Temple of Ramesses II


Temple of Ramesses II

Temple of Ramesses II.

The enormous statues that front the Sun Temple of Ramesses II in Abu SImbel are simply awesome. Four colossi sit in front of the temple, which is hewn into the rock face.

Well, not exactly hewn into the rock face, since the “rock face” is now a completely false mountain that is built over a concrete dome and covered with landfill and artfully carved rocks. The temple was moved by UNESCO in the late 1960s to avoid being flooded by Lake Nasser, although if you didn’t know that it had been cut into 1060 blocks and moved to this false mountain, you never would guess. The illusion is nearly complete, if you can ignore the few access panels that are visible in the rock face

Temple of Ramesses II

Temple of Ramesses II

Ramesses II (usually called “The Great”) was a 19th Dynasty pharaoh with an ego just about as large as Egypt herself.  since he seemed intent on ensuring that he was remembered by creating more statues and more inscriptions than any other pharaoh. His name is literally everywhere, often carved in over the top of other pharaoh’s names deeper and larger, as if to cement his position in history. One almost thinks that “he doth protest too much” and all this monumental building was to make up for a lack of actual accomplishment. .

The four statues, 21 meters high, stare south at the border; watching for the next invasion with a forbidding gaze. Each of the statues wears the double crown, although the second statue has lost it’s head and shoulders (in an earthquake in 27 BCE it is thought). Ramesses seems almost to smile, almost. The four colossi are not identical; they appear to show Ramesses in different stages of his life.

What is really strange is that the feet of the statues are large and crude compared to the faces and arms — and they are completely covered in grafitti, an interesting sight in and of itself

the right side of the facade, with the huge feet,

the right side of the facade, with the huge feet,

the right side of the facade, with the huge feet, and the marriage stelae of Ramesses II and Nefertari.

The temple is ostensibly dedicated to Re-Herakhte, Amun-Re, and Ptah (patron deities), but it is obvious that Ramesses, with his seated statues and mummiform columns inside, is clearly setting himself equal with them. Statues of Maat, Re-Herakhte, and members of Ramesses family are also shown (smaller, obviously, than the great Ramesses).

greek graffiti on the enormous feet

greek graffiti on the enormous feet

The temple is ostensibly dedicated to Re-Herakhte, Amun-Re, and Ptah (patron deities), but it is obvious that Ramesses, with his seated statues and mummiform columns inside, is clearly setting himself equal with them. Statues of Maat, Re-Herakhte, and members of Ramesses family are also shown (smaller, obviously, than the great Ramesses).

The Most visitors fly into Abu Simbel in the morning, see the temple for a few hours, and then fly out in the afternoon. Few people stay in town — the lack of hotels in town is evidence of that — and the huge nile cruisers tend to organize trips midday in order to keep their schedules. If you can manage to fly into Aby Simbel in the afternoon and stay the night, it is well worth the time you can spend at the temple without any other people.

note the repairs on the huge leg

note the repairs on the huge leg

There is a small terrace at the front of the temple, lines with small statues of the gods and containing small chapels at either end — one dedicated to the worship of Re, the other to Thoth. The entrance to the temple itself is between two of the enormous throned colossi, and there are carvings of count captives on either side — Nubians on one side, Asiatics on the other.

Above the temple facade is a cornice lined with twenty-two baboons — there’re there, even if I didn’t manage to get a picture! Baboons show up quite often in monuments, they represent Thoth, god of wisdom. Thoth is usually shown with the head of an Ibis, and is the god who is responsible for writing and knowledge.

Horus Statues

Entering the temple itself leads to a hypostyle hall (a pillared hall) that has even more statue of the illustrious pharaoh — eight of them, standing with their arms crossed and holding a crook and flail (a style called “Osirid”) and a still -brilliantly colored ceiling covered with vultures and stars. The statues are 10 meters tall and line the hall to the entrance. The ones on the north wear the double crown, while those on the south only the crown of Upper Egypt

asiatic prisoners on the entranceway

Asiatic prisoners on the entranceway

Surrounding the hall are dozen so carvings depicting Ramesses making offerings to the gods (and to himself, oddly enough) and representations of the Battle of Kadesh ( about 1275 BCE), in which Ramesses defeated the Hittites. The carvings show a victorious pharaoh, but the truth of the matter is that the battle was not so successful and while Ramesses is shown in his chariot spearing and beheading his enemies, there is little evidence that it happened that way — isn’t that always the truth of it? The victor gets to write the history. The army marched on Kadesh, but the HIttite army forded the river and scattered the Egyptian troops. According to the history, Ramesses single-handedly escaped from the trap and stormed the fortress. In reality, he never took the city.

Entrance Hall Ceiling

Scenes of the army marching, and the victorious pharaoh presented the severed heads of his enemies to the gods. One of the more interesting reliefs here shows a strange, multi-armed Ramesses smiting A Libyan (smiting is a common theme here) that may be a representation of motion…perhaps the first example of “animation” in history..

There are eight narrow chambers that lead off from the hall. They were probably storerooms and offering-rooms. The entire temple is amazingly symmetrical, except for the extra two rooms on the north side, as if they decided later that they needed more storage. The walls in these chambers are also carved, with formulaic offering carvings to the gods

Entrance Hall

A smaller pillared hall further in seems bare compared to the hypostyle hall with its huge statues, but the carvings here show Ramesses and his wife, Nefertari, making offerings to the gods. Two sphinxes (now in the Museum) guarded the entrance to this smaller hall

Bound libyan prisoners on the main entranceway

A smaller pillared hall further in seems bare compared to the hypostyle hall with its huge statues, but the carvings here show Ramesses and his wife, Nefertari, making offerings to the gods. Two sphinxes (now in the Museum) guarded the entrance to this smaller hall..

Chariot

Furthest in is the sanctuary, where four statues are seated behind a block that would have held the sacred barque. The statues, Amun-re, Re-Herakhte, Ptah, and Ramses (as a god) would have originally been covered in gold, but they are now mutilated.

The entire temple was designed to lead to the sanctuary, and so that the rays of the sun at dawn would illuminate the gold statues (except Ptah, for reasons that are unknown) on two days a year — Feb 22 and Oct 22 in their current location, which has shifted the phenomenon a day.

The inner hall, with square columns decoraded with offering

The inner hall, with square columns decoraded with offering

Your guide, if you have one — and most guidebooks — will probably tell you that Feb 21 was Ramesses’ birthday, and that Oct 21 was his coronation date, but there is no real evidence that either of these dates are linked to either a birthday or a coronation day. Egyptologists have enough trouble trying to reach a concensus on the dates of Ramesses reign, much less the date of his birthday or other significant days.

The-inner-sanctuary-with-statues-of-ptah-ramesses-amun-re-and-re-hareakhte

Abu Simbel on the 22nd , I’m sure the site is crammed full of people on those days, all so eager to see the beam of light reaching into the depths of the temple that is probably is completely blocked by the mass of people

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