Abu Simbel Temple (Al-Ahram)
Hundreds of tourists gathered at dawn on Tuesday at the 3,200-year-old Abu Simbel Temple in Aswan to watch the sun illuminate the statue of King Ramses II, an astronomical phenomenon that takes place twice a year.
During the solar alignment ceremony, sun rays travel through the ancient temple's dark inner chamber to light three of the four statues: that of King Ramses II and the deities Amun-Re and Re-Hur-Akhty, leaving the god of darkness Ptah in shadow to symbolise his connection to the underworld.
The phenomenon took place at around 5:52am and lasted for nearly 20 minutes, head of the antiquities area in Aswan Abdel-Moneim Said told Al-Ahram Arabic news website.
One of Egypt's most powerful and well-known pharaohs, Ramses II had the temple carved into a sandstone mountain on the banks of the Nile to align with the sun twice a year – in February and October – to celebrate his birthday and ascension to the throne. This month, the ceremony marks the pharaoh's coronation.
Eight folklore troupes performed songs and dances with traditional costumes during a celebration that took place the night before.
The spectacle at Abu Simbel, one of the most popular remnants of the Pharaonic era, witnessed heightened security measures this year. The ceremony usually draws a large number of local and foreign visitors.
The UNESCO World Heritage site, known for its four colossal statues at the entrance, was partially buried in the sands before being rediscovered in the 1800s.
In the 1960s, it was relocated to make way for Lake Nasser, the man-made reservoir of the Aswan High Dam.
The solar alignment has since occurred on the 22nd of February and October every year – one day later than the original date.