Journey to Egypt, Part 22: Temples of Abu Simbel

January 2, 2019

We disembarked our vessel, Aida, this morning and boarded a bus for a 2-hour + ride to the town of Abu Simbel, for which the temple was named.  The landscape along this route is mostly desert.
20190102_093930The town of Abu Simbel is a good place to be introduced to Nubian culture. The Nubians who originally lived in this area were displaced in the 1960s by the building of the Aswan High Dam. Now this small town is growing again as people return to the area. I took these photos from the bus as we drove through the town.

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Nubian architecture is characterized by domes and arches.

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Our destination was Abu Simbel Temple.20190102_105458d.jpg
Ramses II (who reigned c. 1279-1213 BCE) had two massive temples built at Abu Simbel. The pharaoh was a bit of a narcissist and wanted to advertise to the Nubians that he was the god-king and ruler of this land. Nubia had been conquered by the Egyptians, which extended the Egyptian empire southward. Ramses II had his artisans carve the temples out of a rock cliff to display his might, which was an effective deterrent to Nubian rebellion.

Originally the two temples were at the bottom of the cliff into which they were carved. However, due to the building of the Aswan High Dam in the 1960s, which created Lake Nasser and flooded the surrounding area, they were moved 200 feet above the water level and 1/3 of a mile back from the lake shore. It is quite a walk, often uphill, from the parking lot to the site of the temples.

These two photos were taken from the pathway to the temples, the first a view of Lake Nasser, the second, two large rocks on which people had piled up small rocks. (I had seen these small stone piles before, on the trail from Machu Picchu, but here they were much more numerous and somewhat chaotic.)
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In order to move the monuments higher up (because they would otherwise be completely submerged in the lake), a painstaking project funded by UNESCO was undertaken in which the temples were dismantled by cutting them into about 5,000 pieces, raised up using pulleys and reassembled 60 meters (about 200 feet) higher up. To do this, the upper cliff also had to be carved out in order for the temples to retain their original appearance and great effort was made to reconstruct the temples with the same orientation as the originals. All this was accomplished in the years 1964-1968, before the building of the High Dam was completed. (Other monuments that stood on islands in the Nile River were also disassembled and reassembled elsewhere, but Abu Simbel was by far the most enormous and ambitious undertaking.) Below are two photos of this massive project, taken from Google Images.

The first of the two temples, the Great Temple was dedicated to Ramses II as a god-king and to Ra-Harakhte, Amun-Ra and Ptah, major gods in the Egyptian pantheon. The second temple was dedicated to the goddess Hathor and Nefertari, Ramses II’s wife and queen.

In front of the Great Temple are four seated colossi of Ramses II, wearing the double crown of Upper and Lower Egypt, which is most preserved in the far left statue. Around the legs of the statues are smaller figures of the pharaoh’s wives and children. Between the two pairs of statues, above the doorway, is a carved figure of Ra-Harakhte. Ra was portrayed as a falcon and shared characteristics with the sky god Horus. Sometimes these two gods were merged to form Ra-Harakhte: “Ra, who is the Horus of the Two Horizons.” Also, in the New Kingdom, the god Amun rose to prominence, so Ra and Amun were merged to form Amun-Ra.

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At the top of the temple façade is a row of rampant baboons, praising the sun as it rises.

The Great Temple is 98 feet (30 meters) high and 115 feet (35 meters) wide.
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Ra-Harakhte above the door
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Nubian captives
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Another captive – possibly Hittite, since the temple may also have been a commemoration of Ramses II’s victory over the Hittites at the Battle of Kadesh in 1274 BCE.

The doorway between the colossi leads to the first hall, which contains columns decorated with figures of Ramses II.

Inside this hall are carvings of events, particularly battle scenes, that happened during Ramses II’s reign. These photos are taken from the photo archive of Mohammed Fahey. (We were not allowed to take photos inside.)

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The second hall contains four square columns  and is decorated with more benign scenes – Ramses II and Queen Nefertari making offerings to the gods, including the deified Ramses himself.

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This is over the the entrance to the sanctuary.

The sanctuary contains four statues of the gods to whom the temple is dedicated: Ptah, Amun-Ra, Ramses II, Ra-Horakhte, in that order from left to right.
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An amazing story about these sanctuary statues is that the sun would enter this inner chamber at certain times of day and certain days of the year. On the left, Ptah, is always in darkness, because he is the god of the underworld. The sunlight would penetrate 180 feet (55 meters) into the inner sanctuary to illuminate the statues of Amun-Ra and Ramses II (the two middle figures) for 45 minutes on two important days of the year: February 22, the king’s birthday and October 22, the date of his coronation. This was further emphasis on his elevated status as a god-king.

When the monument was moved up the cliff in the 1960s, the light illuminating the statues changed – but not by much. It now shines on Ramses II for 25 minutes on February 21 and October 21, only one day off from the original dates!

Ramses II apparently loved his wife, Nefertari, so much that he had the Temple of Queen Nefertari built to honor her and the goddess Hathor.  This marks only the second time in ancient Egypt that a pharaoh built a temple for his wife (the first was Akhenaten for Queen Nefertiti). Furthermore, it is the only time where her statue is the same size as that of the pharaoh, each standing 32 feet (10 meters) tall.
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Like the Great Temple, Nefertari’s temple faces east. It is about 92 feet (28 meters) long and 40 feet (12 meters) high.20190102_120511d
Four of the six statues are of Ramses II and two are of Nefertari. Smaller statues at their feet represent their children.

The temple doorway leads to a hall which contains six pillars with heads of the goddess Hathor.
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The hall is decorated with scenes of the royal couple making offerings to or worshipping the gods. Behind that is the main sanctuary, where there is a niche with a statue of Hathor as a cow, protecting Ramses II and Nefertari.

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View of the lake on the walk back to the parking lot.

We returned to Abu Simbel in the late afternoon, as the sun was setting, to see the Sound20190102_171344d and Light Show. It is worthwhile seeing at least one of these during a visit to the major Egyptian monuments – there are  also Sound & Light Shows at Karnak, Luxor Temple, Kom Ombo and others.

20190102_173300We were each given an audio translator to watch the show. However, among the English translators that were handed out was one in Spanish, which one of the men in the group,  discovered when he turned his on. By the time he found this out, the show had started so there was no way to exchange it. Instead, I traded with him, since I knew I could understand the narration in Spanish.
20190102_173215dIf you wondered what those little boxes were in front of the temples, they are used to project the sound and light show, which starts after sunset.20190102_173300dThe narration tells the story of how the monument was moved higher up the cliff when the dam was being built and also speculates about the life of the ancient Egyptians who built these temples.

Lights illuminate the statues in front of both temples.

With accompanying music, colorful images are projected onto the front of the temples.

The grand finale…

Sources used in this post:
“Abu Simbel: How the Temples Were Saved” in We, Digital Magazine
“Abu Simbel” by Joshua J. Mark in Ancient History Encyclopedia
“Abu Simbel” in Ancient Egypt Online
Fodor’s Egypt, 
2009

Journey to Egypt, Part 19: Temple at Kom Ombo

December 31, 2018

Kom Ombo Temple is probably my favorite of all the ancient Egyptian sites I saw on this trip. It has several interesting features that make it unique.
20181231_145553dAbout 30 miles north of the city of Aswan, Kom Ombo is located in a region that has a large Nubian community that was resettled here after the construction of the Aswan High Dam, which flooded the area they had come from originally. I will write more about the Nubians in a future post.
20181231_150507.jpgThe town of Kom Ombo has grown considerably in the last 35 years since its founding. It was an important town in ancient times because it was located at a convergence of trade routes to the Nile Valley, the Red Sea, and Nubia.20181231_145713The Temple of Kom Ombo is a double temple, to worship the gods Sobek (the crocodile god) and Horus (the falcon god). Both these gods were depicted, as Egyptian gods often were, as either an animal or a person with the animal’s head.

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Two images of Horus (with falcon heads) anoint the king (middle) by pouring water on his head; Sobek (with crocodile head) stands behind them on the left.

 

Kom Ombo Temple was built during the Ptolemaic era, between the 2nd century BCE and the 1st century CE. All the remains of the temple date to that period and later, although there has been evidence found of earlier structures, most notably an 18th Dynasty gateway.
20181231_150430d.jpgThe temple is called a “double temple” because it has two of almost everything, which allowed the priests to conduct equal worship rituals for two gods simultaneously. The southern part of the temple is dedicated to Sobek, the northern part to Horus. In addition, there is a small shrine dedicated to the goddess Hathor.
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Reliefs on outer walls

Crocodiles, sacred to Sobek, were worshipped here at Kom Ombo and were regarded as semi-divine. They were fed the finest foods, provided with golden earrings, and were even given manicures to gild their nails! Sacred crocodiles, when they were alive, were kept in the northwestern part of the temple. There is now a crocodile museum (included in the entrance ticket) adjacent to the temple where crocodile mummies and other artifacts are on display. We went there after our tour of the temple, but it was quite dark inside and we were not allowed to take photos anyway. However, here is one from a professional photographer.

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Crocodile mummies in the Crocodile Museum

 

The double entrance opens onto a large courtyard, the only shared space inside the temple’s boundaries. The entrance was oriented toward the river, facing roughly west.
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There are two doorways from the courtyard to the outer hypostyle (columned) halls, inner hypostyle halls,

SONY DSCa series of offering halls, and twin sanctuaries, for Horus on the left and Sobek on the right.

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Sobek with feathered headdress, holding a staff in his left hand and an ankh in his right hand.
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Sanctuary entrance

Mohamed showed us a calendar on the southwest wall of the Offering Hall, the first one we had seen.


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The goddess Hathor (with cow horns & a sun disk on her head) and the falcon god Horus (wearing the white crown)
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Colorful paintings of the winged vulture on the bottom of the lintel over a doorway
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Over an adjacent doorway is the symbol of two cobras on either side of a sun disk, with spread wings, like this one.

 

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Detailed relief of Sobek
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Lovely dual relief, with the pharaoh offering jugs of water and lotus flowers. The confusing thing about this image is that the pharaoh is both female (with a breast) and a male (beard symbolic of the pharaoh). A female monarch perhaps? I don’t know…

20181231_151458.jpgAnother interesting feature is on the back wall of the outer enclosure – carvings of surgical instruments. Surgical tools found at archaeological sites match those in these carvings – quite amazing!
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Another common theme was food, either being offered to the gods by the pharaoh or depicted upon a table.

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In this relief, water is being poured onto the food, representing the nourishment of food crops by rain and the river.
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On this column, the pharaoh of all Egypt (he is wearing the double crown) offers food to Horus.

Some of the reliefs show deep carving, especially the largest figures which cover an entire wall. This is the foot of Horus…
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…who is holding a staff and an ankh.
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Behind him is a carving of Hathor, also holding a staff and an ankh.
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Some of the feet show  details of the toes, such as this one of Hathor’s foot – she has very long toes!
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This temple was also known for being a place of healing. High up on a wall is a small doorway with a carved ear on either side. These “listening ears” are where people could go to tell the gods about their medical problems in hopes of healing.
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Throughout the temple were reliefs amazing in their artistry and imagination.
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This bas relief is an interesting one, containing several figures. In the center stands the king, surrounded by familiar gods. To the left are Hathor and Thoth (ibis-headed god); to the right are a lion and two images of Horus. The lion was a symbol of strength and mastery of the natural world when depicted alongside the king. This shows that the lion/pharaoh is the guardian of order, or Ma’at, which was an important concept for the ancient Egyptians. Some gods also assimilated leonine aspects, such as Horus.
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Horus assimilated the god Tjel (a feline god), giving a lion image to a god almost always depicted as a falcon. That seems to be the symbolism of this remarkable image, which shows both the lion’s head and the falcon’s wings in motion. Right underneath the lion with wings is Horus in his true nature as a falcon.
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The lion is often depicted as female, such as in this relief. This female feline goddess was eventually incorporated into a domestic cat goddess, Bastet.
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Enjoy these additional photos of this fascinating and beautiful temple!!
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Kom Ombo (16)
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Sources: Symbolism of the Lion in Ancient Egypt by Michael Fassbender
The Temple of Kom Ombo on website Ancient Egypt Online.  In this article,
Horus and Sobek are said to be in conflict, which is why the temple had to
separate them. I had not found this idea of conflict in any other source.
Kom Ombo, Wikipedia.
Fodor’s Egypt, 2009 edition
My own notes from information given to us by our guide

 

 

 

 

 

Journey to Egypt, Part 17: Horemheb’s Temple & Gebel Silsila Quarry

December 30, 2018

This afternoon we arrived at the narrowest stretch of the Nile, an area that the Egyptians called “Khenu” or the place of rowing. At Gebel Silsila, high sandstone cliffs come down close to the water’s edge.DSC_0387
20181230_150716dThe Temple of Horemheb is small and not well-known.
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Nile cruise ships don’t stop here because they are too large to moor in this area.

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Cruise ship passes us by as we stand on shore. To the right is another moored dahabeya, which possibly had a famous passenger – the queen of Belgium! She is apparently working with or observing archeologists at the site.

The temple itself is not in great condition compared to others we had seen and would see over the next few days. It was interesting because of the different inscriptions, not just hieroglyphic writing, but also hieratic script, demotic writing of later times, with Greek influences, and Coptic script from early Christian times. Early Christians stopped here to shelter and escape persecution during the early years of Islamic reign in Egypt. They are likely the people who wrote some of the later-age inscriptions. For this reason, this site is of particular interest to epigraphic studies (study of inscriptions).

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Thoth, depicted with the head of an ibis, was important to ancient Egyptians, for he was the god who gave them the gift of writing. In fact, what we call hieroglyphics (a Greek word), was medu-netjer to the ancient Egyptians, meaning “the god’s words”.  Note the modern writing (graffiti) that a more recent visitor carved, to Thoth’s lower right.

The temple dates from the end of ancient Egypt’s 18th Dynasty, during the reign of Horemheb, who dedicated the temple to Sobek (the crocodile god), …

Amun (pictured below, distinguishable by his large feather headdress),
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…and other gods, including Thoth.

Thoth, in ancient Egyptian belief, was born with immense knowledge, the most important of which was the power of words. Although he gave this knowledge to humans, he expected them to take it seriously. The main purpose of writing was not decorative or literary. It was to provide a means to bring into existence concepts and events. If something was written, it could be “made to happen” again and again.

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Hieroglyphics consisted of phonograms, logograms and ideograms. Phonograms are alphabetic signs, where one hieroglyph represents a single consonant or sound. There are 24 of these in ancient Egyptian hieroglyphic writing and they are the most common. Phonograms could also represent 2-3 sounds, like diphthongs and blends. Ideograms (pictures conveying a concept) were often at the end of words.
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Egyptian writing could be written from left to right, right to left, up-down or down-up (and sometimes started in the middle!). Symbols of people or animals, however, always faced the beginning of the text, so if an image of a bird or a woman was facing the right, the text was meant to be read right to left.
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This photo shows an example of hieratic writing, which was a faster script, using simplified versions of hieroglyphic symbols. Hieratic writing developed early in the dynastic periods, after hierpglyphic writing had been firmly established. Around 800 BCE, hieratic developed into a cursive script.
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This is an example of demotic writing, which replaced hieratic script c. 700 BCE. Demotic writing was called sekh-shat, or document writing.  It was developed in the Nile Delta region and spread southward during the 26th Dynasty (c.1069-525BCE). This became the most popular script for the next 1,000 years.

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Note the different costumes worn by the people in the carved image to the left of the writing.

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At the top of this photo is an image of people fanning the pharaoh with large palm fans as he is carried on a platform. Below is yet another type of writing – Coptic script. Coptic script was that used by the early Christians. Demotic writing had continual use until it was replaced by Coptic script during Roman Egypt. Coptic script uses the Greek alphabet with some additions from demotic script. Hieroplyphic writing only fell completely out of favor with the rise of the new religion, Christianity.
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Rosetta stone image (downloaded from Bing): The Rosetta stone provided the key to reading hieroglyphic and demotic writing. The text is a proclamation written in Greek, demotic, and hieroglyphic script from the reign of Ptolemy V (204-181 BCE). All three are the same text, in keeping with the Ptolemaic ideal of a multicultural society. Until the Rosetta stone was discovered, no one knew how to read or interpret hieroglyphic or demotic writing.

Information on the history of ancient Egyptian writing was taken from the online article Ancient Egyptian Writing by Joshua J. Mark.

Horemheb’s Temple was one of the earliest examples of temples made from sandstone. During the reign of Akhenaten in the 18th Dynasty, the Egyptian temple builders switched from limestone to sandstone.
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The pharaoh, wearing the white crown of Upper Egypt, offers sacred lotus flowers to the god Thoth.
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Although this looks like a repeated image and hieroglyphics, on closer inspection, one can see that it isn’t. On the far left are two figures seated side by side, and each of the other single figures has some differences – the second on the left, for example, is holding an ankh in one hand, and the cartouches with names of pharaohs and priests contain some different symbols.
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Someone crossed out one of the figures, which appears to be a pharaoh wearing the red crown of Lower Egypt.

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Sandstone is lighter in weight and the area of Gebel Silsila had abundant sandstone. In fact, this site was used as a quarry for constructions as far away as Luxor and Amarna, 800 km to the north.
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There was a steep path leading up to this hole, which was once part of a temple. Some people in our group, including Mohamed, climbed up and had their pictures taken!

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Little niches, or holes, on the rocks near the river’s edge, were where boats were tied next to the shore.
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20181230_155944There is an epigraphic survey project going on at Gebel Silsila by a team of archaeologists studying inscriptions, under the auspices of Lund University in Sweden.

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The archaeologists’ felucca

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DSC_0399That night, back on the Aida, we were enjoying a delicious dinner when several crew members appeared, playing instruments and singing! The captain danced with a couple of the women in our group.
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