Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Preparing for Egypt, Part Three (Abu Simbel)

Ah, Rameses II, better known as Rameses the Great. He was pretty great, living to age 96 when the average life expectancy of an Egyptian during his reign was around 40 years. He had 200 wives and concubines and fathered 96 sons and 60 daughters. He even outlived 13 of his heirs. And, he was a builder. His image is all over Egypt (usually showing him whacking enemies over the head with a mace-like weapon), and expand the empire he did, holding control of Nubia (and its gold). The Temple at Abu Simbel (pictured) is on the Nile on the border of then-Nubia, sort of as a reminder to anyone entering the territory from the south that they were now on Egyptian land, so they'd better watch their manners.

This temple is particularly interesting because it was actually carved into the mountain. There are four colossal statues of Rameses in the front, then you enter and it goes all the way back into the mountain some 800 feet, all decorated with more statues, reliefs, and tales of Rameses' might. The sanctuary at the very end was originally lit up by the rising sun on only two days of the year: Rameses' coronation day and birthday. The sunlight hit the gods enthroned there: Rameses himself, Amun-Re (Amun of Thebes), Re-Horakhty (Ra of Heliopolis), and Ptah (of Memphis). There is another nearby temple dedicated to Rameses' favorite wife, Nefertari.

The big story here, though, is that the temple had to be moved by UNESCO when it was threatened to be flooded by the Aswan Dam that created Lake Nasser. (Other temples had to be relocated as well.) With the Abu Simbel temple, UNESCO ended up having to slice the entire mountain apart, piece by piece, sculptures and all, move each piece to safety on higher ground, and then reassemble the entire thing. So now the sunlight hits the Sanctuary a day earlier in the year, on Feb. 21 and Oct. 21, illuminating just Rameses and Amun. Not too bad, considering the difficulty of the project.

The story of moving the Abu Simbel temple is so astounding that it's worth watching the following video about how they did it.  This is just the first part; you'll have to go to Youtube to watch the whole show if you wish.

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