Epic engineering rescued colossal ancient Egyptian temples from floodwaters

In 1960, a new dam on the Nile threatened Ramses II’s temples at Abu Simbel and other ancient treasures. Here's how the world saved them.

Photographed in 1966, faces of three of four colossal statues at the entrance to the Great Temple of Ramses II at Abu Simbel await reunion with their bodies.
Photograph by JOHN KESHISHIAN/NGS

Romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley found inspiration in the long history of Egypt when he penned “Ozymandias” around 1818. In the poem, a traveler in the desert comes across the broken ruins of a huge statue:

And on the pedestal these words appear: ‘My name is Ozymandias, king of kings: Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!’ Nothing beside remains. Round the decay Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare The lone and level sands stretch far away.

A meditation on impermanence, Shelley’s work shows how even the strongest are powerless against time and change.

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