Suitcase and World: The Temples at Abu Simbel and Philae.

Sunday, February 4, 2007

The Temples at Abu Simbel and Philae.

Day 3 in Aswan began with Lei's alarm clock going off at 2:30a . No chance of hearing the daily call of prayer as we had to have an early wake up in order to meet up with the group (except for Daniel) at 3:30a.

We piled into a mini-van and headed out of town. It was going to be a three hour drive to Abu Simbel. Our first stop was about 20 minutes outside of town - we joined a convoy of other minivans, motorcoaches and tour buses to travel as a group (I presume under either police or military protection) to Abu Simbel.

Lei had taken her Dramamine and that coupled with the fact that it was still the wee hours of morning meant she was likely to sleep most of the ride - a good thing as this would minimize the chances of her getting nauseous from the motion sickness that she suffers from. Plus, I think she was beginning to come down with either the flu that I had or a really nasty cold. Poor thing.

I, on the other hand, was awake for most of the trip. I saw the sun rise over the desert. It was going to be another gorgeous day.

and the desert soon came into view.

The landscape was punctuated by power transmitters that transfer electricity, generated by the High Dam in Aswan, to locations throughout Egypt.

4 hours after we left Aswan, we arrived at Abu Simbel. We bought our tickets....

...and began our walk, following the rest of the crowd. We walked and walked walked with no idea when would get to the temple. Then, it came into view....on our left side. The first thing that strikes you is how enormous the temple is. IT is the Sun Temple of Abu Simbel.

The Sun Temple was built by Ramses II (1304-1237 BC) to impress his power and majesty on the Nubians. In the 1960's, the monument was in danger of being submerged by a surrounding lake. A temporary dam was constructed to stem the flow of water from the lake. Then, Abu Simbel's brittle sandstone was stabilized by injections of synthetic resin and hand sawn onto 1041 blocks weighing up to 31 tons apiece. Two years after the first block was cut, Abu Simbel was reassembled 210m behind and 61m above its original site and a false mountain constructed to match its former setting. The whole operation from 1964 to 1968 cost $40million and is still being paid for.

Towering nearly 20m in height, the four statues that epitomize Abu Simbel are collectively known as the Colossi of Ramses II.

Photography is not allowed inside the temple but needless to say, chamber after chamber is adorned with hieroglyphics depicting life of Ramses II and of Egyptian deities. What you see is so unimaginable in its beauty that all you can do is gasp in amazement at everything. I walked out in awe.

A short distance from the Sun Temple is the Hathor Temple of Queen Nefertari.

Hathor was the wife of the sun god, Ra and Nefertari was the wife of Ramses II. The facade of the temple is accentuated by six colossal statues of Ramses and Nefertari - each standing approximately 9m in height. Each statue is accompanied by two smaller figures of their children, who stand knee-high in the shadows.

As with the interior of the temple of Ramses II, Nefertari's is also decorated with hieroglyphs. Images of Hathor are everywhere. Though not as large in scale or as ornate in design as Ramses II's temple, Nefetari's temple is still breath taking and awe inspiring.

Lei and I continued to walk the temple grounds until we had to return to the mini-van. Once everyone was on board the mini-van, we headed down the road, back to Aswan.

Somewhere before we arrived into Aswan, we veered off and headed to Philae. Once we arrived at the entry gate to Philae, the driver dropped us off.

We bought our tickets.

We headed down the ferry ramp and remembering what Daniel had told us, negotiated with the boat owners until we found one who would ferry all 10 of us to and from Philae for 50 EG.

We boarded Omar's boat and began the short ferry ride to Philae.

After a few minutes, Philae came into view. The temple site sits atop an island on Lake Nasser. Like Abu Simbel, Philae was in danger of being submerged by the rising waters of the then newly built Aswan Dam. It was relocated to its present site in a massive operation that took 8 years to complete spanning from 1972 to 1980.

Not as old as Abu Simbel, Philae was constructed around 800 years ago by Ptolemaic and Roman rulers who sought to associate themselves with the cult of Isis.

We disembarked the boat and agreed with Omar to be back in half hour. With not much time to view the site, we quickly made our way up to the temple grounds. There are several temples on the site. The most famous being the Temple of Isis - its facade dominates the landscape.

Ornately columns and walls can be seen everywhere.

We came across one wall that was so ornately carved, we thought it would be the perfect backdrop for a picture.

Temple portals provided beautiful vistas of the land surrounding the island.

The other notable structure on the grounds is the Kiosk of Trajan - decorated with 14 columns.

When our half hour was up, we returned to the dock and boarded Omar's ferry.

The kiosk of Trajan was our last view of Philae as we headed back to the mainland.

We piled back in the van and headed back to the hotel. It had been a long morning but worth every minute of having to wake up at 2:30a!!

Here are Lei's impressions of Abu Simbel and Philae.