Whenever we think about the prodigious monuments of the past like Stonehenge, the pyramids in Egypt and Mexico, The Mohai of Easter Island, for example, we cannot but see them as surrounded by an aura of magic. Some of them are huge tombs erected for the pharaohs or the rulers of the time, but for what concerns many others we may just suppose the reason why they were erected. Take the case of Stonehenge: was it an observatory, a temple, a market place or a truce ground? Who knows? However, they were all thought to be huge as if they were meant be seen not only by people as symbol of the terrifying power of the ruler, but by somebody above, as link between the earth and the divinity. That is why they were usually built on plains, deserts or on the top of the hills: they had to be clearly visible to the gods. One clue that the builders were often with their nose up to the sky is the alignments chosen for these monuments, which seem to follow astronomical events like solstices, equinoxes or in the case of the pyramids of Giza it has been said that they “were a terrestrial map of the three stars of Orion’s belt“. One thing is for sure, the makers of the past knew the laws of nature very well, with such a degree of precision that sometimes cannot be surpassed by modern engineers with all the technological devices at their disposal. One of these cases is at Abu Simbel.
Abu Simbel is a village in Nubia, southern Egypt, near the border with Sudan.There you may find the two Abu Simbel temples, which are very likely the most impressive, fascinating temples I have ever seen in my life ( I live in Rome, remember 😉 ). They are two massive rock-cut temples situated on the western bank of Lake Nasser, about 230 km southwest of Aswan. The twin temples were originally carved out of the mountainside during the reign of Pharaoh Ramesses II in the 13th century BC, as a lasting monument to himself and his beloved queen, the beautiful Nefertari, to commemorate his victory at the Battle of Kadesh.The main temple was dedicated to two sun gods, Amen-Re and Re-Horakhte. Standing 100 feet (33 metres) tall, the temple was carved into a sandstone mountain on the banks of the Nile. Four colossal statues of Ramses, each 66 feet (22 meters) high, guard the entrance to the temple. Rising to the pharaoh’s knees are smaller statues of family members: his mother, Nefertari, and his son . A second temple at Abu Simbel is dedicated to Nefertari and the goddess Hathor. It seems that Nefertari, who was already sick and exhausted by the long navigation down the Nile, died as soon as she entered the temple.
On passing to the interior, a shadowy light emphasizes the mysterious and evocative atmosphere of the place. Going through a vast rectangular hall flanked by eight Osiris pillars ten meters tall arranged in two rows, representing Osiris with the features of Ramses, you reach the sanctuary, the most intimate and secret part of the temple: a small room, four meters by seven, where the statue of the deified Ramses II sits together with the triad of “Ptah”, “Amen-Ra” and “Harmakhis”. It is in this place that the so-called “miracle of the sun” happens: twice a year, the rising sun penetrates the heart of the mountain and illuminates the statues in the sanctuary gradually flooding them in light. It takes about twenty minutes for the light to pass. According to the ancient Egyptians, the sun rays would thus recharged of energy the figure of pharaoh. Ptah is never struck by the sun’s rays, in fact, he is the god of darkness and the dead. This event happened twice a year, the 21st of February and the 21st of October, the former seems it was the day of Ramses’s birth, while the latter was the day he was crowned .
You have to know that the Abu Simbel temples do not sit in their original location. Because of the construction of the Aswan High Dam in the 1960s, rising waters flooded a number of important archaeological sites along the banks of the Nile and dislodged thousands of people who lived in the area. Even the temples of Abu Simbel were threatened, therefore, Members of the United Nations Education, Science, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) coordinated a massive construction project that moved the temple back 690 feet to its present site. Piece by piece, the two temples we cut into massive blocks of sandstone up to thirty tons and were carefully reassembled on a new steel and cement “mountain,” safe from the water’s edge. And you know what? Despite the measurements, calculations, technology, well, it has not been possible to reproduce “the miracle of sun” when it was originally planned, that is, the 21st of February and October, but the days of illumination have shifted by one !! 😀