Monday, June 14, 2010

A Feat of Construction Engineering


The Construction and Reconstruction of the Temples at Abu Simbel

The temples are situated in the desert region of the upper Nile valley in an area named Nubia by the Romans. They were constructed on the river’s west bank by long reigning Pharaoh Ramses II.

The facades of both temples are decorated with a number of colossal statues cut directly into the rock and in the larger temple; Ramses is portrayed in four seated statues each approximately 20 meters tall. The front of the temple is 38 meters wide with the temple reaching 65 meters high into the rock. One of the huge statues was destroyed in antiquity.

The smaller temple was dedicated to Nefertari the Pharaoh`s wife and is the only known ancient Egyptian temple, deeded to the wife of a Pharaoh. The Queen who lived in thirteen century BC, died long before her husband, shortly after the temples were completed.

The temples were discovered by the Swiss Orientalist J L Burckhardt during 1813. That area of Nubia underwent dramatic change in the twentieth century when in 1898 the first Aswan Dam was built, and the level of the Nile rose. In the 1950s, the start of the construction of the second dam placed the temples at risk of being lost under the rising waters of Lake Nasser.

To save the temples, in 1963 UNESCO organised a rescue operation which became a race against the rising water level of the Aswan High Dam (completed in 1963). Before the work could commence a 360 meter high coffer dam wall, was erected around the temple buildings. Next, the porous sandstone was hardened with injections of synthetic resin.

The temples in the solid rock was cut into more than one thousand 30-ton blocks, and then lifted 65 meters high before shifted 180 meters inland and reassembled. After attracting worldwide attention, the project was completed on 22 September 1968. Five years after the commencement of the project and declared a world heritage site in 1979.

Pieter Rautenbach

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