Monumental Structures


Monumental structures are a grab bag of widely varying forms and purposes, but generally, they are constructions that are well known for either their scale, such as the Great Wall of China and the pyramids, or their form, such as Lucy, the elephant house in Margate, New Jersey. A monumental structure just doesn’t fit into any easy category.


The dictator, the dam, and the guardians

In the 1978 film Death on the Nile, one of the key scenes takes place when the characters visit the statues at Abu Simbel on the Nile. These ancient statues, familiar from 1000 travel posters, sit silently above the waters of the Nile as guardians against any possible invasion from the South. As the characters spoke their lines in the film, the statues loomed around them like some massive and ancient presence under the boiling sun amidst the dust of the ages. The site appears to of been there for eternity.
The statues which form the backdrop of that scene however had been moved from their original location just a few hundred yards away. How something so massive and so ancient could have been moved in such a way, and why anyone would want to in the first place is a complex and amazing story.

For many centuries the Egyptians have sought to tame the Nile. I building a dam in the upper reaches of the river they would be able to store some of the water for drier times and to somewhat controlled flooding brought about by the annual rains. The dictator of Egypt at the time Gammel Abdul Nasser set out to build the dam but was short of money. His solution was to nationalize, which is another way of saying takeover, the Suez Canal connecting the Mediterranean to the Red Sea. This set off a war, as so many things in the new Middle East seem to do, that involved Britain, France, Israel, and even the United States.

When the dust settled, [both figuratively and literally], the Aswan High Dam project went forward. Since the Nile had been unchanged for so many centuries the prospect of the dam raising the water level behind it caused problems. Hundreds of villages temples shrines statues and the like had been built close to the banks of the Nile but were threatened with inundation when the Nile would start to rise. This touched off a massive campaign to relocate people to higher ground and to see what sites should be relocated, and which ones would just have to flood. The most important and difficult of these sites was the temple and statues at Abu Simbel.

In order to save the statues and temple at Abu Simbel , everything would have to be raised65 m higher and 200 m further back  from the shore. Moving something this massive was a difficult enough task but was complicated by the unfortunate fact there was no place to move them to. The temple was built into an existing rock face and the guarding statues were built out of the same rock face. The rock that accommodated this construction, however, was neither high enough nor massive enough to provide a new location. So a new location would just have to be constructed. So, since no mountain to accommodate the temple existed at the new location, a duplicate section of mountain was constructed at the new site out of concrete and rubble. The concrete was carefully sculpted and placed in such a way that it was almost identical to the  mountain that existed, but it was a combination stage set and work of art that would have done credit to Walt Disney. Inside, the fill dirt and stone is supported by a concrete dome to protect the ancient relocated temple building.


Statues being reassembled at the new site. Note the thin, stick-like objects to the lower left. They are steel reinforcing bars to anchor the next section of side wall in place when the concrete is poured.

The statues themselves were sawed into segments by hand-held saws. (To limit the size of the saw cuts), but the face of each statue was moved intact. The individual segments weighed as much as 30 tons. The project took four years, but the end result is so well done, it is hard to tell that it hasn’t been there forever.