As my daughter Pam and I leave our Aswan hotel room and head toward the hotelâ€™s dining room for breakfast, we encounter a black-and-white kitten in the hallway. The kitten meows and hurries to keep pace with us. We had seen the kitten outside the night before and felt bad to close the door on it at that time. How did it get into the hotel?
When we reach the exit, we understand why. The door, which leads to a rooftop area, is open. Another cat, a young orange-and-white one, joins our retinue as we walk toward the dining room. Pam and I apologize to the cats as we enter the dining room and shut the door in their faces. The kitten, still inexperienced in the ways of begging from humans, stays at the door, and the orange-and white-cat wanders off.
Pam and I make our choices from the breakfast buffet and sit at a table near a full-length glass door around the corner from the one we had entered. We have hardly begun eating when the orange-and-white cat, more experienced than the younger black-and-white one in knowing where to go for attention from humans, appears at the door. It gives us a wistful look.
A stray cat peers expectantly through the outer doors at diners enjoying their breakfast at the MÃ¶evenpick Hotel in Aswan.
My family, including Pam, my son Dave, and Daveâ€™s girlfriend, is on its third full day of touring Egypt. Our previous sightseeing took us to lower Egypt where we saw many wonders of Ancient Egypt, and to upper Egypt where we viewed the area encompassed by the Aswan High Dam, a modern-day wonder. Today we will visit Abu Simbel, a magnificent achievement of Ancient Egypt, preserved through the dedication and funding of many people using the technology of Modern Times. At Abu Simbel, Ancient and Modern came together to bequeath knowledge and awe to the future.
We take an early morning flight to Abu Simbel, which, because the place is so unique, isolated, popular and famous, has its own airport.
Nearly 3,300 years ago Ramses II built two magnificent temples at Abu Simbel, which is near the border of Nubia and Egypt. Over the ensuing years, sand encroached on the two temples, and more recently, the temples were further threatened when the water level of Lake Nasser, the lake created by the construction of the Aswan Dam, rose. Beginning in 1964, archeological and engineering teams dismantled the two temples and reconstructed them 213 feet higher and 688 feet further away than the original site. The project was estimated to cost $40 million in 1964 US dollars. Abu Simbel is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. (1)
Although the structures at Abu Simbel are temples, Abu Simbelâ€™s story mixes politics with religion.
Four statues of Ramses II line the exterior of The Temple of Ramses, also known as The Great Temple, at Abu Simbel. An earthquake in 27 BCE damaged the second statue of Ramses. The much smaller figures near and between Ramsesâ€™ legs are family members and include his favorite wife Queen Nefertari and his mother Muttuy.
Carved out of a mountainside in the 13th century BCE, the temple was built by Ramses II near the southern border of Egypt with Nubia. Ostensibly, Ramsesâ€™ temple honored the major gods of Amon and Re-Harakhte, but according to Middle East expert Tore Kjeilen, â€œRamses was an unusually immodest Pharaoh, and if anything, this temple tries to indicate that he himself is larger than any god. It might be considered a logical breach, but his claim to divinity is granted by the gods he immediately overshadows.â€(2)
More practically, the temple with its 65-foot statues was meant to cow the Nubians.
Pam and I enter the temple where every surface seems covered with intricate pictures that held meaning for the ancient Egyptians and the Nubians. One wall, which we didnâ€™t see, shows â€œscenes from the Battle of Kadesh (now northern Syria) in 1300 BCE [that] indicate the Egyptians fully defeated their opponents, the Hittites. The truth is that the Egyptians didn't succeed in conquering Kadesh.â€ (2) Ramses II knew how to propagandize and brainwash to exalt himself.
Statues line the walls of the Hypostyle Hall inside the Temple of Ramses II at Abu Simbel.
Because the interior of the temple is crowded, we donâ€™t explore much of it. Instead, we head over to the smaller temple. Of course in Ancient Egypt, â€œsmallâ€ is relative.
The Temple of Nefertari at Abu Simbel,also known as The Small Temple, is dedicated to Hathor, the goddess of love, and to Ramses IIâ€™s wife, Nefertari.
Both the Great and the Small Temples were also used to store gold brought from Nubia before being shipped north along the Nile to Luxor and the Nile Delta.
Noting that there arenâ€™t so many people near The Great Temple and wanting to get photographs of ourselves there, Pam and I forego going inside The Small Temple and walk back to the Great Temple. I snap a photo of Pam.
Pam, the tourist, at the Temple of Ramses II, the Great Temple of Abu Simbel
Pam uses my camera to take a picture of me. The warm sunshine and blue skies of Egypt in November make me happy.
Verie at the Temple of Ramses II, the Great Temple of Abu Simbel
We wander the area near the temples a bit more and then begin to walk toward the market where we are to connect with our tour guide Rabie. We come upon a brick walkway that goes through a shaded area with a few benches. If it were a different time of year when it can be very hot here in southern Egypt, we would probably stop and rest awhile.
Shaded area on a walkway near the shores of the Nile River at Abu Simbel
Walking a few steps further, I get a good view of the water and wonder what the structures in the distance are. I wish a map were posted to inform visitors what they see.
Islets dot the Nile River off the shoreline of Abu Simbel.
The end of the walk takes us to Abu Simbelâ€™s busy market. A large display of scarves attracts Pam, and she buys several. I purchase some photos of the temple interiors, which except for taking one picture, I didnâ€™t photograph.
We connect with Rabie and our fellow travelers and fly back to Aswan where we board the Royal Lotus cruise ship, our home for the next four nights. A small ship, the Royal Lotus will take us back to Luxor via the Nile River while making stops at interesting places along the way. But that doesnâ€™t begin until tomorrow afternoon.
The temples at Abu Simbel werenâ€™t the only ancient monuments threatened when the water level of Lake Nasser, the lake created by the construction of the Aswan High Dam, rose. The rising water level of the lake also endangered the Temple of Isis complex on the island of Philae. As part of the same UNESCO project that saved Abu Simbel, the complex was disassembled and moved to Agilika Island.
In the evening, Pam and I go to Agilika Island to attend the evening sound and light show at the Philae Temple Complex. To get there, we board a motorboat. Because the person manning the boat has a difficult time getting the motor started, we arrive after the show has begun.
Scurrying out of the boat, we hurry toward where a crowd is standing and find a place in the back. Having missed the beginning of the presentation and not being able to see much, I find it a little hard to follow what's going on. Through a speaker system, we hear various voices narrating the Isis and Osiris myth in English while colored lights focus on various parts of the buildings. From time to time, the crowd moves to another location in the temple complex.
In Ancient Egyptian religion, Isis, the sister and wife of the chief god Osiris, was the goddess of fertility and motherhood. Isisâ€™ steadfastness helped raise Osiris from the dead after their brother Seth killed him.
My camera isnâ€™t especially good for taking nighttime photos, but I snap a photo of Trajanâ€™s Kiosk as we pass it. Originally built during the Roman imperial period at the temple complex on Philae, Trajanâ€™s Kiosk and the other Philae Temple Complex buildings were moved to Agilkia Island when the waters of the rising Lake Nasser threatened to flood the island.
Trajanâ€™s Kiosk at night
The motorboat with its noisy motor is waiting for us when the show is over. Since coming to Egypt, weâ€™ve had three means of transport on the Nile River:
1. Hotel motor launch to get us to the MÃ¶evenpick Hotel on Elephantine Island
2. Felucca ride to take us to the Aswan Botanical Garden on Kitchenerâ€™s Island
3. Motor boat to take us to the Philae Temple Complex on Agilkia Island
Tomorrow afternoon we begin the adventure of cruising north toward Luxor on the Royal Lotus.
Notes and references
Previous posts on Egypt
Egypt:A cradle of civilization. Part 2. Memphis and Saqqara. Eight photos. Posted January 22, 2011
Future posts on Egypt will cover Cruising the Nile River (next), Edfu, Karnak, and Cairo.