October 26, 2020

The temple of Abu Simbel awaits the return of tourists after years of crisis

The temple of Abu Simbel awaits the return of tourists after years of crisis

Half a century after having survived the rise of the waters of Lake Naser thanks to its transfer with a work of engineering that still causes astonishment, the temple of Abu Simbel awaits the return of tourists after several years of crisis.

At the Nefertari hotel, only 200 meters from the Abu Simbel archaeological site, few rooms are reserved and it is evident that its facilities have experienced better times.

The manager of the establishment, Ahmed Yusef, explains to Efe that the organized trips go through Abu Simbel quickly and do not spend the night because they have a very tight program and "only an independent tourist decides to stay and enjoy the tranquility" of this small town located in the southern end of Egypt.

The Nefertari was founded in 1986, from a building where experts from all over the world stayed at the initiative of UNESCO for the work of transferring the temple between 1964 and 1968.

It was the first hotel in Abu Simbel, Yusef remembers with pride. It expanded in the 90s with the boom of mass tourism in Egypt and before the Arab Spring (2011) its 119 rooms used to be filled.

"Before there were many more tourists, every day of the year," says Haizam, a man in his thirties who sells soft drinks and souvenirs at the gates of Abu Simbel, who has not managed to attract a large number of visitors with the claim of his fiftieth anniversary.

The merchant, who is echoed by other vendors of the small market of gifts and souvenirs, complains that now tourists do not stop in the town or spend money, and that so many Europeans do not come.

Abu Simbel has been particularly affected by the tourism crisis after the Egyptian revolution of 2011 and the political instability and violence in the following years due to its difficult access.

Currently, most tourists visit it in fleeting bus trips from the city of Aswan, about 300 kilometers away, the president of the Egyptian Federation of Chambers of Tourism, Karim Mohsen, told Efe.

"The recovery takes time, now it is better than before but most of the tourism continues going to the Red Sea," he says, before adding that cultural visits and cruises on the Nile River have not yet come back to beach tourism.

According to Mohsen, one of the reasons is that the charter flights to the monumental towns of southern Egypt have not resumed, where the operators stopped traveling due to lack of customers and after an attack on a Russian plane in 2015.

Now only the most passionate Egyptologists reach Abu Simbel, like Ignacio, a young man from Spain who has made the Nile cruise from Luxor to Aswan, and then traveled by road to see the Ramses II temple and the one dedicated to his wife, Queen Nefertari.

"They had recommended to us in Spain that we had to see it, that it was something essential and it was worth it", assures Efe.

"It is impressive, they are the only temples that are stuck in the mountain and since you come to Egypt you have to see it," he says in reference to the two monuments excavated in the stone more than 3,000 years ago.

When they had to be moved 60 meters above their original location to avoid the waters, the experts recreated their natural environment by building an artificial mountain to house the two temples of similar characteristics and built in honor of the royal couple of the XIX century (1295 -1186 BC).

In addition to those of Abu Simbel, another 10 temples or parts of these fueros rescued in the 60s and 70s by UNESCO, and relocated in nearby towns or in Aswan, while five were donated to the countries that participated in the operation and are now in Madrid, New York, Berlin, Turin and Leiden.

"The temples are safe from the waters of the lake, but they have to be constantly monitored by the wear and tear associated with sightseeing," warns Nigel Fletcher Jones, an expert on the temples of Nubia, as the region was called covering southern Egypt and northern Sudan.

However, Jones adds that "tourism is essential in providing funds to maintain and continue to restore the Nubian temples", the least known and visited of Egypt.

Francesca Cicardi


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