Africa,  Egypt,  TDM,  Travel Journal

Day 9 in Egypt: Abu Simbel, Unfinished Obelisk & Back to Philae

It is impossible for me to sort the photos of Abu Simbel. This place is so magical for me and I feel a deep well-being there. I will show you a lot of pictures. I hope they will do you good too ๐Ÿ™‚

Reminder: if you haven’t done so yet, please read our previous travel diaries in Egypt first: #1, #2, #3, #4, #5, #6, #7 and #8

Part 1: Travel Diary
Part 2: Practical Tips

Part 1: Travel Diary

So the day before, I went there to watch the sound and light show at the Abu Simbel temples, it was beautiful. Today, we get up early (4:30 in the morning) because we want to see the sunrise in front of the Abu Simbel temples. Our hotel (Nefertari Hotel, link Booking) is a bit old-fashioned, it seems not to have moved for 30 years, but the service is worthy of a 5 star hotel (in addition to being 5 minutes walk from Abu Simbel). Dinner is included in the price of the room (because there isn’t much in the area anyway), we are served like kings, and a porter is already waiting for us this morning at 5:20 am in front of our room to carry our suitcases. Two enormous breakfasts are already prepared for us in a box since we leave very early

We wait we wait, the guide is supposed to come at 5:30 am but he isn’t there. The sunrise is planned at 6:06 am. Whereas we plan to go there on foot alone (it is just beside), at 5:50 am he finally arrives and explains me that this morning, the driver and him had the surprise to find their car stuck by another car (they sleep at the inhabitant’s house). They had to wake up the whole neighborhood to find out whose car it was. So we rush towards the temples. I give 300 pounds to the guide so that he buys me the right to take pictures inside the temples (15โ‚ฌ anyway)

We run to the temples and discover with horror that a hundred people are already there. Our guide is really worried about the fact that we are alone on the places lol ๐Ÿ™‚ by buying the tickets, he has already inquired… the three enormous tourist buses that we see (not the same as yesterday) have just arrived this morning from Aswan. The guys left at 2am. Respect!

But Mick, our guide, is smart. Since everyone is outside waiting for the sunrise, he tells us to enter the temple and spend a long time alone together, as the sun isn’t yet here. My other guide Bassem (from the dahabiya) told me a lot about the sun and this temple etc. I will tell you about it later, so I always knew that the important thing at this time of the year was to stay inside the temple, not outside

This temple is carved directly into the rock, hence the massive statues, and is relatively modest in depth (only about sixty meters). From the entrance, one can see all the way to the bottom of the temple (the four statues). Intended to show the pharaoh’s greatness and to frighten enemies who venture into Egypt, the four statues on the front represent Rameses II at different times, and at his feet are his mother and various wives. One statue has lost its head (probably because of an earthquake that occurred during his reign). Next to his temple is the temple of his favorite wife and concubine, Nefertari. Both of these temples were saved from the waters by UNESCO. Upon learning of the construction of the second dam in Aswan, which threatened to engulf dozens of Nubian temples, a brave lady Christiane Desroches Noblecourt fought for it. Result: the Abu Simbel temples, along with other temples, were saved. Abu Simbel, until then little frequented, became a must-see. There’s a movie next to the release that talks about this feat (how they cut it all up, built an artificial mountain, put the blocks together…) if you don’t have much time, watch it on YouTube

So, as I was saying, a statue has lost its head and you can see, on the pieces lying on the ground, distinctly the ears and the hat. What prevents us from restoring all this is the last missing piece: the face of Ramses II, stolen by whoever, and apparently exhibited in a museum in London (?!)

The interior of the temple

We visit the interior of Rameses II’s temple, quietly, without a single shadow as everyone is busy waiting outside the temple for the sunrise. The interior is illuminated by artificial light, so we can see the reliefs very, very well

The first room is extremely impressive, with these 8 massive Ramses II, war scenes on all the walls, the pharaoh pulling his enemies by the hair or beating them ๐Ÿ˜€ or a massive army at the feet of Ramses II, the message is clear: he is the big boss

I let you discover the video and photos

There is a small room to the right and two small rooms to the left. There follows another room with columns and the last part with the four statues


It’s 6:20 a.m. We hear cries of joy outside and we realize that it’s time for sunrise

After 5 seconds outside, I enter the temple again

The sun enters the temple, and it’s magical! A red light dresses Ramses II in the first chamber. But this red light will not go beyond the first chamber. The date is November 17

In fact, around October 20-22 and February 20-22 each year, this red light goes all the way to the hall at the back and illuminates the statues, especially the face of Rameses II. Someone once said that this corresponds to Ramses’ birth date, and another said it corresponds to his coronation. Except that these dates are completely unknown, no one knows his date of birth. But this legend is making the buzz, so much buzz that they are now organizing a SUN FESTIVAL. However, this red light isn’t present only 2 days in the year. The temple being oriented to the East, and the main door being very large, when the red light enters up to the level of the statues, it is 10 days in a row (according to the information I could get)

Then, as I was saying, the temple isn’t that deep, the door being large, and the temple facing east, there is ALL THE TIME from the light to the statues. So it’s FALSE to say that the light only enters there 2 days a year. The sun (at sunrise) is aligned with the entrance door a few days a year, but this is a phenomenon that can be observed in many temples (they are positioned in the East-West axis, so it is normal) and the light enters there every day. So, if you plan to move and fight with 5000 people present on October 21st, free to you! Spend a few days later, the red light will be there, without the crowd

To prove to you that light enters there all the time, here are the statues illuminated by artificial light

And here are the statues illuminated by daylight (be careful, we do not have red light but daylight), on November 17th. The statue on the very left is that of Ptah, associated with darkness (??!), so it isn’t supposed to be lit (well I don’t know if it’s UNESCO that screwed up by moving the temple but it is lit there, ok one arm…)

People begin to visit the interior of the temple. We go out to see the temple blush in the soft morning light. It is beautiful!

And we head directly to the temple of Nefertari, where there is absolutely no one there

This temple is dedicated to Nefertari, but Rameses II has not been forgotten either, there are two Nefertari and four Rameses II outside. To give you an idea of the size of these statues, I put another picture. I am not small, it is the statue which is big ๐Ÿ˜€

I also like the interior very much, this temple, more feminine, is smaller but the features are also more refined. There is still no escape from the scene where Rameses II slaps his enemies

While waiting for the crowd to leave, our guide explains, with photos, the origin of the temple and all the important scenes to watch. It is 7 am and everyone has left. What a sadness! Leaving Aswan at 2am just for 30 minutes inside the temple? The cruises have also left. We are again almost alone on the site. And completely alone inside the temples. The guide cannot come inside with us so we remember the photos that he showed us to go to see these reliefs in more details

On the way out, don’t forget to take a picture of Ramses II from every angle (note the small statues at the foot of Ramses II and opposite)

I would have liked to stay there forever but it’s 7:45 am and the Aswan crowd starts to invade the place (those who left around 4 am). Go one last round to the temple of Nefertari and then we go

Back to Aswan

As we woke up at too early an hour, we just sleep in the car. It is our guide who had to wake us up

The unfinished obelisk

It was when I inquired about Aswan that I knew I could visit a granite quarry where there is an unfinished obelisk. It is unfinished because a huge crack ruins this obelisk and instead of making a smaller one, they preferred to leave it there. If it was finished, it would have been the largest and highest

Citymax Hotel

The agency has booked a room at the Citymax hotel, 4* Egyptian standard (link Booking). It will be one of the two most comfortable hotels of our entire stay. We are upgraded as usual (Egyptian hotels are empty so there is a high probability of being upgraded) to a suite with a view on the Nile and even a small balcony. Exhausted by the visits, we decide to do nothing until late afternoon. The island you see is actually the Elephantine. There are 3 parts: the massive buildings (movenpick), the Nubian village and the temples. We saw the Movenpick part, which I find, sincerely, not so bad (I expected worse after the comments on the Routard)

At 4pm, our guide comes to pick us up and takes us to a restaurant on the Nile, with a view on the Elephantine Island (part “temples”). We have to take a motorized boat to go there. On the way, we pass in front of the Old Cataract, the famous hotel seen in “Murder on the Nile”, where Agatha Christie herself stayed

It’s a late lunch – early dinner waiting for us (we skipped lunch, having eaten too much)

Then we return again to the temple of Philae, this time to attend the sound and light show. There we meet our former cruise companions and our former guide. We are lucky because tonight there are only about twenty tourists, the others left with their cruise

We walk slowly through the temple, following the signs… The text is very theatrical and does not teach us anything more than what our guide already tells us the day before, but seeing the temple under the light allows us to better realize certain things, the beauty of the place..

The main temple. I was speechless. On this granite stone at the far end must have been the statue of Isis

Our next article (in Cairo), it is here

Part 2: Practical Tips

How to get to Philae or Abu Simbel? Everything is already indicated in the previous article

The sound and light at Philae costs 250 pounds/person (2018 rates, 12.5โ‚ฌ). Here are the schedules (we advise you to always go to the session at 6:30pm, i.e. be there at 6pm)

Schedules of Sound and Light at Philae

The entrance ticket to Abu Simbel 200 pounds/person (+ 300 pounds for taking pictures inside the temples)

We recommend the hotels: Nefertari (link Booking) in Abu Simbel and Citymax (link Booking) in Aswan

As for the global budget of this trip, please consult our dedicated article

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