National Geographic : 1985 May
Race against time and tide T HE LIFE-GIVING NILE threatenedancient monuments in 1964, when water beganrisingbehind the Aswan HighDam. Two massive monuments stood atAbu Simbel-the Great Temple, built about 1270 B.C . by PharaohRamses II in his own honor, andthe Small Temple, dedicatedto his queen, Nefertari.These magnificent structures rose in the southern reachesof Ramses' empire, possibly to discourageNubian uprisings.Engulfed by invadingsand over the centuries, the temples lay hiddenuntil they were discovered by a Swiss travelerin 1813. To prevent the monuments' disappearingagain, thistime underwater, UNESCO launched a worldwide campaignto dismantlethem and move them to a higher site. Duringthe four-year, 40-million-dollarproject, the temples were cut into 1,050sections. Here the pharaoh's21-ton visage (left) is lifted by cranefrom the head of one of the 67-foot-high figuresthat guardedthe GreatTemple. Today the reassembledcolossi gaze acrossLake Nasser (right)from a reconstructedhill similarto the original. Egyptians revered PhilaeIsland as the "pearlof Egypt." There stood the temple of the goddess Isis, datingfrom the third century B.C. When the Aswan Damwas completed early in this century, risingwaters began to swallow the island,and the problem worsened with the HighDam. Finally,in 1972, a 30-million-dollarsalvageprogramwas begun, half of itfunded through UNESCO. Some 40,000 originalblocks were removed and reassembledto crown the loftier Agilkia Island (below), now also called Philaefor the celebratedisland thathas vanishedbeneath Lake Nasser.