The main temple was dedicated to Ramesses II and to the four universal gods Ptah, Re-Harakhte, Amun-Re, and to Ramesses II himself. Of the seven temples he built, Abu Simbel is considered to be the most impressive.
The facade of the main temple is 108 feet high and 125 feet wide with four colossal seated statues about 65 feet high wearing the double crown and having the cartouches of Ramesses II. They are taller than the colossi of Memnon at Thebes and are carved out of solid rock. At the feet of the calossus, beginning on the left are Queen Nofretari, Prince Amenhirkhopshef, the Kings mother Muttuya, Princess Bent'anta, unnamed, but probably Esenofre, Princess Nebettawy, Queen Muttuya, Princess Nofretari, Princess Merytamun, Princess Beketmut, Prince Ri'amsese, and Queen Nofretari, who where all members of Ramesses II's family. (Editor's Note: We wonder if Ramesses II bribed his kids to make good grades. Bring home an A and I'll put you in my new Colossus.)
Above the doorway in a niche stands the sun god, a falcon headed representation of Ramesses, holding a war-scepter which shows the head and neck of an animal which is read as user, in his right and a figure of Ma'at in his left. This cleverly creates the Kings throne name of User-Ma'at-Re. At the top of the facade is a row of baboons which are thought to be greeting the morning sun and indeed the monument looks best at that time. The sides of the thrones next to the entrance are decorated with Nile gods symbolically uniting Egypt, while below are prisoners, representing conquered nations, to the left, African and to the right, Asian.
The entrance leads into a Grand Hall which is 57 feet high and 52 feet wide and was cut from the rock. It is supported with eight pillars with statues of Ramesses. The statues on the north side of the hall wear the double crown, while those on the south the white crown of upper Egypt. Just as other temples in Egypt, the floor and ceiling taper off to draw focus to the sanctuaries in the back of the temple. The reliefs on the north wall of the Grand Hall show scenes from the Battle of Kadesh. Other walls depict the king slaughtering captives in front of the gods Amun-Re and Re-Harakhte, and storming a fortress with his three sons.
To either side of the Grand Hall are smaller rooms, two to the South and four to the North. Most suggest that these rooms were for storage (treasure rooms) but elsewhere it is suggested that they were used for festivals related to the Kings Jubilee.
Beyond the Grand Hall is the second hypostyle hall with its flowered pillars. Scenes in this hall show the King and his wife, Nefertari making offerings to Amun and Re-Harakhte (the Sun God), and beyond that is the three chapels, the central one containing the four deities worshipped in the temple (including Ramesses II). A Solstices occurs twice a year on or about February 20-22nd and October 20-22nd when the rays from the sun enter the front of the temple and bathe the statues of the Gods 200 feet inside the temple with light. Interestingly enough, all but Ptah, the source of Chthonian life.
On either side of the Facade are two small chapels. At the Southeast corner of the facade there are three stelae. One of these is called the Marriage Stela and documents the marriage of Ramesses II to the daughter of the King of the Hittites. (Editors Note: The question is, what did she look like? Did Ramesses consider this a heroic deed?) On the other side of the Facade is the Sun Chapel, an open court dedicated to the sun. Here, there are pillars with cavetto cornices. The one with steps held four praying baboons, the other a chapel with images of Khepri and Baboon-Thoth. The latter is now in the Antiquities Museum in Cairo.
Not only are the two temples at Abu Simbel among the most magnificent monuments in the world but their removal and reconstruction was an historic event in itself. When the temples (280 km from Aswan) were threatened by submersion in Lake Nasser, due to the construction of the High Dam, the Egyptian Government secured the support of UNESCO and launched a world wide appeal. During the salvage operation which began in 1964 and continued until 1968, the two temples were dismantled and raised over 60 meters up the sandstone cliff where they had been built more than 3,000 years before. Here they were reassembled, in the exact same relationship to each other and the sun, and covered with an artificial mountain. Most of the joins in the stone have now been filled by antiquity experts, but inside the temples it is still possible to see where the blocks were cut. You can also go inside the man made dome and see an exhibition of photographs showing the different stages of the massive removal project.
Abu Simbel was first reported by J. L. Burckhardt in 1813, when he came over the mountain and only saw the facade of the great temple as he was preparing to leave that area via the Nile. The two temples, that of Ramesses II primarily dedicated to Re-Harakhte, and that of his wife, Nefertari dedicated to Hathor, became a must see for Victorians visiting Egypt, even though it required a trip up the Nile, and often they were covered deeply in sand, as they were when Burckhardt found them.