Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Engineering for relocating Abu Simbel temple

        The colonial temple of Abu Simbel is set on the shores of river Nile in southern Egypt. It was built by Ramesses II. His architects and engineers bestowed the temple with special power. They carefully aligned entrance of temple so that twice a year(on 21 Feb. and 21 Oct., 61 days before and 61 days after the winter Solstice) sun rays would penetrate inner century to light up the faces of gods inside. Egyptians feared that this phenomenon will not be seen in future as Abu Simbel was under the threat of very geographical condition, floods of Nile. Egypt government had to harness the power of Nile by building Aswan high dam. This massive structure almost 4km long would be providing electricity to half of Egypt. But the floods due to the dam would be destroying 20 monuments on the shores of Nile and the largest of them was Abu Simbel. It was a great challenge for engineers to save the temple maintaining its spectacles.


         The entrance of the temple was 33m high. Hidden behind is the temple with many chambers.


Statues and pillars were lined in hallway, then the inner century had statue of Ramesses seated along with three gods beside. The rays of the sun twice a year would light three of the statues keeping one in dark which is god of underworld(Ptah). Preserving this unique spectacle was the engineers toughest challenge.



       Experts over 50 nations put their head to find the best way to preserve the temple. One idea was to let the temple flood and construct an aquarium.

         But as the entrance statues were made of mud it would break eventually due to water. Then engineers realized that the only way is to move the temple to other location. They calculated that Aswan high dam will raise water level of Nile by 60m. So to safe the temple it has to be raised by at least 65m high and 200 m away from river shore.



        One idea was to move the temple in a single piece. It would be done with 650 hydraulic jacks lifting the temple to some level. Then the jacks will be replaced by concrete pillars and platform. Again lift the temple with jacks on this platform. It was required to repeat this 200 times.
          But the temple was too heavy to stand on these pillars. 


          There was another way, using rising water to lift the temple. It was proposed to encase the temple with concrete walls and the rising water would lift the temple. But the risk was storm in the river would damage the temple.







          Then engineers realized that Abu Simbel is too heave to lift. The only practical way is to cut the temple into pieces and move. In 1964, about 2000 engineers and contractors from Sweden, Italy, France, Germany and Egypt working together under UNESCO banner began to dismantle the temple, lift and reassemble. Between 1964 and 1968 the entire temple was moved 65 m high and 200 m back from the river. Due to the displacement of the temple and/or the accumulated drift of the Tropic of Cancer during the past 3,280 years, it is widely believed that the phenomenon is moved one day closer to the Solstice, so they would be occurring on October 22 and February 20 (60 days before and 60 days after the Solstice, respectively).

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