ASWAN, Egypt – Monday marked the rare, twice-yearly solar alignment in southern Egypt when the sun’s rays reach the sanctuary deep inside the Great Temple of Abu Simbel and briefly illuminate the stone face of the Pharaoh Ramses II – and hundreds of tourists were on hand to witness the spectacle.
An epa-efe photojournalist made the trek to document the carefully-engineered event, which has taken place at dawn for over 3,000 years each Feb. 22, the king’s birthday, and Oct. 22, the day marking his coronation.
In a sign of the times, many tourists created their own illumination inside the temple from the glow of their cell phone screens, held overhead as they angled for the perfect shot of the statue.
Monday also marked the 50th anniversary of the completion of a far more modern feat of engineering on the west bank of the Nile.
During the 1960s, the entire Abu Simbel temple, its massive outer statues standing 20 meters high (66 feet) and the sandstone cliff in which it was carved were all moved piece by piece to higher ground, saving them from being submerged in the rising waters behind the newly-built Aswan High Dam.
Though Abu Simbel now sits just beside the reservoir, the temple was rebuilt at exactly the right orientation so that the sun continues to shine on Ramses II, a fitting tribute to one of the greatest examples of ancient Egyptian art.
Located over 850 kilometers (500 miles) south of the capital Cairo, and only around 30 kilometers (20 miles) from the present-day border with Sudan, Abu Simbel was “rediscovered” by the west in 1813.