Abu Simbel – Unparalleled relocation project

In 1964, one of the world's largest and most spectacular dismantling and reassembly projects was begun in Egypt. To rescue the ancient temples in Abu Simbel from the waters of the Nile, the temples had to be relocated. The feat was accomplished through international collaboration, with Atlas Copco contributing with its technical know-how and equipment.

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The ancient Abu Simbel temples, before the relocation 65 meters higher up and 200 meters further inland.

In 1959, UNESCO received an official request from the Egyptian and Sudanese governments regarding the rescue of the unique temples in Abu Simbel. With the construction of the large Aswan Dam, two ancient temples would be submerged and irreparably damaged. These twin temples, one larger and one smaller, were built more than 3,200 years ago by Ramses II as monuments to himself and his queen Nefertari.

International fund-raising began for the project in 1960. It was the Swedish company Vattenbyggnadsbyrån that solved the complex matter of how the temples could be saved. The temples were not built of stone or any other material, but were instead carved into a cliff. To move the temples, the rock above the temple roofs first had to be "peeled away". The roofs, walls and not the least the temple facades were then cut into blocks, each weighing between 20 and 30 tons. Several Swedish companies participated in the rescue action. Besides Atlas Copco, Sandvik, Skånska Cement and Sentab also took part.

Because the temples were carved in porous sandstone, explosives could not be used to any greater degree. The stone masses above the temple roofs were instead removed with bulldozers. Atlas Copco's one-man pneumatic breaker turned out to be a very useful tool, together with compressors and drills. The walls, roofs and facade were sawed into blocks with handsaws from Sandvik, due to power saws causing too much waste when cutting the porous sandstone. The cuts could not be permitted to distract from the appearance of the temples after reassembly.

Reassembly with extreme precision

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Working with the dismantling and reassembly of the Abu Simbel temples, during 1964–1968.

The new site was about 200 meters further inland and 65 meters higher up. The temples' alignment in relation to one another and to the cardinal directions had to be exactly the same as before. This was so that during certain hours of the spring and autumn, the rays of the sun would continue to illuminate the statues in the larger temple's inner halls, 60 meters into the cliff.

The blocks were put back into position one at a time with extreme precision. The permitted deviation was just plus or minus 5 mm. Here as well, Atlas Copco's pneumatic equipment came well to use. Its ease of handling and low weight was an added bonus in working with the porous sandstone. The blocks were secured to one another using reinforcement bars and drilled holes, and the joints were filled with an artificial material. Atlas Copco's Kv-638 drill was one of the tools used for drilling the holes.

The temples could obviously not be framed in natural stone as at their original site. This feature had to be artificially produced. First of all, 30,000 cubic meters of stone had to be removed to make way for reassembly. Gigantic cupolas where thereafter constructed above the temple roofs, and surplus stone masses from previous excavations were formed into natural-appearing hills above the cupolas. About 330,000 cubic meters of stone were placed above the cupolas.

Work with relocating the Abu Simbel temples was concluded on September 22, 1968 with a large inaugural ceremony. The entire project cost about SEK 200 million to complete (about SEK 1.7 billion in today's monetary value). The Abu Simbel temples were placed on UNESCO's World Heritage List in 1979.

The Abu Simbel temple

A film about how a barrier was built in front of the Abu Simbel temple, to protect the temple from the flooding of the Nile.

After the barrier was built, the temple was dissembled and moved.

Duration: 8:13. Silent.

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Memoirs of an engineer, 1962

In this film an Egyptian engineer tells his story about why he wants to participate in the greatest engineering project since the pyramids – the Assuan dam project.

The building of the dam created an artificial lake, which flooded the Abu Simbel temples.

Duration: 24:12. English narration.

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