Ramses II ruled Upper and Lower Egypt.

Abu Simbel is Pharaoh Ramses II’s enduring autograph in stone. Abu Simbel Is a bookmark to power and history, full of life, full of voices from the distant yesterday, forever shining in the Nubian Desert sun.

To the West, the desert of rolling and stony wilderness; to the South the mountains of Dongola in the Sudan; to the North the old Nubian capital of Derr; to the East the silver splinters of the Nile. And below the two temples at Abu Simbel rests my luxury Lake Nasser cangia — the Prince Abbas.  All around is the amber beauty of pathless sand with the great river coming and going afar. I am a thousand miles up the Nile.

Temple tickets are included in the Two Temple Tour at Abu Simbel, when arrangements are made for the luxury cruise boat The Prince Abbas, through the itinerary wizardry of Great Safaris, www.greatsafaris.com. The main temple is Ramses II’s own testament to himself, and the nearby Nefertari Temple, to his favorite wife — Nefertari means Perfect, Good, or Beautiful Companion.

The luxury cruise ship Prince Abbas at Abu Simbel.

I followed my dragoman and professional Egyptologist, Hany, down the stone block path to the entrance of the temples like a deserter’s camel lagging along.

The sitting Colossi is 60 feet high.

Ramses II was the longest ruling Pharaoh in Egypt at 67 years — he ruled from 1279–1213 B.C.  His full name was Ra-user-ma Sotep-en-Ra Rameses Mer-Amen, and he was born about 1303 B.C.

The location of the original temples was along the bank of the Nile, but with the Aswan High Dam project from 1960-1970 the magnificent silent syllables would have been inundated by Lake Nasser.  The United Nations took action, built roads to the remote site, brought in engineers and laborers, and raised the entire speos-style (carved like a cave into the limestone cliffs) temple 60 meters above the lake and its former site. 

A huge dome of concrete and steel was constructed resembling a tumuli or funerary mound. The Abu Simbel stone work was carved into blocks and stored and then assembled inside the modern structure with the façade faces staring exactly to the same compass point as before.  The only sign that the temples were moved is a large zipper-like line across the backside of the mound.

After completion of the temple, and while Ramses II was still alive, it is believed a massive earthquake hit the area; one of the four faces is mutilated with the head lying at his bare feet. All the heads once sported the Pharaonic pschent, or double crown of Egypt, signifying that Ramses II ruled both Upper and Lower Egypt; few Pharaohs claimed this boast.

Only the far left Ramses still wears the double crown.

The temples are on the far pavilions of the ancient empire; there was a significant limestone cliff with quality rock at the site to build them; the monolith forewarned nomadic tribes and organized armies that they had entered the invisible line of power of Egypt.  Abu Simbel was a power symbol.

The remaining faces of Ramses II carry a wry, but scant and laconic smile of consciousness, never in fatigue. Eons of sunlight have tanned even the lips and eyelids into a smooth, even bronze sheen. The violent Khamsîn winds never gouged out pock marks.

Ramses II is a muted testiment to power.

Ramses II was the son of Seti I, the second Pharaoh of the 19th Dynasty, and he inherited the double crown from his father, who also decreed him with divine and royal powers. At 12 Ramses II co-ruled with his father, but became sole Chief of Rulers, Amen of Egypt, at 30, when Seti I died. The magnificent depictions of battle and valor within the temple attest to Ramses II conquest of Kadesh in present day Syria, as hammered in stone in Thebes by the poet Pentaur. Ramses II is thought to be the Pharaoh of Moses, and he went on to conquer Jerusalem, and he fixed his boundaries where he pleased.

One of those boundaries was Abu Simbel. Even today the lands all around are wild in every direction.

"The Beautiful One", Nefertari.

Ramses II married Ma-at-iri-neferu-Ra, or "Contemplating the Beauties of Ra” and so the Temple of Nefertari was also constructed; for the rest of his reign there was peace in the kingdom.  The names of two other queens — Nefer-t-ari and Ast-nefert — are also found upon the monuments. Ramses II sired about 170 children, of whom 111 were princes, so he certainly had other wives in his harem.

Ramses II was called Ramses the Great because he was a hands on architect, planning new cities in the desert, raising levees, digging canals and artesian wells, constructing huge monuments at Luxor.  The Israelites built him the brick cities of Pithom and Ramses II which were excavated in 1883 and 1886 for the Egypt Exploration Fund.

Ra hides in plain sight.

The Rock of Abshek rests at the foot of the Great Temple of Ramses II.

Two portraits in stone are geometrically similar on each side of the door jambs. The King was in his prime when forever frozen in time. 

Each colossi sits 66 feet high, without the platform under their feet. They measure across the chest, 25 feet; from the shoulder to the elbow, 15 feet; from the inner side of the elbow joint to the tip of the middle finger, 15 feet.  If the statues were alive they would stand 83 feet from their toes to the tops of their double crowns; they sit in eternity, side by side, with their hands on their knees.

I look closer and see the not so little dimple in the exact spot in each cheek. 

The temple is dedicated to the god Ra, who hides in plain sight just above the doorway. 

Above Ra is a banner of hieroglyphics, and above the inscription, a band of royal cartouches; above the cartouches, a frieze of sitting apes; above the apes, fragments of a cornice.

The Ramses are naked to their striped tunics. At the belt line are holes where gold or bronze was riveted in place, but now long gone. On the breast, just below the necklace, and on the upper arms, are cut cartouches of the King, possibly resembling tattoos of his living flesh.  If an image is carved when the Pharaoh is alive the beard is straight; if carved after death, the beard is flipped up. Ramses II was still alive when his images were commissioned. It is thought that the cameos were once colorfully painted. Their shadowed stare confronted all vessels plying the Nile.

Nefertari peeks from between Ramses II's massive legs.

A smaller carving of Nefertari stands between each set of Ramses II's protective legs.

The Temple of Nefertari is a bas-relief set of six framed 30 foot tall sculptures representing Ramses II and his beloved wife, about to step right out of the stone. Nefertari wears the plumes and disk of Hathor on her head. The king is crowned with the pschent, and a helmet adorned with plumes and horns.  At their feet are their sons and daughters. The recesses follow the slope of the mountain, and with the contrast of shadows could be seen easily by passing boats. The hieroglyphics are over six inches deep and state: "Rameses, the Strong in Truth, the Beloved of Amen made this divine Abode for his royal wife, Nefertari, whom he loves”. And she responds:"his royal wife who loves him, Nefertari the Beloved of Maut, constructed for him this Abode in the mountain of the Pure Waters”.

The Temple and Sanctuary of Nefertari.

The inside of the Nefertari sanctuary is somewhat shallow, but the Great Temple sanctuary has a large colonnaded hall with every inch of the side apses and columns filled with their love and Ramses II’s deeds, and events of their lives, now a record of solitude remembering the past.

About 15 smaller chambers are hewn out of the sandstone inner heart of the Great Temple.  Only once, annually, sunlight streams in from a correct latitude and longitude to blast directly into the very back of the adytum, spotlighting four deified figures — Ptah, Amen-Ra, Ra, and Ramses deified. Before them stands a truncated pyramidal altar; traces of colored artwork are found here. There were so many wall sculptures throughout the Great Temple that they could not all be viewed in one tour.  It is certain that Ramses II and Nefertari lived a long and fruitful life together. But one huge sculpture stands out, a 60 foot by 24 foot battle tableaux of over 1,000 figures at the siege of Kadesh, Ramses II’s greatest triumph.

Cameras are not allowed in the inner sanctuary.

Later that evening I attended the twilight sound and light show at the UNESCO site.  Each nightly presentation is in a different language and luckily it was English night tonight.  A bowl of stars came out and held the bowl of the temples in its firmament. The animated characters in light played back and forth across the ancient rock — the annals of conquest bringing Ramses II back to life. For more about the Sound and Light show visit www.soundandlight.com.eg

Ancient Egyptian is now read and translated as fluently as ancient Greek. Not all of Egypt’s literature is written on papyrus or painted on wood or written on linen or leather or found on potsherds. Egypt’s greatest story is carved in stone at Abu Simbel.

The King and Queen together through eternity.

Make your adventure to Abu Simbel a true excursion with a four-night luxury cruise on the Prince Abbas.  All aspects of your trip are expertly arranged by Great Safaris at www.greatsafaris.com  The tour company was won National Geographic awards for tours of a lifetime and I must state here, a cruise to Abu Simbel is certainly an adventure of a lifetime. Read more Jetsetters Magazine features about Great Safaris in Egypt.

— Feature and photos by Kriss Hammond, Editor, Jetsetters Magazine.