This monumental temple complex was built by King Ramses II (c.1279-1213 B.C.E.) in what was once known as ancient Nubia, as a demonstration of both his worldly and divine power. He was the most prolific pharaoh in terms of building works, and a highly accomplished military leader.
In the early 1960s the entire Abu Simbel temple complex was moved to higher ground when the construction of the Aswan High Dam caused Lake Nasser to rise and inundate the area. The two temples were dismantled and raised over 60 meters up the sandstone cliff where they were reassembled, in the exact same relationship to each other and the sun, and covered with an artificial mountain. Most of the joins in the stone have now been filled, but inside the temples it is still possible to see where the blocks were cut.
The rock-cut temple complex of Abu Simbel in southern Egypt is one of the most impressive heritage sites of ancient Egypt in the world. The main temple, dedicated to the sun god Re-Horakhty, was built by the Pharaoh Ramses II in the 13th century BCE. The two smaller temples next to it were built for Ramses' wife Nefertari and the goddess Hathor. The temples were carved out of the mountainside and decorated with colossal statues of Ramses and his family. The temples at Abu Simbel were built to commemorate Ramses' victory at the Battle of Kadesh. The main temple was meant to show Ramses' power and greatness, while the smaller temples were built for Ramses' loved ones. The complex was designed to last for eternity, and it has indeed stood the test of time. The temples at Abu Simbel were rediscovered in 1813 by Swiss explorer Johann Ludwig Burckhardt. They were largely forgotten again until Egyptologist Giovanni Battista Belzoni brought them to the world's attention in 1817. The temples were finally excavated and restored in the 1960s. Today, the temples at Abu Simbel are a popular tourist destination. They are considered to be one of the most beautiful and awe-inspiring heritage sites in the world.
The Temple of Ramses II at Abu Simbel, Egypt is one of the most impressive and well-preserved ancient Egyptian temples. It was built to honor the great king Ramses II and his family. The temple is cut into the face of a sandstone cliff and is guarded by four colossal statues of Ramses II. At the feet of these statues are smaller statues of the king's children. Above the entranceway in a niche stands a statue of the sun god, a falcon headed representation of Ramses.
As you enter the temple, you'll be awestruck by the Grand Hall. This massive space is supported by eight columns, each topped with a statue of King Ramses II. The walls are covered with grandiose battle scenes. To either side of the Grand Hall are two smaller treasury rooms. Beyond the Grand Hall is the Hypostyle Hall, containing rows of pillars adorned with flowers. On the walls, you'll see scenes of the King and his wife, Nefertari. Finally, you'll reach the inner sanctuary, where you'll see the statues of Ra, Ramses II, Amun, and Ptah seated against the far wall.
Forecourt and Terrace: The main courtyard
The entire Forecourt is now open to the public, but it was originally enclosed to the south and north by brick walls. While the east side of court looks out to the Nile River, there are two recesses to your right and left. These probably housed basins to perform ritual ablutions. The recesses contain stelae showing Ramses II offering offerings. Along the terrace's front is a decorative freze depicting various people paying homage to the pharaoh. It has a dedicateory inscription that runs its length. There are small figures of Ramses II and falcons. The lower part of one of the colossi figures collapsed, so the figures located at the southern end of balustrade was likely destroyed.
The temple's facade is protected by four colossal figures, hewn from solid rocks that are 33 metres high. These Colossi, 20 metres high and featuring finely carved details and stylized harmony, are seated on thrones representing the deified Ramses II. The two shown on the left represent the pharaoh as Heka-tawi and Re-en-hekaw and the two on the left represent Ramses II as Meri-Amun and Meri-Atum. You can see the pharaoh's characteristic nose and mild mannerisms in the Colossi 1 (at the left). In ancient times the second figure suffered a loss of its head or shoulders, possibly as a result a earthquake or rock fall. These now rest on the ground.
Ramses' figures are adorned with the Egyptian double crown and have a spade-like, formal beard. You can find royal cartouches on his breast, upper arms and between the legs. Between the legs of each statue are smaller-than-life-sized figures that represent members of the royal family. The first colossus's flank is occupied by the Princesses Nebtawi and Bentanat, with an unnamed Princess between their legs. To the left and right of the second colossus are the pharaoh and Queen Nefertari, the pharaoh's mother and wife, respectively, with Prince Amen-herkhopshef in between the legs. The inner sides of both the central Colossi thrones, which flank the temple's entrance, have figures of two Nile Gods, with floral emblems from Upper and Lower Egypt, as well as the lotus and papyrus. Below are rows of Kushite prisoners. You can find mercenaries' carved Phoenician, Carian and Greek inscriptions on the southern Colossi. They had been here during various military expeditions.
You will find the magnificent entrance to the massive Hypostyle Hall, which measures 17.7 meters in length. The hall is divided by three aisles with the central one measuring twice as wide. There are also two rows of square pillars and ten-meter high Osiris figures on each side. On the right, the figures wear both the Double Crown of Upper and Lower Egypt. While those on the Left wear the Crown of Upper Egypt. These massive figures are striking for their stylized symmetry. Ceilings in the central aisle are decorated with paintings of flying birds, while those on the lateral aisles have stars. Eight small chambers to the left and right of Hypostyle Hall serve as side rooms and treasuries. Although their decoration can be of different quality, they are generally simpler than the main temple chambers. There are stone tables running along some of the walls in certain rooms. Scenes from the Battle of Qadesh take control of Hypostyle Hall's north wall. The march of the Egyptian army can be seen in the lower register at the left-hand end. It is a vibrant portrayal of the various activities at the camp, including the feeding of horses and resting for the soldiers after the march. Third scene: Ramses II holds a Council of War while two enemies spies are being beat. Last scene shows the Battle between Hittite and Egyptian charioteers. We are taken into the heart of battle by the scenes shown in the upper register. The pharaoh can be seen running against his foes, who surround him with their chariots. The River Orontes surrounds the enemy stronghold Qadesh. Defenders look down on the battlements. Ramses II, in his chariot, watches as his officers count the invalid hands and limbs and take in the prisoners. The right-hand side of the rear wall shows the pharaoh leading two Hittite prisoner files to Re-Harakhty and Wert-hekaw, his deified effigy. He presents Kushite prisoner to Amun and the deified Ramses, Mut.
The Vestibule is located beyond the Hypostyle Hall. It has three aisles and four square pillars. The pillars have representations on the sides that Ramses II was received in the company of gods. The barque of Amun Re can be seen on the south wall. They are preceded by Nefertari, the wife of the pharaoh, and make offerings of incense and food.
Three doors lead from the Vestibule into the Transverse Chamber, a long narrow space. Three doors lead into a long and narrow Transverse Chamber. Ramses II can be seen offering offerings to Min and Horus (left-hand ends) and Atum, Thoth and Ptah, who were worshipped almost as guest divinities.
Three doors open into the Transverse Chamber and lead to three smaller rooms located at the end of the temple. The rectangular Sanctuary is located in the middle of the temple. Only the king could enter it. Ramses II can be seen lighting incense on the left and right walls. On the rear wall are larger-than-life-size figures of Ptah, Amun-Re, the pharaoh himself, and Re-Harakhty (from left to right), again giving expression to Ramses II's complete equality with the gods. The sacred barque's square base is visible in front of them. It was hewn out of rock.
The Temple of Hathor, also known as the Small Temple of Abu Simbel is located to the north of Great Temple of Ramses I. The original location was on a rock promontory that juts out to the Nile. It is separated from the Great Temple via a valley filled with sand. It was built in honor of Hathor, the goddess of love and Nefertari, Ramses' wife. It could have been reached by the Nile through a quay, but no trace of it survives. It is 12 meters high and was carved from rock to resemble a pylon, with a cavetto cornice that has since been lost. The rock face is where the Scribe Iuni (the Royal Steward) and Scribe Iuni from Heracleopolis were represented. He was most likely responsible for the construction of Abu Simbel temples and had probably shown his devotion to him.
The entrance façade depicts Ramses II (a massive statue measuring 10 meters high) and Queen Nefertari (6 gigantic 10-meter tall). The queen, unlike the pharaoh, is exactly the same height as the statues. The smaller royal children are flanking the statues, with the Princesses (shown with their left foot forward in front) larger than the Princes. The figures of Nefertari can be seen alongside the princesses Merit Amun (right), and Hent Tawi (left). The figures of Ramses II are located at the ends of the façade. At the other end are Meri-Atum and MeriRe. Amen-herkhopshef and Re-her-unemef, which are both right and left. The figures appear to have been placed in niches by the projections of sections of rock-like, buttresses between them. The entire facade was painted and plastered due to the high friability of stone. The buttresses have hieroglyphic inscriptions.
Through the entrance, you will find a square Hypostyle Hall divided by six columns. On the sides of each pillar are sistra bearing the head of Hathor, the cow-eared goddess. The pillars also have figures depicting various deities and the royal couple. Although the mural reliefs in this area are less detailed and more colorful than those found at the Great Temple's Great Temple, they are still of immense artistic and historical significance. The entrance wall shows the pharaoh and the queen striking a Libyan with Re-Harakhty's help. A Kushite is present in Amun-Re's presence.
Three doors lead to the narrow Transverse Chamber from the Hypostyle Hall. Two unfinished side chambers are to the right and left, respectively, with fine reliefs depicting the Hathor cow, which was worshipped by the queen and pharaoh.
The Sanctuary is located beyond the Transverse Chamber. It has a recess at its rear in the shape of a chapel. Its roof is supported by sistra. This recess contains a high-relief figure of Hathor, the goddess as a cow. Ramses II is located under her head and thus protected. The queen is seen offering incense for Mut and Hathor on the left wall. On the right wall, the pharaoh pours incense before his image and the queen and pours a drink.
The Sun Festival at Abu Simbel celebrates the two dates each year when the sun fills the innermost temple room where there are four statues. This happens to celebrate the anniversary of Ramesses' ascension to the throne (in February) and his birthday (in October).
If you want to see Abu Simbel at sunrise, you must aim to arrive long before dawn. The celebrations outside the temple are also worth experiencing, with music, dancing, markets, and food and drink stalls.
The temple faces east, and at the solstices - twice a year - the dawn sunlight is aligned to light the entire length of the temple entrance corridor (some 200 feet inside), lighting up three of the four statues at the end of the corridor, but never that of Ptah, the god of darkness. The Solstices' commemorate Ramses II's ascension to the throne (22nd February) and his birthday (22nd October).
Looking to take a trip to Abu Simbel and see the sunshine in through the temple entrance? Then book with us! We have departures on all the tours listed below. We'll make sure you get there in time to see the sun and provide a fully trained Egyptologist tour guide. This is a very popular time to visit the temples, so book early to guarantee your spot!
Abu Simbel, located in Aswan Governorate, about 300km south of Aswan, is one of the most famous archaeological sites in Egypt. Most often Abu Simbel is included, or available as an option, on a guided tour to Egypt, however a day trip to Abu Simbel is also available. There are two ways to get to Abu Simbel from Aswan. The first is by road and the second is by air. If you are travelling from Aswan to Abu Simbel by road, the journey takes around four hours. You can either drive yourself, take a private tour by air-conditioned car, or take a bus or minibus from Aswan. The easiest way to get from Aswan to Abu Simbel is on an organised tour, either by private car or minibus, with pickups from your Nile cruise boat or hotel in Aswan.
If you are travelling by air, there are daily direct flights from Cairo and Luxor to Abu Simbel. The flight takes around one hour. Abu Simbel Airport is an airport serving the town of Abu Simbel and the nearby archaeological site of the Temple of Ramses II in Aswan Governorate, Egypt. It is operated by the Egyptian Airports Company. Abu Simbel Airport is named after the archaeological site of the Temple of Ramses II, which is located nearby. The airport was built to accommodate the influx of tourists visiting the temple complex. Abu Simbel Airport is located just 3 kilometres (1.9 mi) from the temple complex. There are regular flights to Cairo, Luxor, and Aswan from Abu Simbel Airport. The airport is also served by charter flights from Europe and elsewhere.
In terms of safety in Abu Simbel, you're definitely covered! The government has put in place the convoy's, road curfews, and security checkpoints on the road for your protection. There is no one going up or down that road that isn't meant to be there. The temple itself is also strictly guarded with intense security checks.
The road is closed everyday from 5pm to 5am. This is due to security purposes as it is so close to the Sudan border. You will be stopped multiple times along this road and it is advised to carry a valid license and passport for the security checkpoints.
The three-thousand-year-old rock-cut temples at Abu Simbel and the story of their rescue from the rising waters of Lake Nasser in the 1960s are almost as familiar worldwide as the tale of the gold funerary mask and brief life of the boy king Tutankhamun. Yet although they remain among the most celebrated, visited, and photographed archaeological sites in the world, the lower Nubian temples—from Philae in the north to Abu Simbel in the south—are some of the least understood by the visitor.
In this lucidly written, beautifully illustrated book, Nigel Fletcher-Jones places the temples in their historical context, telling the story of the discovery of the Abu Simbel temples, and why and how they were moved, explaining what the Nubian temples teach us about ancient Egypt, which gods and goddesses were worshiped there, and the place of Rameses II in the long line of ancient Egyptian kings and queens.
The three-thousand-year-old rock-cut temples at Abu Simbel and the story of their rescue from the rising waters of Lake Nasser in the 1960s are almost as familiar worldwide as the tale of the gold funerary mask and brief life of the boy king Tutankhamun. Yet although they are among the most celebrated, visited, and photographed archaeological sites in the world, the two temples are among the least understood by the visitor.
In this lucidly written, beautifully illustrated guide, Nigel Fletcher-Jones explains the main features of both temples, discusses what they teach us about ancient Egypt during the reign of Rameses II (1265–1200 BC), and illustrates which gods and goddesses were worshipped here.
The temples of Abu Simbel have fascinated travelers since they became known to the Western world in the nineteenth century. And since the 1960s when the rising waters created by the Aswan High Dam threatened to engulf the site, visitors’ imaginations have been captivated by the elaborate international rescue operation, described by the author as ‘’a great moment that no one will ever forget: the most advanced technology of the twentieth century was used to save one of the most amazing achievements of a civilization that preceeded it by 3,300 years.’’
Prepared by one of the world’s best-known Egyptologists, Dr. Zahi Hawass, this lavishly illustrated book is the ideal companion on a visit to the unique monuments of Abu Simbel.
If you are looking for a tour and not finding what you are looking for, have a look at our best other related tours to check out for your travel plans. At Encounters Travel, we offer a variety of tours to suit your needs. So sit back, relax, and let us help you plan the perfect getaway.
This special Egypt tour features the amazing Sun Festival at the Abu Simbel temple to Ramses II on the 22nd Feb and 22nd Oct each year. We combine this with time in Cairo, Aswan and Luxor, discovering more of ancient Egypt.
This classic 10-day tour is a great introduction to the main sites of Egypt. Spend time in Cairo then head to the Nile Valley for a 1-night felucca cruise down the Nile from Luxor to Aswan, and finish with some time by the Red Sea
This popular 12-day Egypt tour visits the Pyramids, Sphinx & Egyptian Museum in Cairo, before heading to the Nile Valley to explore Luxor & Aswan, including a felucca cruise, and finishes with time by the Red Sea at Hurghada.
Need some travel inspiration or looking for some handy travel tips? Our blog provides excellent insight into our travel destinations - from tour updates to country guides, packing lists to little known things to do, you'll find it all in our travel blog.
Guide to finding Egypt budget tours. Egypt is one of the most popular and unique tourist destinations in the world. From the bustling streets of Cairo to the spectacular archaeological sites, from the beautiful desert scenery to the popular beach resorts of the Red Sea, Egypt has something for everyone.