Visiting the Temples of Abu Simbel and Philae
08.03.2012 - 08.03.2012 90 °F
Unlike the smooth, relaxing week so far, today would be more chaotic. We got an early wake-up call at 4AM to make our 7AM flight to Aswan and then on to see the grand Temple of Abu Simbel built in the 13th century B.C. At the airport, the ticket counter lady tried to make us pay extra for heavy luggage. They even weighed our carry-on luggage too, something we've never seen in any other airport. Then our flight from Cairo was delayed an hour because of baggage problems. Perhaps somebody's luggage was too heavy. I was getting antsy that this delay would eat into the time we would have at Abu Simbel. Fortunately, EgyptAir Airlines has a policy where the return flights from Abu Simbel would automatically be delayed an equal amount of time too. A third problem arose when our tour company representative told us that our bags would be sent all the way to Abu Simbel instead of our final destination of Aswan. We would have to store them while we visited the temple and recheck them on the way back to Aswan. Seems like a huge hassle, but he was concerned that the airline would lose our bags. However, when we arrived in Abu Simbel, we were told just the opposite--our luggage would be waiting for us when we arrived in Aswan. Instead of being able to sort it out at the airport, we were rushed onto a tour bus to drive to the temple. Luckily my fear of lost luggage was all for naught as our suitcases arrived fine once we made it to Aswan. But until I saw them rolling off the conveyor belt, I was wondering how long I could last in the same pair of underwear.
From the Abu Simbel airport, we were ushered from one person to another as multiple tour groups were being juggled by just a few people simultaneously. Our guide piggybacked us onto a bus with a large tour group, and he went separately in another car. Once we arrived at the temple, it took us a couple of minutes to find him. He told us that because our flight was delayed, there were two loads of passengers arriving at the same time. If he did the traditional method of giving us an overview of Abu Simbel first and then letting us see the place, it would probably be too crowded. He told us to go in first and then come find him afterwards for the lecture. Fortunately for us, we had already read much about the place prior to our trip. Otherwise, we probably would have missed out on some of the nuances of this temple. We suspect that the guide was trying to juggle two tour groups simultaneously which would not have happened if our flight was on time.
We were able to get all of our photos in before the other tourists arrived.
Ten minutes later and the place started to fill up quickly.
Many of the carvings inside show Ramses II's propaganda on the Battle of Kadesh in 1274 B.C. Five years into his rule, the pharaoh launched an offensive campaign against the upstart Hittite Empire. The target was the city of Kadesh in modern-day Syria. According to analysis of the battle from military historians, both sides made huge tactical errors. Ramses II failed to scout ahead of his army, instead believing lies from Hittite spies that the enemy was far away. The Egyptian forces were then ambushed and all but routed by enemy chariots. Thinking they had won, the Hittites start looting the battlefield instead of finishing off the Egyptians with their infantry. According to the murals, Ramses II alone rallied his troops and repulsed the Hittite attack. Despite Ramses' propaganda at Abu Simbel of a great victory, the encounter likely ended in a draw. The Battle of Kadesh is important because it ultimately led to the first peace treaty in the history of mankind. A copy in cuneiform can be seen in Turkey and one in hieroglyphs is carved into a wall in Karnak Temple.
Besides the military depictions, there is a room in the back which houses the statues of Amun, Re, the deified Ramses II, and Ptah. Twice a year, the sun illuminates three of those statues. Only Ptah remains in the shadows since he is the god of the Underworld. Outside the main temple is a smaller one dedicated to the goddess Hathor and to Nefertari, Ramses II's favorite wife.
For the first time in Ancient Egyptian art, the statue of a queen is the same size as that of the pharaoh.
Our guide then explained to us that Abu Simbel was built for religious, economic, and strategic purposes. The four gargantuan statues of him that guard the entrance are an homage to him as a living god. A temple of this magnitude would have been threatening to the priesthood, so building it hundreds of miles away from the religious capital of Luxor would have been prudent. The grandeur of Abu Simbel would have given the pharaoh an enormous image boost. This prestige would have helped maintain control of the economically important gold mines in the region. Similarly, Abu Simbel was a significant strategically because of its location near Nubia. Depictions of Ramses II's great military "victory" was a warning against potential aggression from their southern neighbors.
I only come up to the pharaoh's knees.
Murals depicting bound prisoners adorn the entrance to Abu Simbel. Surely, this was a warning to the Nubians.
Leaving the temple was a hassle too because we had to find the right bus, make sure our carry-on luggage was still there, and track down our guide again to tip him. Abu Simbel is an awesome sight, but the confusing and frustrating process of flying down from Cairo detracted from our experience.
When we arrived in Aswan, we met our new guide Mahmoud who would be traveling with us during our Nile cruise. We drove from the airport past the High Dam built in 1952 to control the annual flooding. In the process, Lake Nasser, one of the largest lakes in the world was formed. Several villages and ancient temples now reside beneath the lake. We drove over the old dam built out of concrete by the British in 1902. Parked beside the dam was an older main battle tank (I think it was a T-60). Mahmoud remarked that it had only been there since the revolution, but joked that it was so old it probably doesn't even work anymore.
Our first stop was the Aswan granite quarry which still contains the unfinished obelisk. Every Egyptian obelisk around the world came from this quarry. The stones for Menkaure's pyramid in Giza were also produced here. These huge objects were transported throughout Egypt on barges which sailed down the Nile.
The unfinished obelisk would have been the largest one ever (weighing over 1000 tons), but construction ceased when a large crack formed.
Workers never got around to freeing up the bottom of the obelisk.
Diorite stones were used to hammer out the obelisks from one solid piece of granite--no small feat.
Graffiti left behind by some ancient Egyptian workers
Aswan is hotter than Cairo. Unlike us, the dogs were smart enough to take it easy in the midday sun.
Our final visit of the day was to the Island of "Philae". The main temple there is dedicated to Isis and was built over several hundred years, mainly during the Greco-Roman period. The island now sits between the two Aswan dams. During ancient times, it flooded during the inundation periods, but it became fully submerged when the High Dam was built. After a decade underwater, walls were placed around the temple to keep the water out temporarily. Then the temple was cut into about 4000 pieces and moved to the adjacent Agilkia Island at a higher and drier elevation.
The Temple of Philae can be accessed by motorboat.
Egypt could do with less violent revolutionaries than Che Guevera.
The Temple of Philae was the last bastion of Ancient Egyptian religion, finally being officially closed in 550 A.D.
Some of the older pre-Ptolemaic structures haven't survived as well as the Temple of Isis.
Coptic Christians hijacked the temple during the Roman occupation of Egypt. They defaced several images of the pharaohs and the Egyptian gods. They even attempted to convert pictures of Isis into that of the Virgin Mary. Luckily, some of the houses built there blocked the temple walls and and actually protected some of the carvings.
The human images were defaced on one side of the temple...
...while the figures were well preserved on the other half.
Napoleon Bonaparte's 1799 expedition literally left their mark on Egypt. They were fond of giving a temple's distance and direction to Paris.
Images of Hathor, the cow-earred goddess and sister of Isis, also adorn many of the columns in the temple.
Coptic crosses were carved into many of the pillars.
A Christian altar was built inside the temple.
Over the last 2000 years, farmers used the walls of the temple to sharpen their blades.
The Kiosk of Trajan is the other distinctive silhouette on Agilkia Island.
Few realize that baseball was actually invented by the ancient Egyptians. The designated hitter, however, is purely an American concoction.
We boarded our boat that evening for our three night Nile River cruise. Dinner was served on the ship. Thankfully, the hard-working staff took care of everything, letting us get back to the nice relaxing vacation that we were getting accustomed to.
(Left) Smoked Norwegian salmon salad. (Middle) Oganic mixed salad. (Right) Green and red pepper cream soup.
(Left) Pan fried hammour (fish). (Middle) Chicken Nubian style. (Right) Brandy snap and ice cream trio.