For most of the modern world, ancient Nubia seems an unknown and enigmatic land. Only a handful of archaeologists have studied its history or unearthed the Nubian cities, temples, and cemeteries that once dotted the landscape of southern Egypt and northern Sudan. Nubia’s remote setting in the midst of an inhospitable desert, with access by river blocked by impassable rapids, has lent it not only an air of mystery, but also isolated it from exploration. Scholars have more recently begun to focus attention on the fascinating cultures of ancient Nubia, prompted by the construction of large dams that have flooded vast tracts of the ancient land. These photos by Chester Higgins Jr., photographer of Ancient Nubia: African Kingdoms on the Nile, reveal the remarkable history, architecture, culture, and altogether rich legacy of the ancient Nubians.
The Great Temple of Abu Simbel at Sunrise
The façade of the Great Temple built by Ramesses II at Abu Simbel and dedicated to his deified self as well as the god Amun and the sun god Re-Harakhte. The four colossal figures that dominate the facade depict the king, with smaller figures of female family members beside him. Above the doorway, between the pairs of figures stands a statue of a hawk headed deity crowned with a sun disk and holding a plant; this is a rebus writing of Ramesses II’s name and is one of the first parts of the temple to be illuminated by the rising sun. © Photographs by Chester Higgins Jr.
The Interior of the Great Temple Of Abu Simbel
The interior of the Great Temple of Abu Simbel with figures of the king wearing his royal kilt and holding the crook and the flail, symbols of his royal office, in his crossed hands. On the right side the figures wear the double crown symbolic of the king’s dominion over Upper and Lower Egypt, and perhaps also over both Egypt and Nubia, while on the left side he wears the white crown, indicative of his rule over Upper Egypt. The ceiling of the chamber is decorated with vultures with outspread wings, protecting the sacred space, and in the distant holy-of-holies the statues of the king and the gods can be seen. © Photographs by Chester Higgins Jr.
Pyramids of Meroe
The pyramids at Meroe were constructed to house the bodies of the kings and queens of the Kingdom of Meroe. The pyramids combine a temple-like pylon entrance with a chapel set within the pyramids. These chapels are carved in sunk relief with images of the deceased royalty together with divinities. The famous gold treasure discovered by Ferlini and belonging to a Meroitic Queen was found buried with their owner in the burial chambers of one of these pyramids. © Photographs by Chester Higgins Jr.
Relief from the Tomb of Pennout
The tomb of Pennout, deputy of Wawat and chief of the quarries, dating to the reign of Ramesses VI (1141-113 BC) was originally located at Aniba, but moved to save it from the rising waters of Lake Nasser after the building of the Aswan High Dam. Images of the deceased’s family wearing white robes and holding lotus and papyri, symbols of resurrection, and praising the deceased, as well as images of deities are found in this charming rock cut tomb. © Photographs by Chester Higgins Jr.
The papyrus-bundle pillars of Soleb temple still dominate the sacred landscape at the site. The temple was built by Amenhotep III and dedicated to the god Amun-Re as well as the deified king himself. © Photographs by Chester Higgins Jr.
Interior of the Temple of Beit al-Wali
The temple of Beit al-Wali, originally situated 40 miles south of Aswan, was constructed during the reign of Seti I and decorated and completed during the early part of the reign of Ramesses II. The entire temple is unique in form when compared to other Egyptian temples in Nubia, and entirely cut into the rock face. The entrance hall leads into the vestibule, which shows scenes of the king and the gods worshiping. On either side, fluted columns are visible situated in the center of the room, through which is a view of the sanctuary with a recess cut into the back of the chamber for statues that would sit upon the bench-like structure in the back. This is the most sacred area of the temple, where the divine world of the gods existed. This temple was later moved during the 1960s to its current location south of the Aswan Dam. © Photographs by Chester Higgins Jr.
Relief of Satet, Horus, and Isis from the Lion Temple at Musawwarat al-Sufra
The Lion Temple at Musawwarat al-Sufra is located 180 kilometers northeast of Khartoum. This site was important during the Meroitic Period as a major religious cult center. Shown on the side of this temple is a relief of the goddess Satet wearing a crown with horns, behind whom stands the hawk-headed god Horus and his mother, Isis. © Photographs by Chester Higgins Jr.
Image credit: © Photographs by Chester Higgins Jr. Used with permission of the American University in Cairo Press. All rights reserved.