ME: What!? I'm watching TV here.
BRAIN: You've been there.
ME: What are you talking about?
BRAIN: You've been there. That place on the TV with the giant pharaoh sculptures behind the guy that played Obi-Wan in the prequels.
ME: Are we on a first-name basis with Mr. Kenobi?
BRAIN: Just look.
ME: What are you...Wait...What the?
I'd totally forgotten that I'd been to
Abu Simbel…and it took Ewan McGregor to remind me. I happened to be watching Long Way Down, the sequel to the amazing multi-episode road documentary Long Way Round. In the first documentary, McGregor and his friend Charley Boorman travel west across the world by motorcycle, from through London Asia to . In the sequel, the pair bike from the top of New York south through Scotland Europe and Africa to . At one point in the latter documentary, while being ferried across the Cape Town , they pass on the shore the gargantuan statues that form the entrance of the famous Egyptian Nile River . temple of Ramses II
And I’ve been inside that thing.
Now I have to write the memory down so that I'll never be embarrassed by my brain again.
Abu Simbel is the location in southern Egypt of a pair of sandstone temples that were built by Ramses II, the 13th Century (BC) pharaoh who ruled for almost seven decades and built tons of cool stuff that Percy B. Shelley later made fun of in his poem Ozymandias. The most impressive of the two temples is called, naturally, the
. It’s 100 feet tall with an entrance that is flanked by four identical and colossal 66-foot-tall seated statues, all of Ramses II and all but one of them well preserved. The fourth has disintegrated from the waist up and is basically just a giant lap and pair of shins. The fallen pieces of the upper body sit at the statue’s base. Always back up your files and the gigantic testaments to your vanity. Great Temple
The second temple is smaller and located right next to the
. It’s called both the Great Temple and the Temple of Nefertari , the former being one of Ramses’ wives and the latter being an Egyptian goddess. Royalty and deity were often interchangeable back then. The entrance to the Temple of Hathor is flanked by six recessed standing statues, two of Nefertari and four of Ramses. These statues are technically only about half as tall as the Temple of Nefertari entrance statutes, but are proportionally even smaller as they have to stand to hit 30 feet and the Great Temple statues are seated. Great Temple
The ornate facades of both temples include smaller statues of others in the royal family, while inside are more statues of Ramses, gods, and Ramses-as-a-god, as well as columns and walls covered in all the Egyptian hieroglyphs and images that mummy movies and the Bangles have made us so familiar with. The interior areas are not too vast and are quickly explored, although I remember the dimness being a welcome change from the eye-searing desert. They say that the
was constructed in such a way that two days a year, sunlight penetrates all the way to its Inner Sanctum. Sounds like a party. Great Temple
After being built in 1284 BC, the temples were lost for a couple of millennia until being discovered in 1813. In the 1960s, they became even more famous when they were almost destroyed. You see, the temples were originally built into a cliff overlooking the
Nile, but the creation of the Aswan High Dam and threatened to destroy them. Lake Nasser
As a result, super-engineers found a way to cut the temples from the rock and place them in man-made mountains far enough back from the flood plain that people like me could visit and then shamefully forget. All right, you already know that the whole “forgetting” angle is hyperbole, but it’s definitely true that I haven’t thought about my visit to
Abu Simbel as often as is commensurate for having firsthand experience with such a massive wonder…which is even more shameful than mere forgetfulness.
Abu Simbel about eight years ago. Looking back in my files, I could only find one picture from my foray there, but in looking online at other pictures I'm not sure how this place hasn’t haunted my dreams since. My sense of wonder must not have been adequately developed yet. Re-reading my piece on the Great Pyramid, I'm inclined to agree...with myself. These days I’d definitely look on his works, ye mighty, and despair.
After visiting during the desert-hot day, we actually returned to
Abu Simbel again that night for a light show that was projected onto the itself to tell the history of Ramses and the construction of the temples. And as seemingly disrespectful as treating an ancient work of art, engineering, and culture like a theater screen, it all paid off in the end when they used the light effects to rebuild the one statue that had crumbled and to colorize the details of all four statues to restore them to their/Ramses’ original glory. Great Temple
Now, with my
Abu Simbel memory officially transferred to O.T.I.S. for safekeeping, I have room in my brain for an episode or two more of . Still trying to forget the prequels, though. Jonathan Creek