Nubiana

69 THE MIRAGE OF ABU SIMBEL In the early 19thCentury fewtravelerswho reached the island of Philae, south of Aswan, decided to venture further into the southern regions, which were little known and unsafe. None ever went be- yond Derr which, at that time, was the capital of Lower Nubia. It was only in 1813 that a Europe- an, the Swiss traveler Johann Ludwig Burckhardt, traveled up the Nile and reached the locality of Abu Simbel, or Ibsambul as it was then known. The site was dominated by the presence of two awe-inspiring temples carved into the rock, whose façades depicted gigantic human figures. The local inhabitants were familiar with the smaller one since it was not hard to reach. The larger temple, whose façade was still almost completely covered by sand, was unknown and inaccessible. A few years later, in 1817, the Paduan explorer Giovanni Battista Belzoni (1778-1823), after a first failed attempt, was the first to enter the temple, after clearing the sand from the entrance. The discoverers left traces of their presence on these antiquities, carving their names and the dates of their discovery on several parts of the monument, thus enabling us to reconstruct its history. Ever since, Abu Simbel has been one of the most renowned and important sites in Nubia, visited by many illustrious travelers and Egyptologists, most notably Jean-François Champollion (1790-1832), the decipherer of hieroglyphs, accompanied by Ippolito Rosellini (1800-1843) during their expedition of 1828-29. The plentiful graffiti provides evidence of the numerous subsequent visits by tourists and the sense of wonder created by the ruins. In 1960, when plans were being developed to build the Aswan Dam, followed by UNESCO’s appeal to the world to save them, the façades of these extraordinary monuments stirred the public imagination and led to international calls for their preservation together with the other Nubian antiquities that were endangered. The Great Temple of Abu Simbel, the most impressive rock-cut building in an- cient Egypt, was commissioned by the Pharaoh Ramesses II (1279-1213 BC), probably in the early years of his reign, in honor of the most important deities of the Ramesside period and to celebrate his own deification. It portrays Amun-Re, the god of Thebes, Re-Horakhty of Heliopolis and lastly, Ptah of Memphis. The whole monument, known as the Ramesses Meryamun (Ramesses, Beloved of Amun), was hewn entirely out of the solid rock, recreating the model of shrines built on the ground. At Abu Simbel, the rock face of the mountain was carved in the form of a pylon, a traditional architectural feature of Egyptian temples, THE MIRAGE OF ABU SIMBEL One of the colossi of Ramesses II enthroned in the façade of the Great Temple. !e pharaoh wears the khepresh (or blue crown), a rounded headdress with the uraeus , the cobra- shaped symbol of the sovereign’s supreme power.

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