Nubian Monuments from Abu Simbel to Philae (1979)

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United Nations (Vienna) 1992. Temple of Ramses II at Abu Simbel.

Egypt 1914. Rock Temple of Abu Simbel.

This outstanding archaeological area contains such magnificent monuments as the Temples of Ramses II at Abu Simbel and the Sanctuary of Isis at Philae, which were saved from the rising waters of the Nile thanks to the International Campaign launched by UNESCO, in 1960 to 1980. 

  • United Nations (Vienna) 1992. Temple of Ramses II at Abu Simbel. 

  • Egypt 1914. Rock Temple of Abu Simbel. 

Abu Simbel is the site of two temples in southern Egypt, on the Nile River, south of Aswan. The temples were carved into a sandstone cliff about 1250 BC during the reign of Ramses II. 

The interior of the larger temple is more than 55 m (about 180 ft) in depth and consists of a series of halls and chambers leading to a central sanctuary. 

  • Egypt 1966. Air Post. Temples at Abu Simbel. 

Egypt 1966. Air Post. Temples at Abu Simbel.

This temple was dedicated by Ramses II to the chief gods of Heliopolis, Memphis, and Thebes (Ptah, Amun, and Ra-Harakhty, Egypt's three state deities of the time). It is oriented so that the rays of the rising sun illuminate the statues of the three gods and of Ramses II in the innermost sanctuary. The smaller temple was dedicated by Ramses to the goddess Hathor. goddess of love and beauty, personified by Nefertari, Ramses' most beloved wife (in total, the pharaoh had some 200 wives and concubines).  

Egypt 1959. Temple of Ramses II at Abu Simbel. Ramses is surrounded by the three gods.

Egypt 1960. Temple of Queen Nefertari at Abu Simbel.

The impressive couple, Ramses II and Queen Nefertari are depicted on these two stamps, that both give a vivid impression of their grandeur. 
  • Egypt 1963. Queen Nefertari. 
  • Egypt 1964. Ramses II. 

The facade of the larger temple has four sitting statues of Ramses II, each more than 20 m (about 65 ft) in height. Smaller statues of Ramses II, Nefertari, and their children adorn the facade of Nefertari's temple. 

The greater Abu Simbel temple is generally considered the grandest and most beautiful of the temples commissioned during the reign of Ramses II, and one of the most beautiful in Egypt.

Egypt 1963. Queen Nefertari.

Egypt 1964. Ramses II.

Egypt 1967. Queen Nefertari and Ramses II.

The facade is 33 meters high, and 38 meters broad, and guarded by four statues, each of which is 20 meters high. They were sculptured directly from the rock in which the temple was located before it was moved. All statues represent Ramses II, seated on a throne and wearing the double crown of Upper and Lower Egypt. The statue to the left of the entrance was damaged in an earthquake, leaving only the lower part of the statue still intact. 
  • Egypt 1967. Queen Nefertari and Ramses II. 

Egypt 1964. The God Horus in front of the façade of the Nefertari Temple at Abu Simbel.

Egypt 2004. From the series "Treasures of Egypt". The Udjat Eye, representing the eye of the god Horus, which was torn from his head by the storm god Seth. It is a composite of the human eye and the markings of a falcon's eye and was used as an amulet against injury.

The larger temple has numerous inscriptions and reliefs, some of them of unusual historical interest. 

A series of reliefs depicts the battle between the Egyptians and the Hittites at Kadesh. 

  • Algeria 1964. Relief depicting Ramses II battling the Hittites at Kadesh. 

Two of the large sitting statues of Ramses have inscriptions in Greek dating from the 6th century BC. They were written by Greek mercenary soldiers and are among the earliest dated Greek inscriptions. 

Algeria 1964. Relief depicting Ramses II battling the Hittites at Kadesh.

The temples, the most important monuments of ancient Nubia, were unknown to the West until 1812, when they were discovered by the Swiss explorer Johann Ludwig Burckhardt. In 1964 an international project was begun to save the temples from inundation by Lake Nasser, the reservoir of the Aswan High Dam. In a remarkable engineering feat, the temples were cut apart and, in 1968, reassembled on a site 64 m (210 ft) above the river. 

Philae (or Pilak or P'aaleq [Egyptian: remote place or the end or the angle island] is an island in the Nile River and the previous site of an ancient Egyptian temple complex in southern Egypt. The complex is now located on the nearby island of Agilika.  

United Nations (Geneva) 2005. The Isis Temple at Philae.

UNESCO (France) 1987. The Isis Temple at Philae.

  • United Nations (Geneva) 2005. The Isis Temple at Philae. 

  • UNESCO (France) 1987. The Isis Temple at Philae. 

The island temple at Philae was constructed over a three-century period, by the Greek Ptolemaic dynasty, and completed by the Roman emperors. One of the most spectacular remains are the ruins of Emperor Trajan's Kiosk. Kiosk is a Turkish word, whose original meaning is "garden pavilion". 

  • Egypt 1980. Ruins of Trajan's Kiosk. 

  • Egypt 1961. Idem.  

The principal deity of the temple complex was Isis, but other temples and shrines were dedicated to her son Horus and the goddess Hathor. 

In Ptolemaic times Hathor was associated with Isis, who was in turn associated with the Greek goddess Aphrodite. For centuries the temple complex was the holiest site for Isis worshippers. The temple was officially closed down in the 6th century AD by the Byzantine emperor Justinian, and it was the last pagan temple to exist in the Mediterranean world. Philae temple was converted into a church dedicated to the Virgin Mary (corresponding to Isis, the Mother-of-God), until that was closed by Muslim invaders in the 7th century. 

Egypt 1980. Ruins of Trajan's Kiosk.

Egypt 1961. Ruins of Trajan's Kiosk.

Egypt 1914. Aswan Dam.

In 1902, the Aswan Low Dam was completed on the Nile River. This threatened many ancient landmarks, including the temple complex of Philae, with being submerged. The dam was heightened twice, from 1907-12, and from 1929-34, and the island of Philae was nearly always flooded. It was postulated that the temples be relocated, piece by piece, to nearby islands, such as Bigeh, or Elephantine. However, the temples' foundations and other architectural supporting structures were strengthened instead.

Although the buildings were physically secure, the island's attractive vegetation and the colors of the temples' reliefs were washed away. Also, the bricks of the Philae temples soon became encrusted with debris carried by the Nile. 

  • Egypt 1914. Aswan Dam. 

The temple at Philae was nearly lost under water when the high Aswan dam was built in the 1960s. Fortunately the temple was rescued by a joint operation between the Egyptian government and UNESCO. In an engineering feat to rival the ancients the whole island was surrounded with a dam and the inside pumped dry. Then every stone block of the temple complex was labelled and removed later to be assembled, like a giant jigsaw puzzle, on the higher ground of Agilka island. The whole project took ten years (1970-1980) and has saved one of Egypt's most beautiful temples from certain destruction. 

Egypt 1960. Architects' drawing of Aswan High Dam. The top label describes in Arabic and English the project.

Egypt 1965. Pillars of Philae.

Egypt 1971. Submerged pillars at Philae.

The stamps shown on this page give a faint visual impression of this spectacular wite, and are only a tiny portion of the vast variety of stamps depicting Nubian monuments. 

Sources and links:


Other World Heritage Sites in the Egypt (on this site). Inactive links are not described on postage stamps. Please refer to the UNESCO-listing, Egypt section, for further information on the individual properties. 

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Revised 27 aug 2006  
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