Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Short Story: Celebrating Abu Simbel

The golden jubilee of the operations to save the Abu Simbel Temples was marked this week, launching celebrations that will last until 2018, writes Nevine El-Aref.
The usually sedate Upper Egyptian town of Abu Simbel was abuzz with king Ramses II fever as visitors waited for the sun’s rays to penetrate through the temple’s inner sanctuary on Monday to illuminate the king’s face and the statues of the gods Amun-Re and Re-Hur-Akhty, leaving the god of darkness Ptah in the shade because of his connection to the underworld.

This phenomenon only takes place twice a year, on 22 February and 22 October, and it coincides with the birthday and coronation of the ancient Egyptian pharaoh Ramses II who built the Temples at Abu Simbel. Some believe that the phenomenon also marks the days of cultivation and harvest.

This year, the event coincides with the launch of an international campaign to celebrate the golden jubilee of the saving of the Abu Simbel Temples in the 1960s when they were threatened by the construction of the Aswan High Dam.

The celebrations will last until October 2018 in order to mark the day when the Abu Simbel Temples were reconstructed at their new location on a 65-metre artificial hill above the High Dam in order to protect them from being submerged under the waters of Lake Nasser.

On Sunday at midnight hundreds of people descended on the Abu Simbel Temples 280 km south of Aswan to witness the special equinox event organised this year by the Abu Simbel Temples 50 Campaign in collaboration with the ministries of antiquities and tourism, the Egyptian Tourism Authority, the Engineers Syndicate, the Egyptian Architects Association, the Aswan governorate, the Nubian Club and a number of universities.

Unfortunately, after staying up all night to witness the equinox, the assembled visitors were disappointed to find that fog had blocked the sun’s rays from illuminating the face of the statue of Ramses II in the temple’s inner sanctuary.

However, this did not affect the celebrations, or the entertainment that had been laid on for visitors. As strains of music from musician Aziz Al-Shawan filled the night air at the archaeological site, visitors were able to watch a re-enactment of the Abu Simbel salvage operations that started in February 1966 and were completed in October 1968.

Engineer Hamdi Al-Sotouhi, who heads the Abu Simbel Temples 50 Campaign, told Al-Ahram Weekly that ten days before the beginning of the event a group of engineers and artists had made a replica of Ramses II’s face in an attempt to re-enact the removal of the king’s face from one of the four colossi decorating the temple’s front entrance as a first step towards its relocation.

The replica face was shown tied with ropes and suspended from a huge crane during the relocation process. Afterwards visitors paid a visit to an exhibition of paintings entitled “Abu Simbel in the Eyes of Painters,” which displays paintings by Egyptian artists expressing their thoughts on the temples and the salvage operations.

Al-Sotouhi said that among the artists was Ahmed Nabil who had returned to Abu Simbel for the event more than 50 years after his first visit. Nabil, Al-Sotouhi said, had been among artist Hussein Bikar’s team responsible for the documentation of the temples from 1963 to 1966 by drawing every inch of their structures, decorative elements and hieroglyphic texts.

“This exhibition is the nucleus of a planned museum inside the artificial hill that now supports the temples,” Al-Sotouhi said, adding that the idea was to show the salvage operations as they had happened 50 years ago to a new public. The museum would be a dream come true for him, he said, as he had first submitted plans for it to former minister of culture Farouk Hosni in 2009.

“Now my dream may come true,” Al-Sotouhi said, explaining that the art exhibition could help provide the required budget. Plans are afoot to take the exhibition on a tour around several European countries for two months. 

The first part of the tour will head for those countries which helped in the 1960s salvage operations, including the former Yugoslavia, Germany, and Italy.

Al-Sotouhi said that visits had been undertaken last year to these countries in order to encourage them to take part in the golden jubilee celebrations.

At the footsteps of the Temple of Ramses II’s wife queen Nefertari, another exhibition has been organised on “Women who have Enhanced Egypt’s History.” The exhibition displays a collection of 20 images of women who have added to Egypt’s history from ancient Egyptian times until the present day. A Bedouin tent displaying a collection of Aswan and Abu Simbel traditional handicrafts has been set up in the temple area.

The Abu Simbel sound and light show took place as usual, and this time round it was attended by Minister of Antiquities Mamdouh Eldamaty and a number of the surviving engineers, archaeologists and workers who took part in the salvage operations in the 1960s.... Read More.

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