Abu Simbel began as a small village of a few houses clustered at some distance from the temples of Abu Simbel. Now it is a lush oasis with hotels and a sizable settlement. Arriving by plane or bus steals some of the drama that is so much a part of Ramses II's monument of monuments. The lake approach, on the other hand, fulfills every fantasy you might have about the grandeur of ancient Egypt.
Ramses II's two enormous temples at Abu Simbel are among the most awe-inspiring monuments in Egypt. The pharaoh had his artisans carve the temples out of a rock cliff to display his might as the Egyptian god-king and to strike dread into the Nubians—and the temples are most effective as such. They originally stood at the bottom of the cliff that they now crown (they're some 200 feet above the water level a third of a mile back from the lake shore).
and Ptah. The second was dedicated to the goddess Hathor and Nefertari, Ramses II's wife and chief queen. The Great Temple is fronted by four seated colossi, about 65 feet tall, of Ramses II wearing the double crown of Upper and Lower Egypt. (One of the four heads fell to the ground in antiquity and was kept in that position when the temple was moved). Around the legs of the statues stand smaller figures of Ramses II's wives and offspring. The top of the temple facade is covered by a row of rampant baboons praising the sun as it rises. Between the two pairs of statues is a carved figure of Ra-Harakhte that stands over the door to the temple.
The doorway between the colossi leads to the first hall, which contains columns decorated with figures of Ramses II. The hall itself is carved on the right (north) with reliefs showing events from Ramses II's reign, most notably his self-proclaimed victory at the Battle of Kadesh in Syria (his opponent might beg to differ). It shows the besieged city, the attack, and the counting of body parts of the defeated enemies. The left (south) side shows Ramses' battles with Syrians, Libyans, and Nubians, and it has some fine scenes showing Ramses on a chariot. Vultures with outstretched wings decorate the ceiling. Several side chambers are accessible from this hall. These were probably used as storerooms for the temple furniture, vessels, linen, and priestly costumes.
The second hall contains four square columns and is decorated with scenes of Ramses II and Queen Nefertari making offerings to various deities, including the deified Ramses himself. This hall leads into a narrow room that was probably where the pharoah made offerings to the gods of the temple.
Three chapels branch off the narrow offering room. The two side chapels are undecorated, but the central chapel, the main sanctuary, is decorated not only with scenes of the pharaoh making offerings and conducting temple rituals, but also with four rock-carved statues of the deities to whom the temple is dedicated. They are, from left to right, Ptah, Amun-Ra, Ramses II, and Ra-Horakhte. These were originally painted and gilded, but the paint and the gold have long since gone. The temple was originally constructed so that twice each year the first rays of the rising sun would pierce the dark interior of the temple and strike these four statues, bathing them in light. When the temple was moved, this was taken into consideration and still happens, albeit a day late, on February 21 and October 21.
The smaller temple at Abu Simbel is the Temple of Queen Nefertari, dedicated to Hathor. Six colossal standing rock-cut statues of Queen Nefertari and Ramses II front the temple. Each statue is flanked by some of their children. The temple doorway opens into a pillared hall that contains six Hathor-head columns much larger than those in Deir al-Bahri. The ceiling contains a dedicatory inscription from Ramses II to Queen Nefertari. The hall itself is decorated with scenes of the royal couple, either together or singly, making offerings to or worshiping the gods. A narrow vestibule, decorated with scenes of offerings, follows the pillared hall, and the main sanctuary leads off this vestibule. The sanctuary contains a niche with a statue of Hathor as a cow, protecting Ramses.