Though almost everyone can name at least one Ancient Egyptian pharaoh (we’re looking at you King Tut), many also know the name Ramses the Great, more formally called Ramses II. A rule for many years, he lived to the ripe old age of 90 and was noted for expanding Egyptian power and successfully campaigning north, south and west. A great builder, he is the leader who created Abu Simbel, colossal statutes of himself, and a long list of other monuments. Many of them are Nubian monuments, and the Temple of Beit el-Wali is among them.
Set in the far south of Egypt, they were often placed there to signify the power of Egypt, but also to support the assimilation of the conquered Nubians. In fact, experts feel that the Temple of Beit el-Wali along with Abu Simbel and the Temple of Wadi el-Saboua were all part of a campaign to support ongoing control throughout the region.
Because they were in the area around Nubia (modern Sudan), however, many were jeopardized by the construction of the Aswan High Dam in the 1960s. Again, the Temple of Beit el-Wali is one such monument and it was relocated to a new home before the waters of Lake Nasser could swallow it forever.
Today it sits on New Kalabsha and shares a home with the Temple of Kalabsha, Kiosk of Qertassi, and the Gerf Hussein.
A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE TEMPLE OF BEIT EL-WALI
It is believed that the Temple of Beit el-Wali was one of the first constructed by the pharaoh in this region. It uses Ramses II’s preferred method of construction and is a rock-cut structure. Small but symmetrical, it features such common attributes as a forecourt, an anteroom with columns, and the sanctuary. It once had a pylon and formal entry, but this disappeared long before Temple of Beit el-Wali was relocated.
As was the case with much of the Egyptian monumental architecture, it suffered from looting and was even used as a church by early Christians. However, the Temple of Beit el-Wali is unique for the remarkable preservation of its decorative art. Ramses II preferred bold colors in all of the painted reliefs found in any of his monumental structures, and the Temple of Beit el-Wali is a shining example of this. In fact, it is noted for the vast amount of original color found throughout.
The main hall is decorated with battle scenes that show Ramses II smiting his enemies, and one wall is a full battle scene of the Egyptians going into battle against the Syrians and Libyans. Another depicts the defeat of the Nubians, which is relevant as it indicates that the Temple of Beit el-Wali was as much a show of power as a way of assimilating the Nubians. Scholars feel this might be why the sons of the pharaoh appear in some of the images of military power and victory.
The style of these carvings was different from the usual style, and their uncomplicated lines and simple form are not the only thing that make them unique. Students of Ancient Egyptian history may also already know that the depiction of historical and military events inside the walls of a temple is also very unusual.
The main hall also features unique scenes carved into the rock, including one of men carrying an array of items that Egyptians obtained from trade with the Kushites. There are ostriches and gazelles, large pieces of ebony and more.
The inner chamber depicts a far more benevolent and spiritual leader with Ramses appearing alongside Horus and other gods associated with places like Elephantine and the First Cataract of the Nile. There are also images of Ptah, Amun and the pharaoh cut into the sanctuary walls. Depictions of the holiness of Ramses are also seen in the sanctuary. The sanctuary is also remarkable for the three statutes it displays of Ramses II with the gods.
Experts have also concluded that there were four separate stages of construction on the temple, and that only three different artisans did the carvings along the walls. This is significant when considering the simple fact that other projects would feature hundreds, if not thousands, of artisans to complete.
Though the smallest of all temples, it uses such a unique layout and features such beautiful artwork that it is a must see for many travelers.
YOUR VISIT TO THE TEMPLE OF BEIT EL-WALI
The island known as New Kalabsha is included on many Lake Nasser cruise itineraries and visiting all of the sites it contains is a very easy thing to accomplish. However, it is best if done as part of an organized and guided tour, or by hiring a private guide to lead you throughout the entire island.
After all, you could spend an entire day marveling at the structures found here. The massive Temple of Kalabsha (second only to Abu Simbel for its enormous size) offers amazing views of Lake Nasser and the surrounding region; the eternally charming Kiosk of Qertassi with its six remaining columns so beautifully carved and finished; and Gerf Hussein, another monumental structure belonging Ramses II that had already partially succumbed to the flood waters before being saved and rebuilt on the island.
Arriving on the island is an unforgettable experience because the approach by water leads you to the stunning carved stairs that head up to the dramatic first pylon of the Temple of Kalabsha, and then up to the main sites spread across the island.
Because it is so far south of Aswan, you will want to be prepared for the heat. Wearing a hat, sun block and sun glasses is essential. Dress comfortably and wear good walking shoes. This is one place you will want to explore from top to bottom, and whether you visit only the stunning little Temple of Beit el-Wali or you tackle each of the sites, you will be stimulated and inspired by all that you encounter.