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Abu Simbel

February 22, 2019

Abu Simbel, in southern Egypt, is a masterpiece of design and construction — times two. The temple was built more than 32 centuries ago to honor Ramses II, one of the greatest of all pharaohs. And it was rebuilt just half a century ago to save it from the Nile. Both projects were guided in part by the rising Sun.

The complex consists of two temples. One honors Ramses himself, while a smaller one honors his Great Royal Wife, Nefertari. The temples were carved into the base of a cliff above the Nile at the southern border of ancient Egypt.

Four giant statues of Ramses guard the entrance to his temple. It consists of several chambers, which reach 185 feet into the cliff. The chamber at the back is the smallest. It houses the seated figures of Ramses and the gods Amon-Re, Re-Horakhte, and Ptah.

Twice each year — on February 22nd and October 22nd — the rays of the rising Sun shine down the long hallway and into the rear chamber. The sunlight illuminates all of the seated figures except Ptah. Since he was a god of the underworld, he was intentionally left in the dark.

When a dam was built along the upper Nile in the last century, the river’s rising waters endangered Abu Simbel. So the complex was cut apart and reassembled a couple of hundred feet higher. The reconstruction maintained the solar alignment. So Ramses and the two forms of the Sun god Re still receive the Sun’s life-giving rays at the same time each year.

Script by Damond Benningfield

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