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Queen Nefertari's Temple at Abu Simbel

There are two great temples at Abu Simbel (Abû Sunbul, Aboo Simbul or Abo Simble), both were cut into the living rock at the command of Pharaoh Rameses II (Ramesses II - ruled 1279-1213 BC). The smaller temple is dedicated to Hathor and was built to honor Rameses' Queen, Nefertari (not to be confused with Nefertiti, wife of Akhenaten).

The Queen's temple provides a striking companion to the huge Ramesses temple, more human in size, and with its' goddess head columns softer and feminine. No longer in its' original location as a result of the Aswan High Dam, the entire complex must surely be one of the world's great wonders.

The great temples of Abu Simbel.
The Abu Simbel Temples,
by Francois Gau, 1819

The Queen's Temple

Queen Nefertari, probably by Salvador Cherubini.Excerpt from: Travels in Nubia
by John Lewis Burckhardt
Published in 1819.

March 22nd, 1813.
We recrossed to the shore, over the sands left by the decrease of the waters, and ascended a steep sandy mountain. The mountains on both sides here are close to the river. On the east side is Wady Fereyg, on the west side the mountain bears the name of Abu Simbel (previously Ebsambal). When we reached the top of the mountain, I left my guide with the camels and descended an almost perpendicular sand filled cleft to view the (Queen's) temple of Abu Simbel, of which I had heard many magnificent descriptions. There is no road at present to this temple, which stands just over the bank of the river. It must be that some change has taken place in the course of the stream, and that there may have been formerly a footpath along the shore by which the temple was approached.

Queens Temple, Abu Simble.
The Queen's Temple at Abu Simbel,
by François Chrétien Gau, 1819

It stands about twenty feet above the surface of the water, entirely cut out of the almost perpendicular rocky side of the mountain, and in complete preservation. In front of the entrance are six erect colossal figures, three on each side, placed in narrow recesses and looking towards the river. These statues are all of the same size, stand with one foot before the other, and are accompanied by smaller figures. They measure from the ground to the knee six feet and a half. They are four figures of Pharaoh Ramesses II and two of Queen Nefertari.

Of the small figures, the children of Ramesses, some of those on the side differ from the others in having the hair on the right side of the head falling in a thick bunch upon the right shoulder, while the left side is shaved. The spaces between the niches where the large figures stand are covered with hieroglyphics.

The Queens temple Abu Simbel.
Cut-away view of the Queen's Temple, Abu Simbel
by François Chrétien Gau, 1819

A small door leads into the pronaos of the temple, which is supported by six square columns, each three feet square. The pronaos is thirteen paces in length, and seven in breadth. The capitals of the columns represent heads of Hathor, similar to those at Tintyra (Dendera), except that they are in much lower relief, and in the same style as the sculptures on the walls of the temple. The ornament represented on these heads is in the form of a temple, and the hair falls down in two thick ringlets, differing in this respect, also, from the figures at Tintyra.

Three doors, the middle taller, carved with images of gods.
Doorways to the cella -- Queen's Temple, Abu Simbel
by François Chrétien Gau, 1819

The narrow cella is entered from the pronaos by one large and two small gates. It is only three paces in depth, with a dark chamber on each side. The adytum is seven feet square; the remains of a statue, cut out of the rock, is visible in the back wall, and in the floor is a deep sepulchral excavation. The walls of the three apartments are covered with hieroglyphics, and the usual sacred figures of the Egyptian temples. The figures seem all to have been painted yellow, excepting the hair, which on several of them is black; that of one goddess is in black and white stripes. Offerings to Osiris of lotus and of leaves of the Doum tree are frequently represented and, as in all the Nubian temples, conquered enemies of Egypt beneath the hand of the victor are repeated in several places.

The temple of Abu Simbel seems to have been the model of that at Derr. The style in which the sculptures are executed denotes high antiquity.

Two figures of Isis with raised hands bless the Queen
Four figures of goddesses bless Nefertari
by Johann Minutoli, 1824

A few paces to the north of the entrance, in the rock above, is a bas-relief of Osiris in a sitting posture, with a supplicant kneeling with extended arms before him. Both figures are surrounded with hieroglyphic characters. I was afterwards informed that there is on the bank of the river near this temple, a statue of a man somewhat above the human size, and that it is completely overflowed during the inundation.
Excerpt from: Travels in Nubia
by John Lewis Burckhardt
Published in 1819.

The Queen's temple Abu Simbel.
Floorplan of the Queen's Temple, Abu Simbel
by François Chrétien Gau, 1819

One of Egypt's greatest treasures,
The tomb of Queen Nefertari

by Prisse d'Avennes, 1878

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