Twice a year, crowds from all over the world gather to meet south of Aswan, at the Abu Simbel Temples. On February 22nd and October 22nd on every year, an astrological phenomenon occurs, resulting in a spectacular sight of the sun’s rays illuminating into a dark chamber and shining its light on King Ramses II.
Every year, a festival is held on these dates to celebrate the ancient world. After the event, tourists join the Nubian dance and live music as well as trying delicious Egyptian food.
How exactly did this come to happen? Was it all a coincidence, or a result of pharaonic genius? Read on to find out about the mysteries of the Abu Simbel temples
A little history about Abu Simbel Temples’ infrastructures
The Abu Simbel Temples are some of the most impressive in all of Egypt and around the world. The two temples were built by King Ramses II and are both dedicated to the ancient Egyptian gods. The first and larger temple has four colossal statues standing up front – Amun, the king of the gods; Ra, god of the sun; Re-Haraky, a combination of Horus and Ra; and Ramses II himself.
The second temple – dedicated to the goddess Hathor – was built to honor Ramses’ favorite wife, Nefertari. This temple has six colossal statues – four depicting Ramses and two showing Nefertari.
At the attraction, you will find 20-meter high statues depicting the ancient pharaoh, overlooking the land before him.
The Sun Temple, where the sun festival takes place, is located on the banks of the Nile River. It is carved straight into the sandstone cliffs so that it’s the first thing you see as you approach it from the Nile River.
Inside the temple, there are 33-meter high statues of Ramses lining the entranceway. They lead to a grand hall separated into two treasury rooms. Further inside, you will find the Hypostyle Hall filled with ornated pillars and drawings of the king’s family. This monument honors Ramses II’s victory in the Battle of Kadesh between Egypt and Anatolia (aka modern-day Syria, Turkey, and Lebanon).
It’s said that the Sun Temple took about 20 years to build.
The major relocation of the Abu Simbel temple in 1968
In 1962, the temple was conserved to be protected from the rising waters of the Aswan High Dam. UNESCO led a large-scale project with 50 participating countries to dismantle and reassemble the entire site.
The temple was cut into 16,000 blocks and relocated at a place 65 meters higher and 200 meters behind the river.
When engineers planned the re-siting of Abu Simbel, they also had to keep in mind the 3,000-year-old tradition of the solar alignment.
Relocation work was completed on 22 September 1968. Everyone anxiously waited for the morning of October 22 a month later, and thankfully, the relocation was a major success.
The Sun Festival’s Mysteries
The innermost room of the Abu Simbel Temple – 63 meters deep – remains in darkness throughout the year, except for two days in which it sees a natural stream of sunlight. These two dates are February 22 and October 22.
These dates are no random dates, either. King Ramses II built the temple so that the sunlight would align on February 22 – the anniversary of his ascension to the throne – and October 22 – his birthday.
The festival is based on a solar phenomenon. The engineering was carried out with careful planning to ensure that everything was aligned just right for the sun to shine where it was supposed to – on Ramses’ face.
The innermost chamber – the final room, or the sanctum sanctorum – has four massive seated statues. This is where the astrological phenomenon occurs. During the sun festival, the sun shines on Ramses II, Ra, Amun, and leaves one statue in the dark: Ptah, the god of darkness. This was no accident.
Let the festivities at the Sun Temple begin
After arriving at the site, we gather around the temple to witness the sunrise. People usually sit quietly before the sun rises and reflect on the marvel that surrounds them, meditating at the early hour of the day.
At 6:29 a.m., the quiet turns into chatter as people crowd to get a better look at the marvelous sight of the three statues bathed in sunlight.
After witnessing the solar phenomenon, tourists can celebrate by enjoying the live Nubian dance and music performed by locals. There are also food stalls selling delicious Egyptian food and snacks available at the site, as well as a market where people can shop.
Twice a year, our staff at Global Orient Tours participates in the spectacular Abu Simbel sun festivals at dawn. Will you be joining us this year?