National Geographic : 1966 May
730-31). For a moment I had the wry thought that ancient Egypt's great king was being ruthlessly defaced by modern barbarians. As the face hung on the hoisting rope, it revolved. In seconds it took on all the fleeting expres sions-from somber to benign-that the sun, in daily passage across the sky, normally be stowed on its immovable features only by slow degrees. Then it was gently bedded onto a specially constructed trailer for removal to a storage area. History's Biggest Rescue Task Lifting Ramesses' 19-ton face was only one, though the most spectacular, step in a salvage job without precedent. The two temples of Abu Simbel on the Nile, 180 miles upstream from Aswan, are the most prominent of a priceless heritage of monu About the paintings: How did Ramesses II's magnificent shrine look when it basked in the Egyptian sunshine of three millenniums ago? NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC staff artist Robert W. Nicholson went to Egypt to find out. He consulted eminent scholars on three continents, including Dr. Henry G. Fischer of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. Then he commenced months of work at his easel, creating paintings based upon the theory of Louis A. Christophe, an Egyptologist intimately acquainted with the site. The resulting canvases have been hailed by his torians and archeologists alike. A graduate in architecture of Clemson Uni versity in South Carolina, Mr. Nicholson drew plans and built models as preparation for his brushwork. "I know more about Abu Simbel now than I do about my own house," he comments. The artist has undertaken similar re-creations for other GEOGRAPHIC articles: "Exploring the Drowned City of Port Royal" (February, 1960) and "Con 696 quest of the Holy City" (December, 1963). ments threatened by man-made Lake Nasser behind the fast-rising Aswan High Dam (map, page 698).* Hewn out of a rock bluff 3,200 years ago, they pay perpetual homage to Ram esses II, god-king of Egypt, and his favorite consort, Queen Nefertari. Four seated colossi of Ramesses, each 67 feet high and weighing 1,200 tons, guard the entrance to the Great Temple. The upper body of one of these has broken off and lies at the statue's feet. Before the neighboring Small Temple, six giant statues of Queen Nefertari and Ramesses stand sentinel side by side. In the campaign to salvage the treasures of flood-threatened Nubia, the lands south of Aswan, Abu Simbel's two rock-hewn shrines have been of primary concern. Nevertheless, work got off to a late start. Now engineers from many nations race the rising Nile to cut both temples into manageable blocks and move them to safety, above the future maxi mum reservoir level. Just to reach the inner most rooms of the shrines, the engineers had to excavate nearly 190 feet down through the cliff above the temples (page 721). Re-erection at the new site, 212 feet above the old and 690 feet back from the shore, started last January, and the cutting and dis mantling continue. The temples must be re moved by August 15, when Nile waters are expected to wash over the cofferdam, a tem porary structure erected to keep Ramesses' and the engineers' feet dry (pages 724-5). The day Ramesses lost his face, October 10, 1965, was the most exciting one for me. But for the engineers the crucial day had come * Recent GEOGRAPHIC accounts of Abu Simbel ap peared in "Yankee Cruises the Storied Nile," by Irving and Electa Johnson, May, 1965, and "Threatened Treas ures of the Nile," by Georg Gerster, October, 1963.