1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Abu Simbel

ABU SIMBEL, or Ipsambul, the name of a group of temples of Rameses II. (c. 1250 B.C.) in Nubia, on the left bank of the Nile, 56 m. by river S. of Korosko. They are hewn in the cliffs at the riverside, at a point where the sandstone hills on the west reach the Nile and form the southern boundary of a wider portion of the generally barren valley. The temples are three in number. The principal temple, probably the greatest and most imposing of all rock-hewn monuments, was discovered by Burckhardt in 1812 and opened by Belzoni in 1817. (The front has been cleared several times, most recently in 1892, but the sand is always pressing forward from the north end.) The hillside was recessed to form the façade, backed against which four immense seated colossi of the king, in pairs on either side of the entrance, rise from a platform or forecourt reached from the river by a flight of steps. The colossi are no less than 65 ft. in height, of nobly placid design, and are accompanied by smaller figures of Rameses’ queen and their sons and daughters; behind and over them is the cornice, with the dedication below in a line of huge hieroglyphs, and a long row of apes, standing in adoration of the rising sun above. The temple is dedicated primarily to the solar gods Amenrē of Thebes and Raharakht of Heliopolis, the true sun god; it is oriented to the east so that the rays of the sun in the early morning penetrate the whole length of two great halls to the innermost sanctuary and fall upon the central figures of Amenrē and Rameses, which are there enthroned with Ptah of Memphis and Raharakht on either side. The interior of the temple is decorated with coloured sculpture of fine workmanship and in good preservation; the scenes are more than usually interesting; some are of religious import (amongst them Rameses as king making offerings to himself as god), others illustrate war in Syria, Libya and Ethiopia: another series depicts the events of the famous battle with the Hittites and their allies at Kadesh, in which Rameses saved the Egyptian camp and army by his personal valour. Historical stelae of the same reign are engraved inside and outside the temple; the most interesting is that recording the marriage with a Hittite princess in the 34th year. Not the least important feature of the temple belongs to a later age, when some Greek, Carian and Phoenician soldiers of one of the kings named Psammetichus (apparently Psammetichus II., 594–589 B.C.) inscribed their names upon the two southern colossi, doubtless the only ones then clear of sand. These graffiti are of the highest value for the early history of the alphabet, and as proving the presence of Greek mercenaries in the Egyptian armies of the period. The upper part of the second colossus (from the south) has fallen; the third was repaired by Sethos II. not many years after the completion of the temple. This great temple was wholly rock-cut, and is now threatened by gradual ruin by sliding on the planes of stratification. A small temple, immediately to the south of the first, is believed to have had a built antechamber: it is the earliest known example of a “birth chapel,” such as was usually attached to Ptolemaic temples for the accommodation of the divine mother-consort and her son. The third and northernmost temple, separated from the others by a ravine, is on a large scale; the colossi of the façade are six in number and 53 ft. high, representing Rameses and his queen Nefrēre, who dedicated the temple to the goddess Hathōr. The whole group forms a singular monument of Rameses’ unbounded pride and self-glorification.

See Egypt; J. H. Breasted, Ancient Records, Egypt, vol. iii. pp. 124 et seq., esp. 212; “The Temples of Lower Nubia,” in the American Journal of Semitic Languages and Literatures, October 1906.  (F. Ll. G.)