In 1954 the decision to build the Aswan High Dam was made. This dam would lead to the creation of a huge artificial lake covering the Upper Nile Valley from Aswan in Egypt to the Dal Cataract in Sudan - a culturally extremely rich area, which has been known as Nubia since antiquity.
In 1959 the Egyptian and the Sudanese Governments requested UNESCO to assist their countries in the protection and rescue of the endangered monuments and sites. In 1960, the Director-General of UNESCO launched an appeal to the Member States for an International Campaign to Save the Monuments of Nubia. This appeal resulted in the excavation and recording of hundreds of sites, the recovery of thousands of objects, and the salvage and relocation of a number of important temples to higher ground, the most famous of them the temple complexes of Abu Simbel and Philae. The campaign ended on 10 March 1980 as a complete and spectacular success.
Within the International Campaign, UNESCO played the role of a coordinator and intermediary between the donor States and the Egyptian and Sudanese Governments and facilitated their efforts to save the cultural heritage of Nubia. As a control panel for these activities, the Executive Committee of the International Campaign was created in 1960 and a Trust Fund was established.
As a follow-up to the successful completion of the campaign, the International Campaign for the Establishment of the Nubia Museum in Aswan and the National Museum of Egyptian Civilization in Cairo was launched in 1982.
The most famous of the monuments affected by the Aswan High Dam Project was the temple complex on the island of Philae. Sacred to the goddess Isis, the sanctuary dates mostly to the Graeco-Roman period and was later transformed into a church (540 AD).
The following monuments were also threatened by the construction of the dam:
• the small temples of Debod, Qertassi and Taffa, from the same period as Philae
• the large temple of Kalabsha, built by Augustus to the local god Mandulis
• the temple of Beit el Wali in vicinity of Kalabsha
• the small Dendur temple further South
• the rock temple of Ramses at Gerf Husein
• the Dakka temple dating from the Ptolomaic times
• the Roman period temple of Maharraqa
• a temple of Ramses II at Wadi es Sebua
• an old temple, built under the reign of Thutmosis III and Amenophis II (15th c. BC) at Amada, situated 205 km south of Aswan
• the rock temple of Derr on the opposite, right bank of the Nile, dating to the period of Ramses II
• a rock-cut chapel of Thutmosis III at Elleysia, just north of the fortified village of Qasr Ibrim, an important political centre in Roman times and later
• the two rock temples of Ramses II at Abu Simbel, 280 km to the south of Aswan
• the small rock-cut chapel of Horemheb (end 14th c. BC) at Abu Oda on the opposite bank of the Nile, near the big fortified town of Gebel Adda (Roman and later).
In Sudanese Nubia, the following monuments and sites were endangered:
• the temple of Ramses at Aksha
• the fortified town of Buhen with two temples of the 18th Egyptian Dynasty and
• two temples of the same period in the fortresses of Semna East and West.
Threatened by final submersion under 50 or so meters of water the need to salvage these above-mentioned, unique monuments was as urgent as it was technically challenging.
With three exceptions (the temple of Gerf Husein, the chapels of Qasr Ibrim and the temple of Abu Oda), the monuments were dismantled, carved up and moved to another site.
They were reassembled in six groups:
1. the temples of Philae island on the island of Agilkia near the former Aswan dam;
2. the temples of Beit el Wali and Kalabsha and the Kiosk of Qertassi near the High Dam;
3. the temples of Dakka, Maharraqa and Wadi es Sebua near the former site of Wadi es Sebua;
4. the temples of Amada and Derr and Pennut's Tomb at Aniba near the former site of Amada;
5. the temples of Abu Simbel in situ but 60 m above their original site;
6. the temples of Aksha, Buhen, Semna East and Semna West in the museum garden in Khartoum.
In addition, Egypt donated four temples as tokens of its gratitude to countries which especially contributed to the success of the campaign: Debod to Spain, Taffa to the Netherlands, Dendur to the United States and Ellesyia to Italy.
April/ October 1959: The Egyptian and the Sudanese Governments request independently from each other UNESCO assistance to save the sites and monuments of Nubia threatened by submergence as a result of the Aswan High Dam.
November/ December 1959: The 55th session of the Executive Board adopts the principle of an appeal for international cooperation to assist the Egyptian and Sudanese Governments and authorizes studies preparatory to the work of safeguarding Abu Simbel and archaeological investigations of the sites in Sudanese Nubia to be undertaken as a matter of urgency.
January 1960: Official inauguration of work on the Aswan High Dam.
March 1960: Director-General of UNESCO launches appeal to the international community for the preservation of the monuments of Nubia.
May, 16-18 1960: First meeting of the International Action Committee in Paris.
May, 22 1960: First meeting in Cairo of the Consultative Committee for the Campaign..
Summer months 1960: Dismantling and transfer of the temples of Debod and Taffa and the kiosk of Qertassi by the Egyptian Antiquities Service.
November, 11 1960: session of General Conference of UNESCO authorizes the continuation and extension of the International Campaign to Save the Monuments of Nubia.
1961-3: Dismantling, transfer and reconstruction of the temple of Kalabsha by the Federal Republic of Germany.
February 1962: Experts meeting on the safeguarding of the monuments of Sudanese Nubia.
November-December 1962: Session of the General Conference. Creation of the Executive Committee of the International Campaign.
1962: Dismantling, cutting and transfer of the temple of Beit al-Wali and Wadi es-Sebua and of the Tomb of Pennut at Aniba with a financial contribution from the United States of America; dismantling and transfer of the temples of Dendur, Dakka and Maharraqa under the supervision of the Egyptian Antiquities Service.
1963-7: Dismantling, transfer and reconstruction in Khartoum by the Sudanese Antiquities Service of:
- the remains of the temple of Aksha with a financial contribution from France.
- the temples of Buhen with a financial contribution from the United Kingdom and the United States of America
- the temples of Semna East with a financial contribution from the Netherlands, and Semna West with a financial contribution from Belgium.
June 1963: Egyptian Government chooses the project to cut and transfer the two temples of Abu Simbel.
November 1963: Meeting in Cairo of the Executive Committee of the Campaign and representatives of donor states. Signing of agreement for carrying out the project of cutting and transferring the temple of Abu Simbel.
Spring 1964: Evacuation of population starts. Excavations finished up to Second Cataract.
April 1964: Beginning of work to save the temples of Abu Simbel.
Summer months 1964: Cutting and dismantling of the temple of Derr. Cutting of fragments of the temple of Gerf Husein and the chapels of Qasr Ibrim. Work carried out by Egyptian Antiquities Service, which also assisted Italy to cut the chapel of Ellesyia.
September-October 1964: Waters of the lake created by the Aswan High Dam begin to rise.
1964-65: Dismantling of the pronaos of the temple of Amada and transfer on rails of the sanctuary by France.
1965: End of the excavations in Egyptian Nubia.
Summer months 1968: Egyptian Government chooses the project of dismantling the temples on the island of Philae and re-erecting them on the neighbouring island of Agilka.
September, 22 1968: End of work at Abu Simbel.
November, 6 1968: 15th session of the Executive Committee. The Director- General launches an appeal to the international community for the safeguarding of the temples of the island of Philae.
1969: End of the construction of Aswan High Dam.
1970: Director-General is authorized to sign agreements with the Egyptian Government and donor countries for the safeguarding of the monuments of Philae.
1972: Beginning of the work to safeguard the monuments of Philae; leveling and widening of the island of Agilkia.
1973: End of excavations in Sudanese Nubia.
1977: Beginning of reconstruction of the Philae monuments on the island of Agilkia.
1978: 20th session of the General Conference of UNESCO; the Executive Committee of the International Campaign is re-organized.
August 1979: End of the work of transferring the Phiale monuments.
March, 10 1980: End of the International Campaign to Save the Monuments of Nubia.