Abu Simbel was unheard of in the Egyptological world until J. L. Burckhardt in 1813 stumbled on the upper part of a temple façade almost covered by sand. The entrance leading into the temple was discovered four years later by Giovanni Battista Belzoni and since then it has attracted many who have been awe-struck by the colossal façade of the temple.
Although the temple attracts tourists all year round its worth everything to visit this 3000 year old inspiring rock mountain on the 22nd of February and the 22nd of October, when the Sun illuminates the sanctuary statues.
The temple was actually built further down the Nile, in the same relative position, but due to the rising waters of Lake Nasser that grew behind the Aswan Dam, the temple had to be moved on the desert plateau 200 feet above and 600 feet west of their original location. In a massive archeological rescue plan by the UNESCO in the 1960s the complex of temples was moved to its site today from the original locations that are presently underwater.
Abu Simbel lies 280 km south of Aswan and only 40 km north of the Sudanese border. Archaeologists have concluded that the immense sizes of the statues in the Great Temple were intended to scare potential enemies approaching Egypt's southern region, as they traveled down the Nile from out of Africa.
The massive façade of the main temple is dominated by four seated colossal statues of Ramses II himself. Each statue 67 feet high is seated on a throne and wears the double crown of Upper and Lower Egypt and all are sculpted directly from the rock face. The thrones are decorated on their sides with Nile gods symbolically uniting Egypt. Between the legs and on each of their sides stand smaller statues of members of the royal family. The smaller statues of relatives were of his wife Queen Nefertari, his mother Tuya the great wife of Seti Ι, and of many of his children.
There are two main temples, that of Ramses II dedicated to sun gods Amun Ra and Ra-Harakhte and the smaller was built in honor of Nefertari, his wife and dedicated to the goddess Hathor. The temples are as impressive in the day as they are by night, since each night there are three Sound and Light Shows in seven different languages.
The Abu Simbel Sun Festival is one of the world's most unique events to date. This week the Solstice occurrence can be witnessed again by crowds that pack into the temple before sunrise. The two dates, February and October the 22nd commemorate King Ramses' ΙΙ ascension to the throne and his birthday respectively.
The Sun Festival starts at dawn as the visitors watch the shafts of light slowly creep into the temple lighting up this sanctuary. Curiously enough the sun illuminates the status of Amun-Ra, Ra-Harakhte and Ramses the god; whilst the statue of Ptah, the god of darkness remains in the shadows.
So on the 22nd of this month unlike any of us, Ramses will not be having candles lite up on his birthday, but the first rays of the Sun will light up his face before it lights up his architectural phenomena and the rest of Egypt!
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