In twice-a-year phenomenon, sun rays penetrate Abu Simbel temple rescued 50 years ago

21-10-2018 08:43 PM

Sanaa’ Farouk


Egypt’s Ministry of Antiquities is this evening holding a celebration at the temple of Abu Simbel, south of Aswan, to mark a singular event that occurs twice every year: on 22 October and 22 February at sunrise. The event relates to Pharaoh Ramses II (1278 – 1213BC) who built the temples. On these two datesthe sun rays travel at dawn through the length of the temple to the inner chamber and illuminate the face of the statue of Ramses II which is placed there together with statues of three other deities.

The astronomical phenomenon according to which Abu Simbel Temple was built precisely aligns its entrance and innermost chamber along the path of the sun rays at sunrise on specific dates. The phenomenon has gone on uninterrupted for 3200 years, the only difference being that, until 1968, it used to occur on 21 October and 21 February, the first date marks the Pharaoh’s birthday, and the second his ascension to the throne. In 1968 the temple was transferred uphill in a grand rescue operation through a UNESCO-led international project to salvage it from the flooding to be caused by in 1970 by the lake reservoir upstream the Aswan High Dam. The temples of Abu Simbel were dismantled and lifted from their original site to the present one where they were reassembled. On UNESCO website, the recue is dubbed “the greatest archaeological rescue operation of all time.” Abu Simbel remained timelessly unchanged, except for the dates on which the sun penetrates the temple: they shifted from 21 October and 21 February to the following days, the 22nd of the two months.

This year’s celebration coincides with the 50th anniversary of the successful UNESCO rescue operation which involved not only Abu Simbel temples, but also other ancient monuments in the region. Throughout 17 to 22 October, the Ministry of Culture held a festival featuring cultural activities and folk dance performances.

The Ministry of Antiquities invited a large number of public figures to witness the event of the sun penetrating the Abu Simbel temple. These included ministers, ambassadors and foreign diplomats and cultural figures in Egypt.

The celebration includes a special visit to Abu Simbel’s, a sound and light show, a dinner on the shore of Lake Nasser, and a show organised by the Ministry of Culture. At dawn of Monday 22 October, the guests will be at the temple to welcome the sun rays stream in along the full length of the temple to the statue of Ramses II.

For details of the rescue of the temples:

The story of Abu Simbel

The Frenchwoman Egypt lost

Watani International

21 October 2018

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