Ramesis II (1304 BC - 1237 BC) built two great temples at Abu Simbel to stamp his authority in the region. They are the Sun temple of Ramesis himself and the Hathor temple of his favourite wife, Nefertari. The monumental facade of the sun temple consists of four great statues of Ramesis II, each 20m tall, whose cold stare confronted the travellers from Nubia, the present day Sudan and one of ancient Egypt's bitter enemies. The idea was to intimidate the travellers, something similar to saying "Beware the might of the empire you are entering". One of the statues lost its upper half following an earthquake in 27 BC.
Both the temples were carved on a mountainside. After the building of the Aswan high dam, the entire mountain was buried inside the waters of the Nile. Hence the resurrection of the temple involved re-creating the entire mountain itself on a higher ground. This was achieved by using a false interior : the mountain that you see now actually sits on a giant hollow steel dome! Unfortunately the entry to the dome was closed when we visited Abu Simbel.
The sanctuary of the temple contains four seated statues : Ramesis himself sitting along with the Gods Amun, Horus and Ptah. The temple was precisely oriented so that the sun's rays illuminated the central sanctuary on exactly two days of the year : Ramesis' birthday (Feb 21) and his coronation day (Oct 21). The sun's rays illuminates three of the four central statues: the statue of Ptah, the God of darkness, always remaining in the shadow. The relocation of the temple has messed up the precision and the sanctuary currently is illuminated on the days after his birthday and coronation day.
The facade of the sun temple also contains smaller statues of the royal family. Interestingly the statues of the Gods are also created much smaller than that of Ramesis, most probably to symbolise the power of the pharaoh. The first chamber as you enter the temple is a hypostyle hall with 4 pillars on either side fronted with a 10m statue of Ramesis in the Osiris posture. Osiris posture is how a pharaoh is depicted in his dead form - legs close to each other and the body upright with the arms crossed and holding a hook and a flail. The hypostyle also houses one of the most famous reliefs in history : the relief depicting the Ramesis II's victory in the battle of Qadesh. This is the first instance of a political propaganda where Ramesis II having actually escaped death and defeat in the battle is claiming an overpowering victory. The temple itself was built right after the battle of Qadesh and most of the reliefs depict how Ramesis fearlessly and single-handedly destroyed the enemies. The reliefs also show the pharaoh possessing double arms and double bows, probably an attempt at animation.
The facade of the Hathor temple contains six 9m tall statues of Ramesis and Nefertari this time in the living form. The living form is one where the pharaoh is shown as if he is marching with his left foot; larger the step greater is his importance. The sanctuary of the temple contains a broken cow statue of Hathor. Hathor is another form of Isis, the sister and wife of Osiris. Both the temples have many smaller chambers with lots of drawings depicting the pharaoh and his wife offering various items including food, drinks and incense to the Gods.
The two temples are definitely a must see and
in my opinion are also the most awe inspiring monuments in Egypt.