Saturday, February 17, 2018

Ramses II's Temple at Abu Simbel

We went to see a couple of temples at Abu Simbel.  One was dedicated to Ramses II, or Ramses the Great, one of the greatest pharaohs in Egyptian history.  The other, smaller but no less significant, was dedicated to his queen Nefertari.  These temples became very well known when they were about to be flooded by the building of the high dam at Aswan.  The United Nations put up some serious money to dismantle the 2 temples and to reconstruct them at higher ground.  
Ramses II had many temples.  This one was built to commemorate Ramses II’s victory over the Hittites at Kadesh.  But the Hittites lived in modern day Turkey, to the northeast of Egypt.  Why was the temple built here in southern Egypt, between ancient Egypt and Nubia?  Obviously it was to impress the Nubians, who lived to the south of Egypt, in modern day Sudan, who often fought the Egyptians.  

The most recognisable features were 4 colossal statues of Ramses II at the front of the temple, each of them 20 meters tall. Each is accompanied by a much smaller statue of his beautiful queen, Nefetari.  More about his beautiful queen later. 

In the centre, above the entrance, 2 much smaller images of the pharaoh was seen worshipping the falcon headed god Ra-Harakhti.  

One the walls were carved many scenes depicting the pharaoh vanquishing his enemies. 

There are scenes of the many peoples that Ramses had defeated and captures.  Some, with special hairstyle and noses,  looked like Assyrians. 

Some, with their broad noses and thick libs, were obviously Nubians.  

Deep inside the temple, Ramses was seen seated second from the right, among 3 three other gods.  It is said that Ramses II was the first pharaoh to place himself sitting and equal in size with the gods, essentially making himself a god, rather than merely a son of the gods.  

A friend asked for my thoughts upon visiting the temple.  The temple has many impressive features, many of which I don’t have time to elaborate in this post.  What struck me the most was the enormous amount of power that the ancient pharaohs held.  How much labour went into building these temples?  All the captives of war were either killed or made into slaves.  Were they forced to help built the temple?  It was said that the people who built the temple were not slaves, but were hired to do the job.  Did they have a choice?  If not, this was at best forced labour, or a form of heavy tax.  Was it really different from slavery?  Ramses II is being remembered partly because of the temple.  What about all those who actually built the temple?  

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