The story of the salvaging of the temples at Abu Simbel is well-known. To save the site from drowning under Lake Nasser—behind the Aswan Dam—the entire site was cut up into large blocks between 1964 and 1968 and reassembled at a spot 65 meters higher than the lake surface..
The Great Temple at Abu Simbel is a masterpiece of ancient engineering which probably took around 20 years to carve into the rock face, and was completed c. 1265 BC in the 24th regnal year of Rameses II.
The 35 meter wide rock-cut facade of the temple is dominated by 4 colossal statues of Rameses II seated on a throne and wearing the double crown of Upper and Lower Egypt. This must have been an intimidating sight—as, no doubt, it was intended to be—for those travelers entering Egypt from Nubia.
One of the statues fell in antiquity, leaving only the lower part in situ and the head and torso at its feet.
Interspersed between the colossi, and no higher that the knees of the pharaoh are statues of Nefertari, his chief wife, the queen mother Mut-Tuy, and a number of his sons and daughters.
Above the entrance is a relief of the pharaoh worshiping Ra-Horakhty who is holding the hieroglyph ‘user’ and a feather in his right hand, and the goddess Ma’at in his left—the whole being a cryptogram of Rameses’ throne name ‘User-Maat-Re’.
The temple as a whole is dedicated to the deified Rameses II, and the state gods of the period, Ra-Horakhty, Amun Ra, and Ptah, who had their respective cult centers in Heliopolis, Thebes and Memphis.
The axis of the temple is believed to have been positioned so that on October 22nd and February 22nd, the rising sun illuminated the statues of the gods at the very rear of the temple—with the exception of the statue of the god Ptah, a god of the underworld, which remained always in the dark. The dates may have had some relationship to specific events in the reign of the great king—perhaps the 30th jubilee of his reign.