smaller in size, the temple is adorned with the same grandiose carvings and depictions of ancient Egypt.

The temple was built as a dedication to Hathor, the goddess of love and beauty, and Ramesses II’s favourite wife, Nefertari. Four statues of Ramesses II and two of Nefertari embellish the arid rock face of this bewitching temple. Most remarkable about this temple is the fact that the pharaoh and his consort are presented in equal size – the only instance in Egyptian art. This is an indication of the esteem in which Ramesses II held Nefertari.

Embark on a Cape to Cairo journey with Rovos Rail and learn more about these magnificent ancient temples and the colossal 1959 relocation campaign that saved these magnificent relics from the rising waters of the Nile.