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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 cut into the living rock at the command of Pharaoh Rameses II (Ramesses II - ruled 1279-1213 BC). The smaller (lower right in the first picture) temple is dedicated to Hathor / Isis 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' Isis head columns softer and feminine. The entire complex, no longer in its' original location as a result of the Aswan High Dam, must surely be one of the world's great wonders.

The great temples of Abu Simbel.
The Abu Simbel Temples,
by David Roberts, 1838

Excerpt from: Travels in Nubia by John Lewis Burckhardt

A Journey along the Banks of the Nile
Published in 1819. Adapted for, 2006.

The Queen's Temple

Queen Nefertari, probably by Salvador Cherubini.CHAPTER XI -- Abu Simbel
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 are close to the river. On the east side is Wady Fereyg, on the west side the mountain bears the name of Ebsambal, (now Abu Simbel, hereafter used). 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, but it is probable 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, and are four figures of Pharaoh Ramesses II and two of Queen Nefertari.

Of the small figures, the children of Rameses, 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 Isis, 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 Isis 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, it was no doubt dedicated to the worship of Isis. The style in which the sculptures are executed denotes high antiquity.

Two figures of Isis with raised hands bless the Queen
Two figures of the goddess Isis bless Nefertari
by E. H. Toelken(?), 1824

A few paces to the north of the entrance, in the rock above it, 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, at Derr, that there is near this temple, on the bank of the river, a statue of a man somewhat above the human size, with the Egyptian corn measure under his arm; and that it is completely overflowed during the inundation.

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

wings of the Sun.

The Temple Oueen Nefertari at Abu Simbel
an edited excerpt from: Travels in Nubia

by John Lewis Burckhardt, published in 1819

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