A moving demonstration of the miracles that can be achieved by international cooperation
Out of solid rock on the side of a hill, the temples of Abu Simbel were built more than 3,000 years ago, to honor Pharaoh Rameses II and his queen Nefertari. And there they stood, largely undisturbed, until the 1950s.
Enter the Aswan Dam. The mid-20th century Egyptian government under General Nasser planned to construct the dam to control the unpredictable annual Nile floods and provide hydroelectric power. But such a dam would well and truly place Abu Simbel underwater.
Recognizing their problem, in 1959 the Egyptian and Sudanese governments wrote to UNESCO seeking assistance. So began a huge multinational effort to save Abu Simbel.
The plan was to move the monuments completely away from the river — 65 meters higher and 200 meters back — onto an artificial hill. Inside the hill, a concrete dome would house the interior of the temple.
The delicate work began in 1964. Using tools ranging from handsaws to bulldozers, the statues and the temples were carved into 20-ton blocks which were put back together on the new site.
The reassembly called for extreme precision, with a tiny tolerance of only plus or minus 5 millimeters. The reconstructed temple was oriented so the sun, at certain times of the year, illuminated the interior, as per the original temple.
Abu Simbel\'s move was completed in 1968 and cost $40 million, but the work did not stop there. A total of 22 monuments and complexes were relocated by 40 technical missions from five continents. The overall task was not completed until 1980.
In gratitude, the Egyptian government gifted four temples to the main countries that took part, and thus, the temple of Dendur is now on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.
Image: Terrence Spencer/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images
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