National Geographic : 1969 May
Abu Simbel's Ancient Temples Reborn paint traditional decorations on them. In the stately courtyards of their former homes, these murals had evoked much enthusiasm from travelers, but I found the new paintings without substance, without soul. The diligent attempt to carry on as if nothing had hap pened depressed me more than if I had found frank despair. On later visits I saw conditions slowly improve. I found tiny plots of land luxuriant ly green with grain sorghum, and I watched the Egyptian Nubians picking cotton, their white gold, for the first time. For centuries these people have displayed a talent for adjustment. Deprived of their river, those who once lived by hauling pas sengers and cargoes across the Nile in their graceful, lateen-rigged feluccas now pursued their old vocation on land with donkey carts and rickety taxis. Finally, the Nubians not only managed to adjust, they spearheaded progress. The last time I saw the omda-the headman-of Tush ka, he was busily advising the village elders how to save the school. Because the year's enrollment was too low, the villagers feared the government would close it. They finally persuaded the neighboring Saidis, who until then had defied school-attendance regula tions, to allow their chil dren to be taught side by side with the little Nubians. The school was not closed. As farmers, the trans planted Nubians can look to an assured future. "Soil texture and fertility are excellent, and drainage facilities are adequate," Hawaii-born Dr. Takumi Izuno told me as we toured the relocation area. A plant geneticist and consultant to the Aswan Agricultural Development Center of Kom Ombo, he was helping the Nubians ex periment with traditional and new crops, im prove animal husbandry, and adapt to modern agricultural methods and equipment. As we drove through the dusty desert, past fields still somewhat scattered but growing well, he remarked thoughtfully, "What the Nubians need is time. They are eager to learn and are willing to work." Landscaping Brings Up New Problems At Abu Simbel, too, time was still needed. The last phase of the project, the landscaping, proved much more difficult than anticipated. The original temples had been cut into the cliff face; their interiors were underground. At the new site, engineers planned to create artificial hills over the temples to imitate the original setting. Since the reassembled monu ments could not bear the weight of these stony mounds, plans called for reinforced concrete domes to carry the load. The Great Temple dome presented per plexing problems. A concrete structure of this height and span (90 by 195 feet) intended to carry such tremendous weight-as much as 55 tons per square yard-had nev er been built. Some special ists doubted whether it could be built at all. But in the end the engineers produced a technical mas terpiece that is strong enough to sustain several times the maximum load on the dome (pages 734-5). They did it by amalga mating about 300 concrete pieces into 34 huge arches. To prevent the concrete from drying too fast and crumbling in the heat, they cooled each segment as they poured it. In designing the dome and supporting scaffolding, engineers used a computer, Today as for 32 centuries past, Ramesses communes with the holy sun in his reconstructed Great Temple, which retains its original alignment with the east. The light of morning daily visits his 30-foot statues in the Great Hall (left). And twice a year the rays penetrate 200 feet to the depths of the inner chamber (above) to bless a statue of the king dwelling in the com pany of the gods. Ramesses considered himself one of them. He sits between Re-Harakhti, the sun god, partially visible at right, and Amun, god of Thebes. Ptah, god of Memphis, at extreme left, dwells forever in gloom, just outside the reach of the rays. EKTACHROME(OPPOSITE) ANDKODACHROME @ N.G.S.