4 March 2019

Egypt: Annual Sun Phenomenon At the Abu Simbel Temples in Egypt

A solar phenomenon that occurs twice a year in the twin Temples of Abu Simbel is attended by thousands of tourist and, recently, African ambassadors. The ambassadors' visit was part of Egypt's efforts to boost tourism, which has been hit by years of turmoil since the 2011 uprising.

Twice a year at the Abu Simbel Temples in Egypt sunlight peeks through the dark chamber of the Great Temple of Ramses II to illuminate its interior. It is believed that the axis of the temple was positioned by the ancient Egyptian architects in such a way that on 22 October and 22 February annually the rays of the sun would penetrate the sanctuary and illuminate the sculptures on the back wall, except for the statue of Ptah, a god connected with the Underworld, who always remained in the dark.

These ancient solar alignments are believed by historians to mark the Pharaoh's birth and coronation. The phenomenon was first formally documented in 1874 by English explorer Emilia Edwards in her book A Thousand Miles Above the Nile.

The Abu Simbel Temples were built during the rule of Ramses II in the 19th dynasty. The twin temples were carved out of cliffs overlooking the Nile and serve as a lasting monument to the king and his queen, Nefertari, while commemorating his victory at the Battle of Kadesh.

Later, when the Egyptian government wanted to dam Lake Nasser in the mid-20th century, it realised that Abu Simbel would be submerged by the river and proceeded to move the temple to a more stable location.

Sun Festival

On 22 February, visiting African ambassadors watched the spectacle, which is also known as the 'Sun Festival'. This was part of the present chair of the African Union and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi's plan to boost Cairo's influence in the region and comes just before the country's hosting of the Africa Cup of Nations football tournament this year.

Every year, countless people swarm to the area to celebrate the Sun Festival, which also features traditional Nubian dance, live music and street food.

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