A drive through the desert to reach the two great temples at Abu Simbel

Near the end of our trip to Egypt, we did a day trip to Abu Simbel from Aswan. We had been taking a Nile Cruise from Luxor and the cruise ended at Aswan, as the dam prevents boats from continuing further south. Instead, we were driven located 3.5 hours to the south close to the border with Sudan.

We went by car from Aswan to Abu Simbel (circled) using the highway marked by the red line

It was an early morning, as we had to begin the trip at 4:30 a.m. in order to get to Abu Simbel around 8:00 a.m., shortly after the site opened and before the crowds came. The driver had been arranged by the same company that arranged our cruise, and he arrived our boat promptly at 4:30 to take us there along with our guide. We drove away from Aswan in the dark along a very quiet highway to begin the journey.

An hour into the drive with the moon still high in the sky and the sunlight just beginning to peek through the horizon
Police and soldiers are everywhere in Egypt, even in the middle of nowhere
Nothing but desert

With the sun now up and the drive about half way done, we stopped at a roadside gas station in the middle of the desert.

No cars to worry about!

At the gas station/rest stop, Kim found a new friend who wanted her breakfast sandwich so she gave it to him

Who could resist that face?
Here you go

Then it was back on the road again. There was very few signs of like along the way. One notable cluster of buildings was a town that was being built right in the middle of all that sand. According to the guide, it was going to be used for workers and their families while they were doing construction projects in the region.

Unfinished town in the desert

Eventually we made it to Abu Simbel before most of the tour the buses had arrived. Even without them there were already some tourists around, but it wasn’t crowded.

Glad to see the parking lot was almost empty. The back of the temple is to the left and you can see a large area of Lake Nasser where the temples were originally located

There is an interesting history behind Abu Simbel. The location where it is now was not the original location. The temple was actually moved because the Nile river level was rising from the construction of the Aswan Dam. From 1964-1968 work was done to move it 200 metres back from the river in an impressive feat of engineering.

LIFE Magazine-December 2, 1966
At the entrance. The large figures all represent Ramses II. If you look closely you can see smaller statues at the feet of the larger ones. The smaller statues represent his wife and family

The main temple is dedicated to Ramses II, also known as Ramses the Great because of all of his achievements. He was considered to be the greatest pharaoh of the New Kingdom period, and evidence of his reign is everywhere in Egypt. During out two weeks in the country we saw many representations of Ramses from tombs and temples to monuments. He certainly lived up to his nickname.

One of Ramses’ family members next to the legs of his statue. You can see graffiti on some of the statues, much of it from the 1800s but some that was much older
Photo of the interior of the great temple before it was cleaned. By William Henry Goodyear, Joseph Hawkes, and John McKecknie – Brooklyn Museum
Going inside
They weren’t as tall as the ones outside, but I barely came up to the knees of these statues
The walls were covered with hieroglyphics and ancient images cut into the rock

The smaller temple next to the main one was dedicated to the goddess Hathor and to Ramses’ wife Nefertari, one of the favourite wives of Ramses.

Entering the queen’s temple next door
Fit for a queen!
Both temples side by side

By lunchtime we were finished and were driven back across the desert to Aswan, where we stayed on the boat for one more evening before heading back to Cairo. It was a long trip out of the way but well worth it to see yet one more achievement of that Egyptian pharaoh known as Ramses the Great.

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