Exploring Ancient Egypt at the Temples of Abu Simbel

Thousands flock here for the biannual Abu Simbel Sun Festival, with the rest of the day spent enjoying Nubian dances, music, and food stalls. 

Overlooking Lake Nasser, Abu Simbel’s Great Temple is fronted by four colossal statues of Ramesses II.

The Pyramids of Giza may rule the roost when it comes to Ancient Egyptian marvels, but none possess the exquisite bas-reliefs, murals,  and colossi that adorn the temples of Abu Simbel, built 3,200 years ago in the Nubia region (just 40 kilometers from the present-day border with Sudan) for Pharaoh Ramesses II and his first and favorite wife, Nefertari.

The larger of the two rock-cut structures is not just a monument to egotism but also to Ancient Egypt’s knack for solar alignment: twice a year, on the 22nd of October and February, the rising sun sends a stream of light deep into the inner sanctum of the otherwise dark temple, illuminating seated statues of Ramesses II and the gods Ra and Amun.

Thousands flock here to witness the phenomenon as part of the biannual Abu Simbel Sun Festival, with the rest of the day spent enjoying Nubian dances, music, and food stalls—try some fresh koshari, a suitably monumental Egyptian street dish of rice, lentils, and pasta topped with zesty tomato sauce and lashings of fried onions.

Getting There
From Aswan, the closest major city, Abu Simbel is a three-hour bus ride or a 45-minute flight on EgyptAir, an almost daily service that also connects with Cairo.

Where to Stay

The most charming accommodation in Abu Simbel village is the mud-brick Eskaleh Nubian Ecolodge (20/11-1170-4575; doubles from US$78), the brainchild of local musician Fikry Kachif. Guests here bed down in just six rooms and enjoy home-cooked meals made with organic produce from the owner’s garden.

Don’t Miss

Abu Simbel’s nightly sound-and-light show. The spectacle narrates the reign of Ramesses II, with projections on the temple facades that illustrate how they once appeared in all their painted glory. Headphones provide commentary in nine languages.

This article originally appeared in the October/November 2019 print issue of DestinAsian magazine (“Rock Stars”).

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