Abu Simbel Formal and Symbolic Aspect

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|University of Virginia | |Abu Simbel temples | |History of Architecture I ARH 1010/7010 | | | |Ismaëlia Déjoie | |12/6/2012 |

|Research paper |

Abu Simbel: the great temple of Egypt.

The Abu Simbel temples, located in Nubia , Egypt, were built during the reign of Pharaoh Ramses II and his queen Nefetari, in the 13th century BC. The twin temples were carved out of the Nubian mountainside in commemoration of their victory at the Battle of Kaldesh. The construction of the temples incorporated several Egyptian techniques and materials. The monument surrounded by a brick wall, occupied a place between the sandstone cliffs and the river. The rock-cut façade of Ramses' temple is the front of a pylon in front of which are four colossal seated figures of Ramses. The colossal interior also involved a large amount of workforce and energy because of it’s multiple hypostile halls, chambers, pillars and megalictic statues. In this paper I will argue that although the primary reason for the erecting of the temple was to commemorate Ramses’ victory at the Battle of Kaldesh[1], the patron also built the Abu Simbel temples considering the symbolic, practical and technical aspects of the building. Egyptian architecture cannot be understood without accounting for it’s setting. Indeed, its monumental style has mostly been influenced by the stupendous scale of the Nile River and the Egyptian desert. Therefore it was their primary goal was to create an architecture that would match the scale and the grandeur of the river, mountains and desert. Not only did the size of the temples meet these specifications, but also with the Abu Simbel temples, Ramses was literally breaking new ground because, unlike his other monuments, this temple is not built but cut from the rock (view image 1). The telamon’s[2] and statues within the halls used as pillars for support and ornamentation (view image 2) were also built in an enormous scale in order to highlight the importance of the gods and male figures in Egyptian architecture. Thus, these temples were meant to convey the power of the Egyptian empire through its sheer size. In fact, its façade is one 119 feet wide and 100 feet high, while the colossal statues are 67 feet in height. Its interior is equally ambitious: a network of chambers are tunneled over 150 feet back into the cliff.

His power was not simply reflected through size and scale of the Abu Simbel but also through the ingenuous way in which was built. Hence, two days a year, there is a dramatic demonstration of the royal architects grasp on astronomy and the precision of its builders. On October 21rst and February 21rst, the rays of the sun travels all the way through these chambers, hitting the inner sanctuary , the place where Ramses’ statue stands with those of three other divinities leaving the statue of Ptah –god of the underworld—in darkness (image 2).

And so, Ramses proves a point to himself: he is not merely the greatest of the pharaohs while alive but also one comparable to the gods. Thus, he is one of the few kings of his...
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