International Campaign to Save the Monuments of Nubia

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.

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.



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.

Abu Simbel

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.



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.

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. As early as 1960 Egypt had started to rescue the temples of 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.

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.  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.

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.