PART II 188 To keep the soil dry between the dam and the temples and protect them from seepage or simply damp due to the extremely porous and weakly cemented nature of Nubian sandstone, it was necessary to install a drainage system comprising a dense network of under- ground channels and deep shafts. Besides keeping the water level inside the excavation area low, the shafts also supplied drinking water. At the same time the two temples were surveyed and systematically studied topo- graphically, architecturally and photographically. And while the desert gave way to green palm trees and other vegetation, offering shelter to many species of colorful birds, work went ahead on building the village for the construction workers, a concentration of life and activity in the midst of an isolated and inhospitable region. Nubia had in fact become practically depopulated, a region where communications were precarious and public services and transport were lacking. “We crossed the desert from wadi Halfa to Abu Simbel. Dunes, expanses of red sand, tracts of small pebbles and stretches of bigger stones. The dunes, seen from a distance, create the impression of forming a continuous wall”, wrote the sculptor NardoDunchi inMarch 1963. He was on his return from a reconnaissance trip to study the action plan of the Carrara quarry workers who would be taking part in the rescue of the temples. “The cars we rented are special. They have independent traction on all four wheels and very strong leaf spring suspen- sion. (...) But they jolt over those stones!” he continued. “At times, twice to be honest, our car got bogged down in the sand. We had to get out and push it onto the road again.” Land transport across the desert was virtually impracticable and river transport, covering 175 miles to Aswan, was slow and difficult because of the cataracts. To remedy the problem, an airlift was organised with two small aircraft, but they could only carry personnel, mail and small loads. For these reasons, the village that had already begun to host an international com- munity would have to be as self-sufficient as possible while securing the essential comforts for the European staff, who would be working at a hectic pace in unfamiliar environmental conditions. In addition to a runway for planes, an electric power station, roads and offices, a residential neighborhood was created, with flower gardens, a water treatment plant, a swim- ming pool, a tennis court, a bowls club, a cinema, shops and a hospital. Warehouses, workshops and port facilities were also built to overcome the problems of supplying foodstuffs, which were brought from the south of the First Nile Cataract by barges, boats and motorboats, some equipped with refrigerators, and above all the building materials. The machinery (630 tonnes of earth-movers and excavators, 350 tonnes of lifting machinery, 135 of compressors, pneumat- ic drills and perforators and 610 tonnes of vehicles) arrived by sea from Europe. Whenever a spare part was needed, the waiting times exceeded three months. This meant deficiencies had to be made good on the site by drawing on the staff ’s inventiveness. When the operation was at its most intense stage, the village was inhabited by 2,000 people, including 50 European families. Despite the many difficulties, the cafeteria of- fered an impressive array of different dishes to satisfy the palates of all the varied cultures pres- ent in the village.