Three colossal statues of the great-king Rameses II gaze across the enormous 20th century man-made Lake Nasser from their original rock temples. These are known to be about 3200 years old. The reason they are still standing, and not submerged, is because of the world’s finest removal jobs.
After the new, massive Aswan dam on the River Nile was built, the rapidly rising water that formed the artificial water reservoir known as Lake Nasser, was posing a threat to the temples and several other antiquities (especially the southernmost relics). The temple was perhaps the most important due to its historical significance and influence.
By 1959, several international campaigns began raising money in order to save the monuments of Nubia (Nubia is a region along the Nile river located in what is today northern Sudan and southern Egypt.)
William MacQuitty proposed building a clear fresh water dam around the temples, with the water kept inside at the same height as the Nile. He wanted underwater viewing chambers. In 1962, this idea was considered by architects Jane Drew and Maxwell Fry and civil engineer Ove Arup. One important factor was that raising the temples ignored the effect of erosion of the sandstone by desert winds. Even though the proposal was elegant, it ended up being rejected.
An engineering firm from Sweden would devise a plan to move the Small Temple with its statues of Queen Nefertari and the Great Temple with those of Rameses’ statues-three of them complete and about 67 ft seated on thrones, while the fourth one had its upper half destroyed by an earthquake.
Two years later, the salvage would officially begin. A multinational team of archaeologists, engineers and skilled heavy equipment operators were working together under the UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) banner. The entire operation cost around £16,666,666 or $4o,000,000. Today, that would be approximately more than 310 million dollars!
About four and a half years went passing by, as the engineers managed to cut away some 330,000 tons of cliff and shift most of the temples. The site was cut into large block, about 1050 pieces, averaging 20 tons, with some even weighing up to 33 tons. These were dismantled, lifted and reassembled in a new location piece by piece in a new location 65 metres higher and 200 metres further from the river, in what was one of the greatest challenges in the history of archaeological engineering. Some were even saved from under the waters of Nasser.
Egypt then made a decision to raise the waterline, so all the Small Temple blocks already rebuilt had to be dismantled and relocated to about 7ft higher. With a little less than three months to spare, the engineers managed to beat the rising waters.
Others however were concerned with imitating the original cliffside background.
Therefore, a dome with a span of 195 ft was built over the Great Temple and above it, a man-made mountain of rocks and rubble!
By 1968, the Great Temple dome was in face. The rock-fill was made from ground level.
But there was more-an important task that demanded a special treatment to camouflage the mile-upon-mile of cutting on the joints along the surface of the temples.
Today, hundreds of tourists visit the temples daily. Guarded convoys of cars and buses depart from the nearest city, Aswan twice a day. Many arrive by place, at an airfield that was specially constructed for the temple complex.