African guests witness twice-a-year phenomenon of sun-rays lighting up face of Ramses II

25-02-2019 12:55 AM

Amal Gamal Muhammad al-Aswani

Egypt has celebrated its twice-a-year phenomenon of the sun rays penetrating the length of Abu Simbel temple at sunrise all the way to light up the face of the Pharaoh Ramses II (1278 – 1213BC) who built the temple. The singular event occurs on 22 February and 22 October.

This year, Egypt’s Ministry of Tourism invited African ambassadors to Cairo to witness the Abu Simbel event. Tourism Minister Rania al-Mashat was on hand to receive 22 of African ambassadors and diplomats, together with their families, from Cameron, Ghana, Guinea, Mali, and Côte d’Ivoire. Aswan Governor Ahmad Ibrahim; Antiquities Minister Khaled al-Anany; Culture Minister Ines Abdel-Dayem; and Investment Minister Sahar Nasr, were all there.

This was the first African event to be organised in 2019 following Egypt’s assuming of the presidency of the African Union earlier this month. A day earlier, on 21 February, the African delegation took part in the 7th Aswan International Festival for Culture and Arts organised by Egypt’s Ministry of Culture in front of Abu Simbel Temple.

Before sunrise on 22 February, the African group joined some 6,500 tourists inside the temple to witness the shaft of sunlight come into the temple and penetrate its full length to the inner sanctuary where it illuminated the face of the statue of Ramses II which is placed there together with statues of three other deities.

The celebration was held with the aim of promoting tourism in Egypt through what is termed ‘Branding by Destination’.

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.” The sun-penetration phenomenon at Abu Simbel remained timelessly unchanged, except for the dates on which it occurred: they shifted from 21 October and 21 February to the following days, 22 October and 22 February.

Watani International

24 February 2019

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