The greatest challenge of archaeological engineering in history

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Some forty-six years ago the Abu Simbel temples in Nubia, southern Egypt were re-opened to visitors after they were moved to higher ground. This initiative was spearheaded by UNESCO, with a multi-national team of archaeologists.

The temples at Abu Simbel, which Ramses II ordered to be built near the border of Nubia and Upper Egypt, was dedicated to two sun gods, Amun-Re and Re-Horakhte.

Standing 30 metres high, the large temple was carved into an already-standing sandstone mountain on the banks of the Nile.

Four colossal statues of Ramses, each 20 metres high, guard the entrance to the temple

Four colossal statues of Ramses, each 20 metres high, guard the entrance to the temple. Rising to the pharaoh’s knees are smaller statues of family members, his mother, his favourite wife, Nefertari and son, Prince Amonherkhepshef.

Inside the temple, three connected halls extend into the mountain. Images of the king’s life and many achievements adorn the walls.

Images of the king’s life and many achievements adorn the walls inside the temple

The smaller temple stands nearby at a height of 12 metres and 28 metres long. This temple is also adorned by colossi across the front facade, three on either side of the doorway, depicting Ramses and his queen Nefertari (four statues of the king and two of the queen) at a height of 10 metres.

Nefertari is rendered the same size as Ramesses in the smaller temple at Abu Simbel (photos: wikipedia)

The prestige of the queen is apparent in that usually, a female is represented on a much smaller scale than the Pharaoh while at Abu Simbel, Nefertari is rendered the same size as Ramses. 

In the 1960′s the Egyptian government planned to build the Aswan High Dam on the Nile, which would have submerged both temples so Egypt and UNESCO urged all countries to help in rescuing the Nubian monuments.

The salvage of the Abu Simbel temples began in 1964 by a multinational team of archaeologists, engineers and skilled heavy equipment operators working together, under the UNESCO banner.

A multinational team of archaeologists, engineers and skilled heavy equipment operators worked together on the project

Between 1964 and 1968, the entire site was carefully cut into large blocks (up to 30 tons, averaging 20 tons), dismantled, lifted and reassembled in a new location 65 metres higher and 200 metres back from the river, in one of the greatest challenges of archaeological engineering in history.

It was one of the greatest challenges of archaeological engineering in history

The statue of Ramses the Great at the Great Temple of Abu Simbel is reassembled after having been moved in 1967 to save it from being flooded

Great care was taken to orient both temples in exactly the same direction as before and a man-made mountain was erected to give the impression of the temples cut into the rock cliff. 

The process of rescuing Abu-Simbel temple took four and a half years and cost $40 million

The process of rescuing the Abu Simbel temples took four and a half years, the general director of saving the monuments of Nubia, Ahmed Saleh said on Monday. The rescue operation cost about $40 million, half of which was paid by Egypt, he noted.

If you would like to see footage of this huge engineering feat click on the YouTube link below:

www.youtube.com/watch?v=HCDQikYVnCA