Abu Simbel is the historic site where the two enormous rock-cut temples are located. It is a village situated in Nubia Egypt, the southwest of Aswan and near the border of Sudan. In the 13th century BC, during the reign of Pharaoh Ramesses II the Abu Simbel temples were constructed and were originally carved out of the mountainside. The temples were built in respect of King Ramesses II, with his wife Nefetari and children which were constructed in smaller figures by his feet which symbolises that they were of lesser importance and were not given the same position of size. The Pharaoh Ramesses II commanded the construction of the temples to commemorate his victory against the Hittite Empire which took place at the city of Kadesh during the battle of Kadesh in 1274 BCE.
According to scholars, it was agreed that it took twenty years to build the temples approximately 1264 BC up until 1244 BC. The two temples, the Great Temple was dedicated to the god Ra-Horakhty, Ptah and the deified Ramesses II himself and the Small Temple dedicated to the goddess Hathor and Queen Nefetari, his favourite wife. Abu Simbel Temple was also known as the “Temple of Ramesses, beloved by Amun”.
In 1968, there was a relocation of the complex under the supervision of a Polish Archaeologist by name Kazimierz Michalowski to an artificial hill made from a domed structure above the Aswan High Dam reservoir. The need for the relocation of the temples was necessary to avoid them from being immersed in Lake Nasser, a massive artificial water reservoir. The project was executed as part of the UNESCO Nubian Salvage Campaign.
The Great Temple at Abu Simbel is considered as the grandest and the most beautiful of the temples commissioned by Pharaoh Ramesses II. It stands 98 feet, 30 metres high and 115 feet, 35 metres long with four seated enormous statues at both sides of the entrance, having two to each side.
The four colossals each represent Ramesses II seated on a throne and wearing the double crown of upper and lower Egypt, each one 65 feet (20 metres) tall. The smaller statues beneath the massive statues, none higher than the knees of the Pharaoh but still larger than life-sized, represent Ramesses’s conquered enemies, the Nubians, Libyans and Hittites. Other statues depict his family members: his chief wife, Nefetari Meritmut; his queen mother Mut-Tuy; his first two sons, Amun-her-khepeshef and Ramesses B; and his first six daughters: Bintanath, Bakemut, Nefetari, Meritamen, Nebettawy and Isetnofret and various gods with their symbols of power.
The interior of the temple passing through the central entrance between the colossals is decorated with engravings showing Ramesses and Nefetari paying homage to the gods. Ramesses’s victory against the Hittites is depicted in detailed engravings across the north wall of the Hypostyle Hall. Also called a Pronaos, the Hypostyle hall is a 18m that is 59ft long and 16.7m which is 55ft wide, supported by eight huge Osiris pillars portraying how Ramesses is linked to the god Osiris, the god of fertility, agriculture, the afterlife, the dead, resurrection, life and vegetation which denoted the everlasting nature of the pharaoh. Other scenes showed the king on his chariot shooting arrows against his fleeing enemies, who were being taken as prisoners and the Egyptians victories in Libya and Nubia.
The second pillared hall from the hypostyle has four pillars decorated with beautiful scenes of offerings to the gods. There are representations of Ramesses and Nefetari with the sacred boats of Amun and Ra-Horakhty and in the middle which is the entrance to the sanctuary, the hall gives access to a transverse vestibule.
The small temple also known as the temple of Hathor and Nefetari stands nearby about 100m northeast of the temple of Ramesses II at a height of 40 feet which is 12 metres and 92 feet, 28 metres long. The temple also has colossals across the front facade having three statues (four statues of the king and two of the queen) on each side of the entrance, representing Ramesses and his queen Nefetari. There are two statues of the king on either side of the doorway, wearing the white crown of Upper Egypt (south colossus) and the double crown (north colossus), having the queen statues in the middle. It is unusual in the history of Egyptian art for the statues of the king and his queen to be of equal size, however the status of the queen is apparent here. Historically in ancient Egypt, this is the second time a ruler dedicated a temple to his wife, the first time being the Pharaoh Akhenaten 1353-1336 BCE dedicated a temple to his queen Nefertiti.
The hypostyle hall in the smaller temple is supported by six pillars which in this case are decorated with scenes of the queen playing sistrum; an instrument sacred to the goddess Hathor, together with the gods Horus, Khnum, Khonsu and Thoth and the goddesses Hathor, Isis, Maat, Mut of Asher Satis and Taweret; in one of the engravings Ramesses is seen presenting flowers or burning incense. On the south and the north walls of the hypostyle hall are two graceful and poetic sculptural reliefs of the king and his queen presenting papyrus plants to Hathor.
The small temple is a rock-cut sanctuary and the two side chambers are connected to the transverse vestibule and are aligned with the axis of the temple.