Abu Simbel

Abu Simbel is a spectacular site and well worth the three hour drive from Aswan. It is known  as a modern engineering marvel, for the extraordinary relocation of the temple following the construction of the Aswan High Dam and the flooding of Lake Nasser which was completed by 1971. There are  interesting pictures of the removal and reconstruction of the temple at the Nubian Museum in Aswan, see below. I recommend the museum but I have to say, as an anthropologist I was disappointed that even in a Nubian institution the focus was on the monumental salvage operation rather than the resettlement of the Nubian people, who were horribly dispossessed by this national project.
Astonishingly, the site was completely empty! We drove in on the afternoon convey, with a bored looking armed soldier in the car with us. He slept most of the way, with his semi automatic gun on his thigh. There were very few people staying overnight and we were the only ones heading to the temples late that afternoon. This was a highlight of our trip to Egypt, what a privilege to have Abu Simbel to ourselves. Even while we were there i could early believe it. It was surreal to be at one of the great sites of antiquity, a place that has been on the tourist route for centuries and to find ourselves alone in the great temple of Ramses. Even the guard left after D. tipped him, which was not our intention!
As you can see we were giddy with enthusiasm!
As you enter The Great Temple the walls  are inscribed with images of the peoples Ramses conquered. Their hands are tied behind their backs and they are linked on a coffle. You can clearly see their ethnic origins and they include peoples from Africa, Asia and the Near East.
Carved into the rock, the temple is both impressive and beautifully lit inside. The pillared hall is on a monumental scale and one cannot help but be awed by the power and grandeur of the deified Ramses II, represented in eight Osiride statues.
All of the photos I had seen previously were of the exterior, so I was surprised and impressed by the beautifully carved and painted  interior. There are a number of antechambers as you can see below.
The quality and variety of the carvings are breathtaking.
It was magical to have the time, space and the freedom to explore on our own, we were very glad not to have a guide at Abu Simbel.
As usual there are multiple images of the victorious Ramses  leading the charge in battle, I particularly like the lion running with him beneath his chariot below. If you didn't know this Ramses was the "Great "one you would know for sure after seeing this temple. Built on the edge of an empire it is an astonishing monument to wealth, power and ego and it was clearly designed to tell any passing traders or invaders, the power and might of a victorious Egypt. 
Below you can see the ceremonial barque being carried by servants or priests. Incidentally, the word barque was a new one for me, though D.was astonished at my linguistic failing.  Thankfully he thinks I'm smarter than I am, "Are you sure you don't know barque?" he asked. "No but I know what a barge is" I replied facetiously.
In addition to The Great Temple is the nearby Temple of Hathor - which is associated with Ramses II's first wife Neferati, see below.
Although smaller this is also an impressive site, with the same outlook over Lake Nasser.
Inside are the familiar representations of Hathor which for some reason remind me of 1960's designs from Japan! They look so modern. Again you can see the temple was beautifully lit.
The detail, and sense of movement in the arms below is astonishing. We spent a lot of time wandering between the two temples and even after we went back to the hotel we couldn't believe we were the only visitors. While it was lucky for us it's really emblematic of the difficulty they are facing in Egypt today. It's a tragedy, they have so much to offer and still people are afraid to come. Go now if you want to have the type of experience we did. I cannot recommend it highly enough, after three thousand years Ramses still has the power to awe us all.
Tip: We recommend staying overnight at the charming Eskaleh Nubian Lodge where we met this cheeky donkey. This is one of my all time favorite holidays pics. I promise it's my handbag he's going for, not my bum!