Our Midnight Run to Abu Simbel

So, so, so many memories of Egypt – but this one, this one, is my most favorite!

When planning our trip to Egypt we knew we had to see four things; the Great Pyramids, The Valley of the Kings/Queens/Nobles, Karnak Temple, and Abu Simbel.

Abu Simbel is two massive rock-cut temples in Upper Egypt near the border with Sudan. Back in the day, Nubia (modern Sudan) was very important to the Egyptians because it had gold! Ka’Ching!!!

Abu Simbel is on the western bank of Lake Nasser, about 200 miles southwest of Aswan by road – but I’m not sure there is a “road.”

The twin temples were originally carved out of the mountainside in the 13th century BC, during the reign of Pharaoh Ramesses II. 

Consumed by the desert sands for centuries and only rediscovered in1813, the Temples are a global treasure.

In 1959, an international campaign to save the monuments began when they were threatened of being lost forever from the rising waters of the Nile as a result of the construction of the Aswan High Dam.

Bit by bit the temple blocks were put back into position one at a time with extreme precision during the relocation program (1964-1968).

The entire complex was relocated in the 1960s on an artificial hill made from a domed structure, high above the Aswan High Dam reservoir. It took ancient Egypt’s greatest minds and builders to erect the monuments – it took the world’s greatest minds, builders, and philanthropists to save it. It took a night of no sleep for Lou and me to see it.

Our Midnight Run to Abu Simbel!!!

Around midnight we gathered with hundreds, if not thousands of others, in an Aswan parking lot that was earmarked as a checkpoint. You can’t just “drive” the three(ish) hours to Abu Simbel, you need special permits and in our case, a police envoy. 

Waiting in line for our caravan to make the midnight run to Abu Simbel

Our caravan of cars, vans, and buses took off in the dead of night through the desert to witness the solar alignment at Abu Simbel. It’s an event that happens twice a year. 

Why this midnight run? What’s behind this craziness? Well, the ancient architects positioned the temple so that sunlight would reach its holiest interior room on February 22nd, the anniversary of Ramses’ ascension to the throne, and on his birthday, October 22nd. On these two dates, the sun rises and illuminates the temple corridor back more than 200 feet to three of the four statues in the sanctum sanctorum. The fourth statue remains in darkness because it represents Ptah, the god of darkness. – This statue has never seen sunlight in over 3,200 years!

Just after midnight, our caravan got the signal that it was “go time!” We flew through the streets of Aswan since all but our road was shut down. Within minutes we were in the desert, on a “highway” that was a deeply rutted track that pounded our car with a rhythmic “bahhh bump, bahhhh bump, bahhhh bump…”

With only the moon to light the way, I soon fell asleep, since I’m gifted with the ability to sleep anywhere anytime.

My first sighting of the temples at Abu Simbel!!! Magical!

Around 4AM we arrived. I was shocked by the huge crowds gathering on the sidewalk queuing up. The line to get into the tomb to witness this “once in a lifetime” event was long, oh so long.

The security was extra tight as the Tourism Minister and hundreds of his VIP guests were here. Luckily, our guide has been here before, knows the ropes, and I’m pretty sure he’s a New Yorker at heart – he too, doesn’t believe in standing in line. I followed him as he looked for just the right place to help me slip under the police ropes and butt in with another group that was near the entrance.

Waiting to get in and for the sun to rise

I know, I know – not nice buttttt I’d do it again in a heartbeat.

Sunrise was scheduled for 556AM, and around 540 we started to move into the temple. 

We filed slowly into the outer chambers of the tomb and waited and waited – I got a great look at Ramses the conqueror- his chariot racing as he led his trips into battle, prisoners begging for mercy.

Secured my position in line – now I need that sun to rise!

Then chaos in the chamber!

A man fell, cutting himself on a stone block and as people tried to help him, we heard another man shout. “go go go ….”

It was time to move, every many girls himself, the sun was ready, it was time to leave the injured behind! Just like in the time of the Pharaohs. 

We all held up our cameras to document this moment – the soundtrack was of guards telling us to “move, move,” tourists yelling at each other, some arguing “short people in front” (as if that ever works)  – there were no “ooohs, and ahhhs”  only “move, move, hurry, hurry.”

I walked with my arm up above my head with my camera on, videoing what I hoped was the magic of the sun lighting the faces of the gods and not the heads of tourists. 

Before I knew it – the tide of tourists washed me out of the chambers – I didn’t see a thing!

Not a #>#^€ thing!

The sun rises and for many they will miss the show.

Outside more chaos as thousands of tourists fretted that they had missed the sun show!

They were rushing to get in as we were being pushed out! I had been inside for less than 10 minutes, I had been pushed past the “main event” in mere seconds.

I missed sleeping in a bed for this? 

Nobody puts Lou in the corner!

News cameras were set up to capture it all – a photo of me appeared on the official Ministry of Tourism Instagram site, and the minister was there …. Yeah, the minister was there – and so was Lou!

Ramses the Great greets his fans

It was the best chaos I’ve experienced in a very long while!

But then after about 20 minutes, the entire place emptied out. – Lou and I got to walk through the temple by ourselves and truly enjoy it – totally mesmerized. 

Oh, what joy!

The iconic image is at the entrance where a 65-foot tall seated statue of Ramses II greets you – but inside, an even grander 108-foot tall Ramses statue watches over everything. For Ramses size matters! In fact, Ramses was all about his image.

This is the temple that Ramses built and he wants you to know it! The man was a big promoter…. of himself.

And images of him as the mighty conqueror are everywhere! 

These reliefs commemorate his major “victory” at the Battle of Kadesh, the most documented military action of ancient times in the Middle East. Actually, the battle was a bit of a draw, but no one was going to tell Ramses that – he said he won, so it was written. (Early Fake News???)

Kadesh was a city in the region of Syria and an important center of trade in the ancient world.

Inside there are rooms all dedicated to Ramses himself. (Ramses II definitely wasn’t the most humble man of history!)

We moved on to the “little” temple, the one Ramses built for his beloved wife, Nefertari, and is dedicated to the goddess Hathor. It may be smaller, but no less impressive.

The “little” temple, the one Ramses built for his beloved wife, Nefertari.

Inscribed on the temple’s facade- “for whose sake the very sun does shine.” Lovely words, but perhaps the clearest sign of his love and devotion, here at her temple, with her feather crown – she is “slightly” taller than her husband. For a man who prized size, this act was a true act of love and perhaps, dare I say it, humility???

Ramses, the greatest Pharaoh of Egypt, the man who erected more monuments and statues—and sired more children—than any other pharaoh, maybe, just an ol’ romantic at heart!


Our Midnight Run to Abu Simbel

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