CAIRO: Over 3,000 people, including foreign tourists and Egyptian locals, assembled to witness a rare astronomical event on Sunday as the sun was perpendicular to the face of King Ramses II in the Holy of Holies temple.
On Sunday morning, the sun was perpendicular to the statue of King Ramses II in his great temple in the tourist city of Abu Simbel, in southern Egypt’s Aswan.
Abdel Moneim Saeed, director of the Aswan and Nubia Antiquities Department, said the event began at 6:53 a.m.
The sun’s rays, after rising behind the waters of Lake Nasser, crept into the temple, entering through the passage between four giant statues.
The rays extended for more than 60 meters until they reached the Council of Ramses in the Holy of Holies to register an astronomical phenomenon that occurs twice every year, on Oct. 22 and Feb. 22, and lasts 20 minutes.
In the Holy of Holies, four deities are seated: Amun Ra, Ra Horakhty, Ptah, and a deified version of Ramses II.
Ramses II was the ruler of ancient Egypt between 1279 and 1213 B.C., during which time he established dominance over Nubia and built the temple of Abu Simbel.
It is speculated that the temple was designed so that the sun would mark the start and end of the farming season, or that the two days synchronize with the birth of King Ramses II and the day he sat on the throne.
The Great Temple of Abu Simbel is in Nubia, near Egypt’s southern border. It was cut into the living rock by King Ramses II around 1264 B.C.
Another temple to the north, known as the Small Temple, is dedicated to the goddess Hathor and Ramses II’s wife, Queen Nefertari.
Abu Simbel’s temples were discovered in August 1817 by the Italian explorer Giovanni Pelonzi, while the phenomenon of the perpendicularity of the sun was observed in 1874 by Amelia Edwards, who recorded it in her book published in 1899 titled, “A Thousand Miles Up the Nile.”
The area was flooded following the construction of the High Dam and as a result of the formation of Lake Nasser, prompting an international campaign to save the monuments of Abu Simbel and Nubia from 1964 to 1968, costing about $40 million.
The campaign involved moving the temple in parts. Statues were reinstalled at their new location, 65 meters above river level, to preserve them.
The phenomenon was celebrated before 1964 on Feb. 21 and Oct. 21. With the transfer of the temple to its new location, these dates changed to their current ones.