Skip to main content

Egypt prepares for solar alignment in Abu Simbel temple amid coronavirus

The major solar phenomenon of the sun passing over the statue of Ramses II at the Temple of Abu Simbel in Egypt’s Aswan is overshadowed this year by the coronavirus pandemic.
A picture taken in 2002 shows tourists casting their shadows as a ray of light illuminates the statue of Ramses II inside the temple of Abu Simbel, south of Aswan, in upper Egypt. More than 2500 tourists witnessed 22 October 2007 the sun illuminating the inner sanctuary, which happens only twice a year with a wide belief among archaeologists that the two days mark Ramsis II's birthday and day of coronation. AFP PHOTO/KHALED DESOUKI (Photo credit should read KHALED DESOUKI/AFP via Getty Images)

CAIRO — The solar alignment where the sun illuminates the face of the statue of Ramses II is considered a major event in Pharaonic history and holds many secrets of the pharaohs.

This phenomenon occurs twice a year in the Temple of Abu Simbel in the city of Aswan in Upper Egypt, a scene that attracts the world’s attention.

Maj. Gen. Ashraf Attia, governor of Aswan, said in a press statement Oct. 22  that preparations have been made by all parties involved to receive tourists, both foreign and Egyptian, flocking in to witness this phenomenon. He stressed that precautionary and preventive measures against the coronavirus have been taken. Attia added that it was agreed with the Egyptian Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities and the Ministry of Culture not to hold the celebration that usually takes place on the sidelines of the biannual event, in a bid to prevent many people gathering.

King Ramses II is known as Ramses the Great, the third pharaoh of the 19th Dynasty of Egypt, who led many military campaigns in the Levant. At the age of 14, Ramses II took over the reins of power from his father Seti I.

Twice a year, the sun illuminates the face of Ramses II, passing over a 60-meter (197-feet) distance until it reaches the Holy of Holies room, where the king lies. The sun also passes over the Ramses II statue for 20-25 minutes at dawn of Oct. 22, which coincides with the start of the flood and agricultural season in ancient Egypt. On Feb. 22, the sun announces the start of the harvest season.

The Holy of Holies is a room in the temple that is home to the statue of Ramses II and, sitting next to him, the God of the Sun Ra, the gods Re Hor Achti and Amun, and Ptah, the god of darkness.

According to Egyptologist Wassim al-Sisi, ancient Egyptians were geniuses in astronomy and all sciences. He told Al-Monitor that the world’s scientists acknowledged that the sun phenomenon over the statue of Ramses II is a great miracle, as the sun passes over the statue twice a year — on Ramses II’s birthday and the day of his coronation.

Sisi added that at the same time the sun also illuminates the statues of Re Hor Achti and Amun. 

“The great surprise is that the sun illuminates half of the face of the god Ptah, the fourth god in the Holy of Holies room. Ptah symbolizes the night and the day, or the light and the darkness,” Sisi said.

He noted, “This phenomenon embodies the gigantic efforts made by Egyptian pharaohs in the world of astronomy to serve all humanity." 

Sisi said that the pharaohs were successful in creating a great astronomical phenomenon, while the rest of the world struggled to come up with a calendar.

“Back then the lunar calendar was common. We had found an archaeological papyrus that read, ‘Save me, Amun. Summer and winter are overlapping and intertwining,’” Sisi said. 

“This solar phenomenon proves that Egypt under the pharaohs revealed back in 4242 B.C. that the earth was part of the solar and not the lunar system. This is why we, Egyptians, have to celebrate the fact that Egypt set for the world the correct solar calendar for the year — with 366 days,” he said.

Sisi pointed out that civilization begins with written records. “Before civilization there was what is called civilization quest. Ancient Egyptians assured the world since 4241 B.C. that a year is made up of 365 days. This indicates that nearly 500 years of astronomical research had been done to pave the way for this [discovery],” he said. 

“For instance, the First Dynasty began in 5619 B.C., and not 3003, as the British Museum claims. This was proved by recent studies,” Sisi said.

The British Museum had previsouly confirmed that the First Dynasty comprised three kings, but nine royal tombs of the First Dynasty were later found in 2016 in several areas in Egypt. 

Elhami al-Zayat, a tourist expert and head of the Egyptian General Company for Tourism and Hotels, told Al-Monitor that the sun phenomenon on the statue of Ramses II is seen as one of the greatest events in the world, which has a major positive impact on Egytian tourism.

“The timing, however, of this [biannual] event does not suit many tourists, especially students who are usually caught up at schools or universities at these times of the year. But the Temple of Abu Simbel, in general, is seen as one of the major tourist attractions in the city of Aswan in Upper Egypt,” Zayat said. 

He added, “This event is occurring this year amid exceptional circumstances, namely the coronavirus pandemic that has negatively affected the turnout of foreign tourists."

Zayat said that the pandemic has dealt a blow to the tourism sector not only in Egypt but the entire world. “Several major tourist companies laid off a large number of their workers, not being able to pay salaries. The tourism industry has been the hardest hit by the coronavirus since its outbreak until now.”

Zayat called on the world’s governments to save the tourism sector from collapse, by offering tourism companies financial aid, especially since the global movement of tourists has drastically dwindled compared to previous years. 

More from Baher al-Kady