IKONOS Satellite Image (1 m) – Abu Simbel Temples, Nubia, Egypt
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(Image Copyright © DigitalGlobe and Courtesy of Satellite Imaging Corporation)
In 1257 BCE, Pharaoh Ramses II (1279-13 BCE) had two temples carved out of solid rock at a site on the west bank of the Nile south of Aswan in the land of Nubia and known today as Abu Simbel. Long before Ramses II, the site had been sacred to Hathor of Absek. The temple built by Ramses, however, was dedicated to the sun gods Amon-Re and Re-Horakhte. Because of their remote location near the Sudanese border in southern Egypt, the temples were unknown until their rediscovery in 1813. They were first explored in 1817 by the Egyptologist Giovanni Battista Belzoni.
The sacred area, marked out as a forecourt and bounded on the north and south sides by brick walls, occupied a place between the sandstone cliffs and the river. Ramses’ temple was cut into the face of the cliff, before which is a rock-cut terrace. The temple is approached across this terrace up a flight of steps with an inclined plane in the middle, and enclosed on either side by a balustrade behind which stood a row of hawks and statues of Ramses in various forms.
The rock-cut fa açade of Ramses’ temple represents the front of a pylon in front of which are four colossal seated figures of Ramses. This facade is one 119 feet wide, and 100 feet high, while the colossal statues are 67 feet in height. At the top of the pylon, above the cornice, is a row of baboons, who, as Watchers of the Dawn, are shown with their hands raised in adoration of the (rising) sun. The Egyptians believed baboons played a role in helping the sun god Ra defeat the darkness of night and so were believed sacred to the worship of the rising sun.
The most remarkable feature of the site is that the temple is precisely oriented so that twice every year, on 22 February and 22 October, the first rays of the morning sun shine down the entire length of the temple-cave to illuminate the back wall of the innermost shrine and the statues of the four gods seated there. Precisely this same effect was apparently also fundamental to the design of the artificial cave of Newgrange in Ireland.