Preserving the past for future generations
Even today, 50 years later, the rescue operation to save the temples of Abu Simbel and, more generally, the monuments of Nubia continues to arouse great interest due both to the complexity of the project and the worldwide attention it attracted. The huge lake that would be created by the construction of the Aswan High Dam threatened to destroy vast archaeological areas, some of them unexplored, forever, together with their antiquities and monuments. Thousands of years of history risked being erased in the name of progress!
The outcry that immediately ensued was backed up by appeals from the archaeological community, urging action to record and salvage as much as possible. The result was quite extraordinary, all the more so considering the resources and technologies available at the time.
Dozens of countries responded to the appeal launched by UNESCO, providing personnel and funding. Some of them, including Italy, organized a series of archeological campaigns coordinated by the Centre d’Étude et de Documentation sur l’Ancienne Egypte, exploring, excavating and recording the areas that would be submerged.
While the research was being carried out, elaborate plans were afoot to move the monuments. The temples of Abu Simbel presented the most ambitious challenge.
Moving the two magnificent temples carved out of a mountainside, the supreme expression of Egyptian power in Nubia under the reign of Ramesses II, was an unprecedented and highly successful example of how modern technology helped save this extraordinary piece of evidence for the past. The colossal statues on the façade and the vast chambers inside were cut into hundreds of blocks. They were then moved and reassembled a short distance away farther up the slope, safe from the waters of the reservoir, where future generations would still be able to admire them.
This remarkable feat, which I have the pleasure of presenting, is a showpiece of the painstaking work carried out by Impregilo, now known as Salini Impregilo, and other members of the international consortium, who managed to pull off this miracle.
Director of the Museo Egizio of Turin