International Campaign to Save the Monuments of Nubia
UNESCO brochure on the anniversary of the campaign
The relocated monuments were from Lower Nubia, roughly between Aswan and Wadi Halfa. The area was entirely submerged by the creation of Lake Nasser
LocationAswan Governorate, Egypt
Official nameNubian Monuments from Abu Simbel to Philae
Criteriai, iii, vi
Designated1979 (3rd session)
Reference no.88
RegionArab States

The International Campaign to Save the Monuments of Nubia was the relocation of 22 monuments in Lower Nubia, in Southern Egypt and northern Sudan, between 1960 and 1980. The success of the project, in particular the creation of a coalition of 50 countries behind the project, led to the creation of the World Heritage Convention in 1972, and thus to the modern system of World Heritage Sites.[1]

The project began as a result of the building of the Aswan Dam, at the Nile's first cataract (shallow rapids), a location which defined the traditional boundary of Ancient Egypt and Nubia. The building of the dam was to result in the creation of Lake Nasser, which would submerge the banks of the Nile along its entire 479 km (298 mi) length south of the dam – flooding the entire area of historical Lower Nubia. Vittorino Veronese, director general of UNESCO described it in 1960: "It is not easy to choose between a heritage of the past and the present well-being of a people, living in need in the shadow of one of history's most splendid legacies, it is not easy to choose between temples and crops."[2]

It was described in the UNESCO Courier as "the greatest archaeological rescue operation of all time".[3]

In April 1979, the monuments were inscribed on the World Heritage List as the Nubian Monuments from Abu Simbel to Philae, as one of the second group of properties added to the list (the first 12 had been added in 1978).[4]


In 1959, an international donations campaign was launched by Egypt and Sudan to save the monuments of Lower Nubia: the southernmost relics of the Ancient Egyptian civilization were under threat from the impending creation of Lake Nasser, that was about to result from the construction of the Aswan High Dam.[5]

Tharwat Okasha,[6] the Egyptian Minister of Culture, René Maheu, Assistant Director-General of UNESCO, and Christiane Desroches Noblecourt, French Egyptologist at the Louvre, had leading roles in the campaign.[7]

The number of relocated monuments have been stated as 22[8] or 24[9] depending on how an individual site is defined. Only one archaeological site in Lower Nubia, Qasr Ibrim, remains in its original location and above water; previously a cliff-top settlement, it was transformed into an island.[10][11] The relocated sites can be grouped as follows:

The list of relocated monuments is as follows:

Historical Relocation Current
Monument Image[12] Location Period Date Led by Image Location
Abu Simbel (two temples) An Egyptian temple 65m below current location 13th century BCE 1964–68 Coalition An Egyptian temple 65m above historical location, in artificial hill
Philae temple complex An Egyptian temple Philae Island 300 BCE – 100 AD 1972–79 Coalition An Egyptian temple Agilkia Island
Temple of Amada An Egyptian temple Amada 1400s BCE France An Egyptian temple New Amada
Temple of Derr An Egyptian temple Derr 1200s BCE Egypt An Egyptian temple
Tomb of Pennut at Aniba An Egyptian temple Aniba Egypt An Egyptian temple
Temple of Kalabsha (except gate, see below) An Egyptian temple Kalabsha 30 BCE 1962–63 Germany An Egyptian temple New Kalabsha
Temple of Gerf Hussein An Egyptian temple Gerf Hussein 1200s BCE Egypt An Egyptian temple
Kiosk of Qertassi An Egyptian temple Qertassi 0 – 100 AD 1960 Egypt An Egyptian temple
Temple of Beit el-Wali An Egyptian temple Beit el-Wali 1200s BCE Egypt An Egyptian temple
Temple of Dakka An Egyptian temple Dakka 200 BCE – 100 AD Egypt An Egyptian temple New Wadi es-Sebua
Temple of Maharraqa An Egyptian temple Maharraqa 0 – 100 AD Egypt An Egyptian temple
Temples of Wadi es-Sebua An Egyptian temple Wadi es-Sebua 1400–1200 BCE Egypt An Egyptian temple
Horemheb Temple at Abu Oda An Egyptian temple Abu Oda Nubian Museum, Aswan
Temple of Aksha Aksha 1200s BCE An Egyptian temple National Museum of Sudan
The temples in the fortified town of Buhen An Egyptian temple Buhen 1800s BCE An Egyptian temple
The temples at Semna East and West fortresses An Egyptian temple Semna 1900s BCE An Egyptian temple
Temple of Debod An Egyptian temple Debod 100s BCE 1960 Spain An Egyptian temple Madrid, Spain
Temple of Dendur An Egyptian temple Dendur 23 BCE United States An Egyptian temple Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City, United States
Temple of Taffeh An Egyptian temple Taffeh 25 BCE – 14 CE 1960 Netherlands An Egyptian temple Rijksmuseum van Oudheden, Leiden, the Netherlands
Temple of Ellesyia Ellesyia 1400s BCE Italy An Egyptian temple Museo Egizio, Turin, Italy
Kalabsha Gate An Egyptian temple Kalabsha 30 BCE 1962–63 Germany An Egyptian temple Egyptian Museum of Berlin, Germany – part of the Temple of Kalabsha

Historical images, monuments in situ

Description and contributions

Abu Simbel

A scale model showing the original and current location of the temple (with respect to the water level) at the Nubian Museum, in Aswan

One scheme to save the Abu Simbel temples was based on an idea by William MacQuitty to build a clear freshwater dam around the temples, with the water inside kept at the same height as the Nile. There were to be underwater viewing chambers. In 1962 the idea was made into a proposal by architects Jane Drew and Maxwell Fry and civil engineer Ove Arup.[13] They considered that raising the temples ignored the effect of erosion of the sandstone by desert winds. However, the proposal, though acknowledged to be extremely elegant, was rejected.[14]

The salvage of the Abu Simbel temples began in 1964 by a multinational team of archeologists, engineers and skilled heavy equipment operators working together under the UNESCO banner; it cost some US$40 million (equivalent to $377 million in 2022). Between 1964 and 1968, the entire site was carefully cut into large blocks (up to 30 tons, averaging 20 tons), dismantled, lifted and reassembled in a new location 65 metres higher and 200 metres back from the river, in one of the greatest challenges of archaeological engineering in history.[15] Some structures were even saved from under the waters of Lake Nasser.[14]


Philae flooded by the Aswan Low Dam in 1906.

In 1902, the Aswan Low Dam was completed on the Nile River by the British. This threatened to submerge many ancient landmarks, including the temple complex of Philae. The height of the dam was raised twice, from 1907 to 1912 and from 1929 to 1934, and the island of Philae was nearly always flooded. In fact, the only times that the complex was not underwater was when the dam's sluices were open from July to October. During this period it was proposed that the temples be relocated, piece by piece, to nearby islands, such as Bigeh or Elephantine. However, the temples' foundations and other architectural supporting structures were strengthened instead. Although the buildings were physically secure, the island's attractive vegetation and the colors of the temples' reliefs were washed away. Also, the bricks of the Philae temples soon became encrusted with silt and other debris carried by the Nile. With each inundation the situation worsened and in the 1960s the island was submerged up to a third of the buildings all year round.[16]

The work began in 1972, and in 1974 a large coffer dam was built, constructed of two rows of steel plates between which a 1 million cubic metres (35 million cubic feet) of sand was tipped. Any water that seeped through was pumped away. Next the monuments were cleaned and measured, by using photogrammetry, a method that enables the exact reconstruction of the original size of the building blocks that were used by the ancients. Then every building was dismantled into about 40,000 units from 2 to 25 tons, and then transported to the nearby Island of Agilkia, situated on higher ground some 500 metres (1,600 ft) away. Foundations of the Philae monuments were ready on Agilkia by April 1977, and the transfer itself took place between 1977 and 1980.[17]

Individual Egyptian campaigns

In addition to participating directly in the high profile salvage operations of Abu Simbel and Philae, the Egyptian Antiquities Organization carried out the rescue of many smaller temples and monuments alone using their own financial and technical means.[18] As early as 1960 Egypt had started to rescue the temples of Taffeh (or Taffa), Debod and Qertassi, followed by Dakka and Maharraqa in 1961 and Dendur in 1962. The temples of Wadi es-Sebua and Beit el Wali and the rock tomb of Pennut at Aniba were moved in 1964 with the support of a US grant, whilst the subsequent re-erection was carried out with Egyptian resources. The Temple of Derr was rescued in 1965, and the temples of Gerf Husein, the chapel of Abu Oda (cut out of rock), the chapels of Qasr Ibrim (the rest of which has remained in situ), and many rock inscriptions and drawings, were also saved.[19]

West German operation at Kalabsha

Early in the campaign, the West German authorities offered to dismantle and re-erect the Temple of Kalabsha, the largest temple in all of Lower Nubia, with costs paid by West Germany.[20] Germany's interest in making a significant contribution stemmed from its Egyptological heritage, including Lepsius' milestone work Denkmäler aus Ägypten und Äthiopien, as more specifically the work of Franz Christian Gau who had documented Kalabsha as early as 1819.[21]

French operation at Amada

In addition to the work of French archaeologists at Abu Simbel, the French government provided significant technical and financial support for the removal of the Temple of Amada. Amada was considered "one of the most distinctive and best preserved examples of the art of the 18th dynasty."[22]

Wider archaeological campaign

Given the impending flooding of a wide area, Egypt and Sudan encouraged archaeological teams from across the world to carry out work as broadly as possible. Approximately 40 teams from across the world came to the region, to explore an area of approximately 500 km in length.[23]

In addition to the relocation operations, many countries participated in excavation and preservation work. Some of this work took place at the CEDAE (Centre d'Étude et de Documentation sur l'Ancienne Égypte, in English the Documentation and Study Centre for the History of the Art and Civilization of Ancient Egypt), founded in Cairo in 1955 to coordinate the academic efforts:[24]

Financial contributions

The table below summarizes the contributions towards the project by the global coalition of nations. The vast majority of these contributions funded the operations at Abu Simbel and Philae.[26]

Contributor USD (thousands) Notes
 Afghanistan 2 Government contribution
 Algeria 105
 Austria 37
 Belgium 82
 China 2
 Cuba 160
 Cyprus 5
 Denmark 15
 France 1,268
 West Germany 678
 Ghana 49
 Greece 30
 Holy See 35
 Indonesia 10
 Iraq 63
 Italy 1,176
 Japan 190
 Cambodia 5
 Kuwait 105
 Lebanon 40
 Libya 26
 Luxembourg 2
 Malaysia 14
 Mali 2
 Malta 0.2
 Monaco 10
 Morocco 4
   Nepal 1
 Netherlands 557
 Nigeria 128
 Pakistan 130
 Philippines 10
 Qatar 60
 Saudi Arabia 8
 Sierra Leone 3
 Spain 525
 Sri Lanka 1
 Sudan 2
 Sweden 500
  Switzerland 332
 Syria 152
 Togo 1
 Turkey 3
 Uganda 6
 United Kingdom 213
 United States 18,501
 Yugoslavia 226
 India (in kind) 415
 Romania (in kind) 5
Total Government contribution 25,893
Miscellaneous private contributions 36 Private contributions
American Committee for the Preservation of Abu Simbel 1,251
African Emergency Programme 21
Belgium exhibition proceeds 154
Canada exhibition proceeds 4
France exhibition proceeds 459
West Germany exhibition proceeds 1,208
Japan exhibition proceeds 1,089
Norway exhibition proceeds 6
Sweden exhibition proceeds 29
UK exhibition proceeds 1,601
USSR exhibition proceeds 1,602
 Sovereign Order of Malta 1
Egypt Tourist Tax 1,879 Other Income
Interest and exchange adjustments 1,408
World Food Programme 3,518
Philatelic revenue and income from Philae Medals 113
Grand total 40,273


A timeline of the key dates of the campaign is shown below:[27]

Diplomacy Relocation work Aswan Dam
6 April 1959 Egypt appeals to UNESCO
24 October 1959 Sudan appeals to UNESCO
9 January 1960 Work on the Aswan High Dam officially begun
8 March 1960 Director-General of Unesco appeals to the international community
Summer 1960 Temples of Taffeh, Dabod and Kertassi dismantled by the Egyptian Antiquities Service
Nov. Dec. 1962 Unesco's General Conference creates Executive Committee for the International Campaign
1962–63 Temple of Kalabsha dismantled, transferred and re-erected
Spring 1964 Work begins on transfer of Abu Simbel temples
14 May 1964 Diversion of Nile to feed the turbines of the High Dam
September 1964 Lake Nasser begins to fill
22 September 1968 Completion of the Abu Simbel operation
6 November 1968 UNESCO launches International Campaign to save the Temples of Philae
1970 Construction of Aswan High Dam completed
1972 Work begins on Philae rescue operation; monuments to be transferred to nearby island of Agilkia
May 1974 Cofferdam around the island of Philae is completed and water is pumped out
April 1977 Foundations of the Philae monuments ready on the island of Agilkia and reconstruction work begins
August 1979 Completed at Agilkia
10 March 1980 Overall project completion

World Heritage Site

In April 1979, the monuments were inscribed on the World Heritage List as the "Nubian Monuments from Abu Simbel to Philae". The inscribed area includes ten sites, five of which were relocated (all south of the city of Aswan), and five of which remain in their original position (near to the city of Aswan):[28]

Relocated sites, south of the Aswan Low Dam[28]

Sites in their original location, north of the Aswan Low Dam[28] – although these five sites are grouped within the "Nubian Monuments from Abu Simbel to Philae", they are neither Nubian, nor between Abu Simbel and Philae



UNESCO publications

Other publications

See also


  1. ^ The World Heritage Convention: "The event that aroused particular international concern was the decision to build the Aswan High Dam in Egypt, which would have flooded the valley containing the Abu Simbel temples, a treasure of ancient Egyptian civilization. In 1959, after an appeal from the governments of Egypt and Sudan, UNESCO launched an international safeguarding campaign. Archaeological research in the areas to be flooded was accelerated. Above all, the Abu Simbel and Philae temples were dismantled, moved to dry ground and reassembled. The campaign cost about US$80 million, half of which was donated by some 50 countries, showing the importance of solidarity and nations' shared responsibility in conserving outstanding cultural sites. Its success led to other safeguarding campaigns, such as saving Venice and its Lagoon (Italy) and the Archaeological Ruins at Moenjodaro (Pakistan), and restoring the Borobodur Temple Compounds (Indonesia). Consequently, UNESCO initiated, with the help of the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS), the preparation of a draft convention on the protection of cultural heritage."
  2. ^ A Common trust: the preservation of the ancient monuments of Nubia, 1960, UNESCO CUA.60/D.22/A, page 22
  3. ^ Victory in Nubia: the greatest archaeological rescue operation of all time
  4. ^ Meskell, L. (2018). A Future in Ruins: UNESCO, World Heritage, and the Dream of Peace. Oxford University Press. pp. 71–72. ISBN 978-0-19-064834-3. Retrieved 4 November 2022.
  5. ^ Säve-Söderbergh 1987, p. 64.
  6. ^ Sometimes spelled Saroite Okacha (in the French style of Arabic transliteration) in literature related to the International Nubian Campaign.
  7. ^ Säve-Söderbergh 1987, p. 67.
  8. ^ File:International Campaign to Save the Monuments of Nubia.pdf
  9. ^ a b c d e Allais 2012, p. 179.
  10. ^ A.J. Clapham; P.A. Rowley-Conwy (2007). "New Discoveries at Qasr Ibrim". In R.T.J. Cappers (ed.). Fields of Change: Progress in African Archaeobotany. Groningen archaeological studies. David Brown Book Company. p. 157. ISBN 978-90-77922-30-9. Retrieved 5 November 2022. ... Qasr Ibrim is the only in situ site left in Lower Nubia since the flooding of the Nile valley
  11. ^ Ruffini, G.R. (2012). Medieval Nubia: A Social and Economic History. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-999620-9. Retrieved 5 November 2022. Qasr Ibrim is critically important in a number of ways. It is the only site in Lower Nubia that remained above water after the completion of the Aswan high dam.
  12. ^ The monuments of Nubia had been documented by early travellers and archaeologists, particularly in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Below are notable illustrations of the monuments published in the 1840s by David Roberts in his The Holy Land, Syria, Idumea, Arabia, Egypt, and Nubia
  13. ^ Fry Drew Knight Creamer, 1978, London, Lund Humphries
  14. ^ a b Säve-Söderbergh 1987, p. 98-126.
  15. ^ Spencer, Terence (1966). The Race to Save Abu Simbel Is Won. Life magazine, 2 December 1966.
  16. ^ Säve-Söderbergh 1987.
  17. ^ Säve-Söderbergh 1987, p. 229-231.
  18. ^ Säve-Söderbergh 1987, p. 135.
  19. ^ Säve-Söderbergh 1987, p. 135-136.
  20. ^ Stock, H.; Siegler, K.G. (1965). Kalabsha: der grösste Tempel Nubiens und das Abenteuer seiner Rettung (in German). F.A. Brockhaus. Retrieved 10 November 2022.
  21. ^ Säve-Söderbergh 1987, p. 128-129.
  22. ^ Säve-Söderbergh 1987, p. 132-133.
  23. ^ Säve-Söderbergh 1987, p. 205.
  24. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x Säve-Söderbergh 1987, p. Annex I, page 223-226.
  25. ^ Excavation Shokan. Research in Nubia from 1962 to 1964 on website Retrieved 2023-08-23.
  26. ^ Säve-Söderbergh 1987, p. Annex IV, page 232-233.
  27. ^ Säve-Söderbergh 1987, p. 228-231.
  28. ^ a b c Centre, UNESCO World Heritage. "Nubian Monuments from Abu Simbel to Philae". UNESCO World Heritage Centre. Retrieved 12 October 2022.