In the early 1960s, the Egyptian government made public its plans to build the Aswan High Dam across the Nile, in a bid to reduce flooding and aid greater water storage and irrigation throughout the Nile Delta. In response, a team of archaeologists partnered with UNESCO to mastermind a grand plan to move Abu Simbel, which would otherwise have been left submerged in water when the Nile burst its banks.
Over a four-year period, the entire complex was painstakingly dismantled and moved to a new location 213 feet up to the top of the plateau, set down around 690 feet north-west of its original location. The work cost over $40million, and included the creation of a man-made mountain erected to make it appear that the temple had been hewn from rock. Great care also had to be taken to orientate the temples to the same position and direction.
As well as The Great Temple and The Small Temple, all of Abu Simbel’s original, statues and minor structures were also relocated, retaining the temple complex in its true original condition. To carry out the relocation safely while minimising the risk of destruction, each of the temples and buildings was sawn into blocks, which were lifted and repositioned by crane. The main bulk of the work was completed over four years, but the project wasn’t fully completed until 1980, with historians and archaeologists going to great lengths to ensure that Abu Simbel was preserved in its foremost condition.
Today, the temple complex is the most visited ancient site in Egypt after the Pyramids of Giza, with thousands of visitors making the pilgrimage to the site each year. Shortly after the relocation work was completed, a small, regional airport was constructed in the adjacent village of Abu Simbel – such is the enduring popularity of this ancient wonder.