Simbel is about 280 kilometers (174 miles) south of Aswan.
It was here that Ramesses
II of the 19th
dynasty decided to build his huge rock-hewn temples. The
site is dominated by a temple he built for himself and another
temple that he built to honor his wife Nefertari.
The temples are major landmarks of Egypt and their grandiosity
represents the mightiness of the ancient Egyptians and Ramesses
II himself, as one of their most eminent figures.
They were used till the Christian
era when they were abandoned as paganism faded away. The
temples were forgotten till the first half of the 19th century
when they were rediscovered by early explorers. At that time
they were almost submerged by desert dunes.
The construction of the High
Dam in the 1960s threatened these monuments as well. The
site was to be totally submerged by water and be lost forever.
Scholars and archeologists voiced an outcry to salvage the monuments
of Abu Simbel.
UNESCO supervised and funded the relocation of the temples to
a new site about 60 meters (200 ft) above -and less than 200
meters (656 ft) beyond- the original site. Steel and concrete
were used to build the encasements of the temples in the new
site to imitate their original shape and also in a way to preserve
their original orientation.
The 4-year operation ended in 1968 and after that water rose
to a higher level to produce a similar medium of the original
The temple was recently restored and new tourist facilities
were opened in December 2001.
Lighting system and ventilation of the temple was improved and
visitors' center was built at the foot of the twin temples.
The center has a lecture hall and a screen room where documentaries
of the elaborate salvage operation are displayed. There are
also miniature maquettes of the temples.
Tourists are supposed to listen to the explanations of the tour
guides illustrated on the maquettes before getting inside the
temple. This will shorten time that tourists spend inside the
monuments and consequently help preserving them.
There is also the amazing Sound and Light show inaugurated in
2000. It's one of the best shows of their kind in the world.