Sunbeams inside Abu Simbel today

I just learned something pretty cool about Abu Simbel.

Abu Simbel is an amazing ancient temple in Egypt (though that's not the cool thing I just learned). The cool thing is that every year, twice a year, on February 22 (today) and October 22, the temple is the site of an awe-inspiring celestial event.

When the temple was originally constructed in the 13th century B.C. by Ramses II, the pharaoh had it carefully aligned so that on two dates every year (his birthday and the anniversary of his ascent to the throne), the morning sun rays would stream in through the entrance, travel the 200 feet into the depths of the temple, and illuminate the statue of himself and the gods Horus and Amun-Ra. The only statue that remains in darkness is Ptah, the god of creation. The statues stay illuminated for about 20 minutes, before the sun goes on its way.

Interestingly, Abu Simbel was part of a major restoration done in the 1960s, and the temple was actually moved about 650 feet back and 200 feet higher than the original. Thankfully, the restorers made sure that the semi-annual sunlight event would remain, with only one difference: it happens two days later than Ramses II had originally intended. I wonder if he's mad.

The solar event is one part of the Abu Simbel Festival, complete with traditional music and celebrations. So I guess February 22 is a good day to be there, though it seems to me any day of the year would be a great time to see this ancient wonder.

Photo: Mrs Logic via Flickr (CC license)

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