Palindromic alignment at Abu Simbel

Nevine El-Aref , Tuesday 22 Feb 2022

The biannual solar alignment at the Abu Simbel Temple in Upper Egypt was a once in a lifetime event this year owing to a trick of the calendar, writes Nevine El-Aref

Palindromic alignment at Abu Simbel
During this year s solar alignment, hundreds of lanterns were allowed to float up into the sky

Before dawn on Tuesday this week, around 6,000 visitors flocked to the site of Abu Simbel in Upper Egypt to witness the solar alignment that occurs twice a year on 22 October and 22 February.

During the alignment, the sun’s rays enter the Abu Simbel Temple’s inner sanctum to light up three of the four statues within. The three statues belong to the ancient Egyptian 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.

This time round, the solar alignment fell on the unique palindrome date of 22/02/2022.

Although darkness blanketed the site when the phenomenon occurred, the esplanade in front of the temple was already buzzing with people. Some were queuing in front of the entrance to the Ramses II Temple waiting for the solar alignment, while others were standing at the end of the queue trying to catch a glimpse of the alignment through the temple’s main gate.

Beside the temple, another group of visitors stood mesmerised in front of a large screen installed especially to broadcast the alignment live to those not able to enter or to wait in the queue.

The visitors were also being entertained by groups of folk dancers from all over the world dancing in colourful costumes.

The Abu Simbel Temple is a unique piece of architecture, minister of tourism and antiquities Khaled El-Enany said, adding that it should be considered the Eighth Wonder of the Ancient World added to the traditional Seven.

The engraving and colours of the reliefs decorating its walls are a wonder in themselves, El-Enany said, pointing out that among the reliefs decorating the temple’s walls are those depicting the renowned Kaddish War, the earliest pitched battle in recorded history for which details of tactics and formations are known.

The reliefs also document the world’s first-ever peace treaty.

The day before the solar alignment took place, the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities, in collaboration with the Ministry of Culture, organised a sound-and-light show relating the story of the temple, its construction in ancient times, and its salvaging and reconstruction during the 1960s.

The temple was dismantled and relocated to a higher location to save it from the rising waters of Lake Nasser, the man-made reservoir behind the Aswan High Dam.

During this year’s solar alignment, hundreds of lanterns were allowed to float up into the sky sending a message of peace and love from Abu Simbel to the world and lighting up the sky above the temple.

The celebration also saw folklore performances by 18 dance troupes from Egypt and eight from other countries.

One of ancient Egypt’s most powerful pharaohs, Ramses II, had the temple carved into the side of a sandstone mountain on the banks of the Nile to align with the sun twice a year in February and October in order to celebrate his birthday and ascension to the throne.

The temple, a UNESCO World Heritage Site known for its four colossal statues around the entrance, was partially buried in the sands before being rediscovered in the 1800s.

*A version of this article appears in print in the 24 February, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.

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