There are some places that continue to stay with you years later, and Abu Simbel is such a place for me.
It features in a pivotal scene in Ark of Blood, the third ARKANE novel that centers around a search for the Ark of the Covenant as the Middle East counts down to a religious war [no spoilers!]
I have been obsessed with ancient Egypt since I was a child.
I wanted to be Indiana Jones growing up (perhaps I still do! Morgan Sierra is truly my alter-ego.) I used to do coloring books full of hieroglyphics and my Mum would take my brother and me to the Egyptian Mummy rooms at the museum regularly.
In 2004, I did a trip around Egypt and finally visited the places I had dreamed of. Abu Simbel was one of my highlights.
Situated in Nubia, Southern Egypt, Abu Simbel consists of two temples carved into the rock face on the banks of Lake Nasser. They are 230 km south of Aswan, so most people fly there on a day trip while touring Egypt (as I did in 2004).
The temples were placed in the southern part of Egypt so that traders coming up from the heart of Africa would see the might of the Pharaoh.
Carved by Pharaoh Rameses II in the 13th century BC, the main temple was dedicated to Amun Ra, Ra-Herakty and Ptah. It features four colossal statues of Rameses outside, wearing the double crowns of Upper and Lower Egypt. A frieze of baboons dances over the heads of the giant statues, in adoration of the rising sun. Inside, there are a number of chambers and friezes on the walls showing battle victories. Thick pillars with relief statues line the main hall, creating marvelous hiding places for thriller protagonists!
It was believed that the sunlight penetrated the narrow corridor on specific days of the year, illuminating the faces of all the gods except Ptah, god of the Underworld, who remained in the dark. The second, smaller temple was dedicated to Hathor and was for Rameses' wife Nefertari.
The temple was originally in another position, but in 1968, the Nile was dammed and Lake Nasser was created, flooding the region of Nubia.
The enormous task of relocating the temple was carried out by cutting into huge blocks and then reassembling it above the flood waters. This event made refugees of the Nubian people which is beautifully written about in Anne Michaels' The Winter Vault.
Even though I went on a group tour, I felt a sense of the sacred at Abu Simbel.
It is in a desolate place, somewhere from which you might call for the aid of the gods if you were caught without water in the unending desert. There were few trees and although on the edge of Lake Nasser now, it would have been the only thing for miles around thousands of years ago. The stark colors of the desert rock stand out against the sky. The colossal statues of Pharaoh look out to the horizon with vacant eyes , uncaring of the fate of the tiny people below. When I started investigating ancient Egypt, I knew I had to set a scene at this magnificent place.
Read more in Ark of Blood.