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Sunshine for Ramses II in Aswan
Published in Al-Ahram Weekly on 25 - 10 - 2016

The usually sedate Upper Egyptian town of Abu Simbel was abuzz with Ramses II fever for the second time this year, as visitors waited for the sun's rays to penetrate through the Abu Simbel Temple's inner sanctuary on Saturday to illuminate the pharaoh's face and the statues of the gods Amun-Re and Re-Hur-Akhty, leaving the god of darkness Ptah in the shade because of his connection to the underworld.
This phenomenon takes place twice a year, on 22 February and 22 October, and it coincides with the birthday and coronation of the ancient Egyptian pharaoh Ramses II who built the Temples at Abu Simbel. Some believe the solar phenomenon was a way for the ancient Egyptians to identify the beginning of the summer and winter seasons and alert farmers of the start of cultivation and the harvest.
This year, the event marks the celebration of the golden jubilee of the safeguarding of the Abu Simbel Temples in the 1960s when they were threatened by the construction of the Aswan High Dam. The celebrations will last until October 2018 in order to mark the day when the Abu Simbel Temples were reconstructed at their new location on a 65-metre artificial hill above the High Dam to protect them from being submerged under the waters of Lake Nasser.
Under the slogan “Egypt is the country of safety and security,” the equinox celebration was organised by the Aswan governorate in collaboration with the Ministries of Antiquities and Tourism and the Egyptian Tourism Authority. A group of 1,100 tourists of different nationalities as well as Egyptians descended on the Abu Simbel Temples, 280km south of Aswan, on Friday night to witness the sun's rays falling on the face of Ramses II.
The visitors then paid a visit to an exhibition of paintings at the steps of the Abu Simbel Temples entitled “Abu Simbel in the Eyes of Painters,” which displays paintings by Egyptian artists expressing their thoughts on the temples and the safeguarding operations as well as Nubian nature, houses, decorations, dances and traditions.
The paintings are the results of the second round of the Abu Simbel Symposium, which lasted for four days and was organised by the Abu Simbel Temples 50 Campaign.
The exhibition included four paintings by the late Egyptian artist Hussein Bikar, who was responsible, along with his team, for the documentation of the Abu Simbel Temples from 1963 to 1966 by drawing every inch of their structures, decorative elements and hieroglyphic texts.
“These four paintings were offered to the Abu Simbel Temples 50 Campaign by the well-known writer Naam Al-Baz,” said Hamdy al-Sotouhi, head of the Abu Simbel Temples 50 Campaign, who added that among the most important was one depicting Ramses II with his beloved wife Nefertari discussing the construction of the temples.
The Abu Simbel sound and light show took place as usual, and this time round it was attended by Minister of Antiquities Khaled Al-Enani, who delivered a lecture on the events. Minister of Culture Helmi Al-Namnam, candidate for the position of director-general of UNESCO Moushira Khattab, and Aswan Governor Magdi Hegazi, as well as a number of the surviving engineers, archaeologists and workers who took part in the safeguarding operations in the 1960s, were in attendance.
As the assembled dignitaries waited for the equinox, ten musical troupes performed Nubian folkloric songs and dances. The atmosphere was joyous as hibiscus and tamarind drinks were drunk and stuffed dates served on coloured bamboo plates were eaten. The sound of Nubian music filled the night air, as women, men, boys, and girls in colourful garb danced to the rhythms of the duf, a traditional tambourine without bells. A pharaonic ballet and dancing tableau was also performed.
Hossam Aboud, director of the Nubia Monuments, said that the shining of the sun's rays on the face of the statue of Ramses II located in the sanctuary was connected to the Abu Simbel Temples more than to any other ancient Egyptian temple. The effects of the equinox used to happen on 21 February and 21 October, but after the relocation of the temples they had shifted by one day, he said.
The temples axis runs perpendicular to the outer mountain surface. The inner halls of the main temple were laid out exactly towards the main sanctuary, which contains statues of Ramses II and the gods Ptah, Amun-Re and Re-Hur-Akhty. The sun's rays penetrate into the sanctuary some 61 metres inside the temple during the vernal equinox and illuminate the statues of Amun-Re, Ramses II and Re-Hur-Akhty for a few days. During the autumnal equinox the statues are illuminated from the reversed side for the same period.
“It was an ingenious idea, accomplished by the astronomers and architects of the time, who chose the mountain at Abu Simbel because it faces east,” Abdou commented.


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