Thursday, March 23, 2023

The Wonders of Egypt and Jordan - Days 8 and 9: Abu Simbel and the Old Cataract Hotel

 February 16 - 17, 2023

Abu Simbel and the Old Cataract Hotel

Rob and I woke up bright and early to disembark for the last time from our Nile cruise ship, Moon Goddess.  Our bags were taken to our hotel, but we headed directly to the small airport in Aswan for a short flight to Abu Simbel., the huge monument that Ramses II had erected as a tribute to himself.  You may recognize this temple as it is the most famous of the various structures that were disassembled and moved to higher ground when the Aswan High Dam was erected in the 1960s, creating a huge reservoir which fills the valley between the “old” dam and the new one.

The Temple of Ramses II at Abu Simbel

This site is such a popular destination that Egypt Air provides the equivalent of a bus service, with several forty-five-minute flights each day zipping between Aswan and the tiny airport near the temple.  From our plane, we could see Lake Nasser, one of the largest man-made lakes in the world.  The creation of the lake was controversial as it would flood an area containing both ancient monuments and villages of the Nubian people.  Nine monuments, including the Temple of Philae which we had visited the previous day, and the people were re-settled.

Our flight from Aswan to Abu Simbel was just one of many that day.

The original temple had been carved into the side of a mountain, and both the impressive façade and the interior chambers were all taken apart and rebuilt, then covered with an enormous mound of earth that now replicates the original mountain.

The large mound of the artificial mountain covering the reconstructed temple.

Lake Nasser lies at the foot of the monument

Approaching Abu Simbel

Joan and Rob at Abu Simbel

Lots of flights meant lots of crowds!

Ramses II must have had a surprisingly good opinion of himself. (He did, after all, consider himself to be a living god.)  All four of the huge statues on the front of the temples are images of the Pharoah, and other images of his exploits and offerings to the gods are carved into the interior walls.  The smaller statues at his feet represent his children, mother, and favorite wife, Nefertari, and below these are statues of Horus and other Egyptian gods.

Queen Nefertari

Her size in relation to his tells me something about women's place in society.

The temple is dedicated to the Sun God, Amun-Ra, who stands between the colossal statues of Ramses II

Ramses' children and the god Horus stand in front of his images.

Tourist brochures touting the treasures of ancient Egypt often show the exterior of this huge temple. What they don't show are the fantastic images carved into the interior walls of the temple. These are amazingly well-preserved.  The colors were not as bright as those we had seen in the tombs of the Valley of the Kings, but the images showed extraordinarily little sign of erosion or deterioration. (They were also hard to photograph due to the crowds and lighting inside!)  Many of the images portray Ramses' defeat of the Hittites in the Battle of Kadesh.

Inside the entrance are eight pillars depicting Ramses deified as the god Osiris.

The crowds waiting to go into the sanctuary

The four figures inside the sanctuary are Ra-Horakhty, the deified Ramses, and the gods Amun-Ra and Ptah.  
A Royal Barge

Slaves carrying the barge

Images of the Gods

Images of the Gods


I love the movement in this image of the pharaoh riding into battle.

Ramses vanquishes his enemies.

To the right of the Temple of Ramses is a second large “mountain” containing a temple dedicated to Ramses’ wife, Nefertari, and the goddess, Hathor, but once again, he puts his own image front and center, while she stands a bit on the sidelines. This echoed what we had seen on other statues, with tiny figures of the wives and children carved at the feet of the pharaoh. 

The "Small Temple" of Nefertari and Hathor

Ramses II puts himself front and center, even in his wife's temple...

...however, she has the rare honor of being portrayed as large as he is.

The inside of her temple was, like his, filled with images of rulers and gods...with perhaps a few more women, as this was a temple in honor of Nefertari and the goddess Hathor.

Crowds inside the Temple of Nefertari

The goddess Hathor
More scenes of pharaoh defeating his enemies

Thoth and Horus bless the pharaoh, who wears the double crown of the united    Lower and Upper Egypt.



The goddess Mut, considered the divine mother of the pharaohs

Hathor, Mut, and Thoth

Ramses gives offerings to Horus

Isis, Mut, and Hathor

The Old Cataract Hotel

By late morning, we were on our return flight to Aswan where we checked into the best hotel of the entire trip, the gorgeous Sofitel Legend Old Cataract Hotel. This historic hotel has stood here overlooking the cataracts of the Nile since 1899.  It has hosted royalty, presidents, actors, and other luminaries over the years, including Omar Sharif and Queen Noor, whose photographs hang in the hallways, and Winston Churchill and Agatha Christie, who both had suites here for many months. 

The Old Cataract Hotel

View of the Nile from the Terrace

Our room was in the new tower to the left.

Rob waits on the terrace for our room to be ready.

Rob and I had a gorgeous room on the top floor of the “new” wing with a balcony overlooking the Nile and the tip of Elephantine Island and the remains of an ancient temple.  I loved watching the feluccas and brightly colored tour boats floating below us all day long.  It was interesting, though, to see the contrast between “tourist Aswan’ and some of the regular neighborhoods of Aswan.  If you looked only through the window of our room, you would see beauty and prosperity.  But through the window in the hallway looking toward the town, you would see a shabby neighborhood of shacks and dirt.  I can only hope that tourism aids the plight of the poorer people here.

Our hotel room

I loved sitting on the balcony and watching the boats below on the Nile.

Three views from our balcony:

Some of the islands that form "the cataracts"

Across the river were ruins of old temples on Elephantine Island where we had visited the Nubian village the day before.

Our view of the hotel from our balcony.

The hotel has several restaurants, including “1902,” which offers a French dining experience that lasts for about two to three hours, as they offer a tasting menu with wine accompaniment.  Rob and I did not have the patience for three hours of dining, but, as the breakfast buffet is served in the same room, we did get to enjoy the beauty of the restaurant in the mornings.

We stayed in the Old Cataract for two nights, and our full day there was, as Rick Steves calls free days on his tours, “a vacation from our vacation,” the one day of our trip with absolutely no itinerary.  We had a leisurely breakfast, spent some time at the pool, explored the beautiful grounds of the hotel, and just relaxed.  

Rob on the lower terrace in front of the pool area and "our tower"

The pool

That afternoon, I took the tour of the historic hotel where I learned a little of its history and got to visit Agatha Christie’s suite, which you can book for $10,000 a night if you like!  (We could not visit Churchill’s rooms because someone was staying there – for the same price. I wonder who it was.)  

                For those who are interested, here is some information about the history of                   the Old Cataract Hotel

For many years, this was the only telephone in the hotel...

...and this was the Reception Desk.

One of the hotel's light fixtures.

Agatha Christie lived in these rooms for the year of 1937.

Agatha Christie's Living Room

Her bedroom

The sitting room

Agatha Christie's writing desk.    She used inspiration for her stay here to write "Death on the Nile."

The Agatha Christie suite included a photo of Clemmie Churchill and her daughter, as this suite was her refuge when Winston’s smoking annoyed her too much. 

One of the original elevators in the Old Cataract Hotel

A photo and note from Omar Sharif, the Egyptian actor, who was one of the many celebrities and dignitaries whose pictures graced the walls of the hotel.

After a wonderful dinner on the terrace, it was time to pack up again for our next adventure, the city of Alexandria on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea.



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