Egypt

Abu Simbel, a practical guide for the rock temples

One of the most famous buildings from ancient Egypt are the temples of Abu Simbel. Pharaoh Ramses II had impressive temples carved into the rocks in honor of himself and his wife Nefertari. The façades with the enormous pharaoh images are famous. In this practical guide I will tell you everything you want to know about your visit to Abu Simbel.

Where is Abu Simbel?

The rock temples are located in the south of Egypt. The extreme south to be precise, because the border with Sudan is not far away. Abu Simbel is located there on the huge Lake Nasser. Aswan is the largest city near the temples.

The temples and their incredible relocation

The temples at Abu Simbel are different from the other temples in Egypt because they are carved into the rocks. Ramses II ordered two temples to be made in the rocks. One in honor of himself as a divine pharaoh and one for his wife Nefertari as the goddess Hathor. Both temple lead deep into the rocks, an impressive achievement.

The facade is probably the most famous. It is 30 meters high from the large temple of Ramses and the huge statues of the pharaoh tower 20 meters high above you. The smaller temple of Nefertari is 10 meters high. It is unique how the enormous images of the pharaoh and his favorite wife are equally high for this facade. Normally women are depicted small around the ankles of the pharaoh, as is the case with the large temple.

The temples are built in such a way that the light was the most beautiful on February 21 and October 21, the Pharaoh’s birthday and coronation day. On those days, the sun shines right through the entrance at sunrise. The holiest part deep in the temple is then illuminated by the sun. These days it is on February 22 and October 22. This is due to the relocation of the temples.

The huge Nassermeer would be created by the construction of the dam at Aswan. Many lands with villages and temples would disappear under the water. A rescue mission has therefore been set up for a number of temples: they have been relocated.

This meant that the temples of Abu Simbel were completely dismantled. They are cut into blocks and reassembled on an artificial mountain. An impressive precision work that is almost completely invisible now. It was an immense project, of which, for example, the temple on Philae Island near Aswan was a part.

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How do you get to Abu Simbel?

As Aswan is undoubtedly also on your Egypt travel route, that is the most logical base for Abu Simbel. But make no mistake: it is a 3-hour drive from there. That is therefore a total of 6 hours. The temples are therefore a tough day trip.

From Aswan there are three options to get to Abu Simbel: an expensive flight, a private taxi (more than 3000 EGP) or shared transportation, such as a bus or minivan (400-1000 EGP).

We chose to travel to Abu Simbel via our guesthouse Mango on Elephantine Island near Aswan. That was with a minivan for a group of eight people. We paid the competitive price of 400 EGP for the trip, there is no guide or admission ticket.

For our entrance ticket we paid 255 EGP per person at Abu Simbel. The card said 240 pounds, but our questioning did not lead to any answers about the difference. We therefore paid for it anyway.

Almost all transport leaves around half past three at night. You are at the temples before the midday heat and when light is the most beautiful. The actual departure time depends on the police. In our case, our van and the other buses gathered on the outskirts of town and the police gave us the green light at 5 o’clock. Around a quarter to eight we arrived at Abu Simbel. Everyone slept in the van on the way there, so you’ll probably won’t even notice the long ride on the way there. The ride back we found sleeping difficult and it therefore feels like a long time.

Practical tips

  • Take food and drinks with you. At Abu Simbel you’ll be charged 50 EGP for a can of Coke of normally 5 EGP.
  • Do not skip the visitor center. There are pictures with explanations about the special relocation of the temples.
  • A neck pillow for the bus is nice to get some sleep.
  • You will be back in Aswan around 1 pm, but keep your afternoon program relaxed, since you already have had a long day behind you.

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