Eye in eye with Ramses II. - Hans-Michael Treiber in Abu Simbel © Hans-Michael Treiber (Montage HOCHTIEF)

Carved in stone

It probably was the most impressive relocation in the history of humankind—and HOCHTIEF concerted it half a century ago. The rescue of the Abu Simbel temple complex was of gigantic dimensions and developed into a race against time. For Hans-Michael Treiber it was “the project of my life”.

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Aachen, May 1965. “Student assistant wanted!” When Treiber reads this job posting of HOCHTIEF at RWTH Aachen University, he sees his chance right away. He was 22 years old, had plenty of time—and wanted to make use of it. Away from university and off to Egypt. “It was pure thirst of adventure,” the retired civil engineer recalls today. So the student applied as a surveyor with HOCHTIEF, was hired, and took off for Egypt a mere five days afterwards. With 20 kilos of luggage for his six-month assignment.

Soaking with sweat: Treiber is not squeamish, but what expects him on his arrival on the banks of the Nile and every single day afterwards is hard on him. The drought. The sand. And above all the heat. It is almost unbearable. Forty-five degrees Celsius in the shade. “It was so hot that I sometimes thought I would die.” Workers from ten countries lived and worked together here. A mega project.

The Nile is looming: At the request of the Egyptian government, UNESCO had initiated a rescue program: An international consortium led by HOCHTIEF took on the mammoth task to dismantle and relocate the more than 3,000-year-old Abu Simbel temples in order to save the colossal relief figures carved into the mountain from the rising waters of the Nile. This had become necessary because the Egyptian government had just had the Aswan High Dam built to provide large parts of the country with electricity. What had obviously not been taken into account in the planning was that the rising masses of water of the reservoir would flood numerous unique monuments.

Jigsaw pieces weighing tons: Treibers task is to map the monuments. The temples are to be divided into jigsaw blocks to guarantee structured dismantling and true-to-detail reassembly. “We had to document every single crack inside the temples,” he recalls. “No further crack should be created during reassembly.” For the perfect relocation, more than 1,000 blocks are moved with cranes. The biggest one weighs 30 tons. A Hercules task.

Abu Simbel figures

  • Pharaoh Ramses II (1300-1233 BC) had two temples built in the chains of hills located directly on the Nile.
  • The colossal figures are 20 meters high.
  • The construction costs amounted to 36 million U.S. dollars.
  • The relocation was from March 1964 to September 1968.

The time of my life: His six months in Egypt fly by. In October 1965, Treiber’s job is done. The rest is history. The consortium around HOCHTIEF saves Abu Simbel from flooding. UNESCO declares the temples World Heritage site. They become an international tourist magnet. And Hans-Michael Treiber?

Five years after his Nile adventure he applies again with HOCHTIEF, this time as an engineer. Again, trust is placed in Treiber. He learned Arabic in Abu Simbel—and this helps him in his first big job as an engineer. For six years, he works on the major airport Jeddah in Saudi Arabia. The adventure he once lived turned into a career: 30 years with HOCHTIEF—through to retirement. No other project, however, left such an impression on him as the temple rescue. “Abu Simbel is and remains the thing of my life.”

Hans-Michael Treiber reports about his greatest project with HOCHTIEF, the salvage of the Abu Simble temples.

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