It is now 50 years since the head of the Pharaoh Ramses II, one of the greatest of the pharaohs in ancient Egypt, was lifted from his statue at Abu Simbel temple south of Aswan to place at a new site higher up. The statue was one of four colossi of Ramses on the façade of the rock-hewn temple he commissioned to be built in 1250BC.
The Aswan High Dam which was built in the 1960s was a necessity for Egypt to manage the Nile waters that form its lifeblood. But it came at a price; several priceless temples that go back to ancient Egypt and that lay south of the dam were condemned to drowning under the waters of the reservoir lake behind the dam. Among them was Abu Simbel temple.
A UNESCO-led international effort, however, rescued these monuments and saved them for the entire human family. The temples were sawed off into blocks or elements that were accurately numbered and catalogued, then lifted up to sites where the dam reservoir waters would do them no harm. There they were reassembled precisely in their original form. The temple of Abu Simbel was raised to a cliff 65 metres above the original temple, and there it stands to this day.
Under the name Abu Simbel 50, a celebration was last week launched to mark 50 years on the lifting of the head of Ramses. The celebration, which runs till 22 October, is jointly organised by the ministries of antiquities, tourism and culture. Antiquities Minister Mamdouh al-Damati said that it will mark the first of a series of events that will extend over three years till 2018, to honour the international effort of rescuing the monuments, which lasted from 1965 to 1968.
The highlight of the celebration, will be held on 21 October, and will involve a simulation re-enacting the lifting of the face of Ramses. The date is very special at Abu Simbel since it marks the eve of one of two days every year—the other is 22 February—when the sun rays penetrate the length of the temple at sunrise and shine over the faces of statues of three Egyptian deities and King Ramses himself sitting at the far end of the temple. These dates were one day earlier—21 October and 21 February—before the temple was moved. The precision with which this phenomenon occurs testifies to the greatness of the ancients who planned and built the temple.
12 October 2015