The last Egyptian templeThe last Egyptian temple

Abu Simbel Temples are not just “ordinary” Egyptian temples.

When the Priests-Architects of Pharaoh designed the temple of Ramesses, beloved of Amun, they decided to celebrate both the Sun-God, Amun, and their King-God, Ramesses II.

They created a 3-rooms speos, a temple carved in a mountain. The first room is guarded by 6 columns-statues of Ramesses II (on which faces you can still see the 3000-years-old painting of the beard and make-up of the eyes.

The second room’s ceiling is supported by four large square pillars.

And after this succession of two rooms, perfectly aligned with them, lies the temple’s Holiest of the Holy : a small oblong room, 3 meters by 6 maybe, with 4 statues, 2.5 meters high, sitting at the very bottom of the temple, facing the entrance: from left to right Ptah, Amun-Ra, Ramesses, and Ra-Horakhty. In the middle of the room is the stone on which the sacred boat lied.

Apart from the beauty of this age-old temple, nothing surprising. But there’s more.Abu Simbel Temples are not just “ordinary” Egyptian temples.

When the Priests-Architects of Pharaoh designed the temple of Ramesses, beloved of Amun, they decided to celebrate both the Sun-God, Amun, and their King-God, Ramesses II.

They created a 3-rooms speos, a temple carved in a mountain. The first room is guarded by 6 columns-statues of Ramesses II (on which faces you can still see the 3000-years-old painting of the beard and make-up of the eyes.

The second room’s ceiling is supported by four large square pillars.

And after this succession of two rooms, perfectly aligned with them, lies the temple’s Holiest of the Holy : a small oblong room, 3 meters by 6 maybe, with 4 statues, 2.5 meters high, sitting at the very bottom of the temple, facing the entrance: from left to right Ptah, Amun-Ra, Ramesses, and Ra-Horakhty. In the middle of the room is the stone on which the sacred boat lied.

Apart from the beauty of this age-old temple, nothing surprising. But there’s more.

Twice a year, on the alleged dates of Ramesses II’s birthday and coronation anniversary, respectively October 21st and February 21st, the rising sun penetrates through the gigantic doors of the temple, some 50 meters deep into the mountain, to light 3 of the four statutes sitting at the bottom of the temple.

By doing so, the Sun-God regenerates the two main Gods of the Egyptian pantheon, Amun-Ra and Ra-Horakhty, as well as Ramesses, Pharaoh of Lower and Upper Egypt, and God himself. The last god, Ptah, God of the underworld, has remained in the darkness for the past 3300 years.

This (metaphorically but for the ancient Egyptians, also litteraly) magical event is celebrated by several days of festivities and concerts in the village of Abu Simbel. The most Nubian of these events is held, of course, at the Nubian House, the Eskaleh Ecolodge, as a Nubian music night.

Then, in the morning, the whole village goes to the temple to witness the phenomenon.

I have to say that I always try to avoid the crowds. One of the best ways to do it, for this event, is to attend it one or two days before or after February 21st. Because as it as astronomical, it is a progressive event, which rise and decline around the sacred date.

These are the moments I prefer, with only 15 people in the temple (thanks to the Egyptian revolution, no tourist crowd this year ;) ), with this very special atmosphere mixing fascination, respect, reverence and contemplation.

For half an hour, the temple lights remain switched off. People gather on the side of the main alley, the luckiest one (I was one of those this year ;) ) sitting in the very last room, facing the statues. And for 20 minutes, the Sun-God, rising, illuminates each of the three statutes.

I’ve been in countless ancient places of worship, Roman, Greek, Nabatean, Egyptian. You look at the architecture, the carvings, the ruins of what was, some couple of thousand years ago, places where people prayed. But on these days, the Abu Simbel temple is different.

This magical astronomical phenomenon, designed more than 3000 years ago to keep alive the gods’ statutes, does indeed revives. But it revives the whole temple. What was ruins under sand for 2000 years, until its rediscovery and reopening in 1813, comes back to life twice a year. On these days, the Abu Simbel Temple of Ramesses, beloved by Amun, cease to be a ruin to become, once again, a place where people would gather respectfully to revere the magic of the Sun, the skills of their ancestors, and the genius of Mankind. In the last Egyptian temple.

Twice a year, on the alleged dates of Ramesses II’s birthday and coronation anniversary, respectively October 21st and February 21st, the rising sun penetrates through the gigantic doors of the temple, some 50 meters deep into the mountain, to light 3 of the four statutes sitting at the bottom of the temple.

By doing so, the Sun-God regenerates the two main Gods of the Egyptian pantheon, Amun-Ra and Ra-Horakhty, as well as Ramesses, Pharaoh of Lower and Upper Egypt, and God himself. The last god, Ptah, God of the underworld, has remained in the darkness for the past 3300 years.

This (metaphorically but for the ancient Egyptians, also litteraly) magical event is celebrated by several days of festivities and concerts in the village of Abu Simbel. The most Nubian of these events is held, of course, at the Nubian House, the Eskaleh Ecolodge, as a Nubian music night.

Then, in the morning, the whole village goes to the temple to witness the phenomenon.

I have to say that I always try to avoid the crowds. One of the best ways to do it, for this event, is to attend it one or two days before or after February 21st. Because as it as astronomical, it is a progressive event, which rise and decline around the sacred date.

These are the moments I prefer, with only 15 people in the temple (thanks to the Egyptian revolution, no tourist crowd this year ;) ), with this very special atmosphere mixing fascination, respect, reverence and contemplation.

For half an hour, the temple lights remain switched off. People gather on the side of the main alley, the luckiest one (I was one of those this year ;) ) sitting in the very last room, facing the statues. And for 20 minutes, the Sun-God, rising, illuminates each of the three statutes.

I’ve been in countless ancient places of worship, Roman, Greek, Nabatean, Egyptian. You look at the architecture, the carvings, the ruins of what was, some couple of thousand years ago, places where people prayed. But on these days, the Abu Simbel temple is different.

This magical astronomical phenomenon, designed more than 3000 years ago to keep alive the gods’ statutes, does indeed revives. But it revives the whole temple. What was ruins under sand for 2000 years, until its rediscovery and reopening in 1813, comes back to life twice a year. On these days, the Abu Simbel Temple of Ramesses, beloved by Amun, cease to be a ruin to become, once again, a place where people would gather respectfully to revere the magic of the Sun, the skills of their ancestors, and the genius of Mankind. In the last Egyptian temple.

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