Absence of yearly phenomenon in Ancient Egypt monument upsets Egyptians and tourists

A remarkable phenomenon that takes place every year Feb. 22 and Oct. 22 is anticipated by hundreds of tourists and citizens in Egypt. This year, however, the phenomenon left both foreigners and Egyptians extremely disappointed.

The sun was expected to shine on three of four statues in one of the Abu Simbel temples as usual, but it didn’t.

The phenomenon emanates from the precise way the left Abu Simbel temple is oriented, causing light to enter through a small dark doorway, reach the back wall deep inside the temple and illuminate the shrine containing statues of four ancient Egyptian gods. However, the light only falls on three of the statues, leaving the fourth one, Ptah, who is said to be a god of the underworld, in darkness.

Abu Simbel is one of the most famous tourist attractions that date back to Ancient Egypt. Located in Nubia near the Egyptian-Sudanese borders, Abu Simbel actually consists of two separate temples and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site also known as “the Nubian Monuments.” The Abu Simbel temples were built nearly 3,200 years ago during the reign of Ramses II. It is to him that the left temple is dedicated, while the right one is dedicated to his queen, Nefertari.

The temples were relocated in the 1960s, moved to higher grounds through a project undertaken by UNESCO, in order to save the monuments from flooding. The construction of the Aswan High Dam caused the water of the Nile River, and consequently of Lake Nasser, to rise, dangerously submerging a part of the Abu Simbel temples and others. The temples were divided into huge blocks and lifted above the cliff. They were then put back together exactly as they were. Some of the seams are still easily visible today.

Before the relocation, the dates used to be Feb. 21 and Oct. 21, which are said to be the birthday and coronation of Ramses II, respectively.

Egyptians and tourists both gather in huge numbers to watch this phenomenon, which has been taking place biannually for over 3,000 years. It was not even stopped by the relocation of the temples to higher grounds, as the new position was accurately calculated to ensure its continuation.

This year, however, for the first time in years, the sun did not shine on the statues Feb. 22, causing extreme disappointment among tourists and Egyptians alike. The fog and clouds that hid the sun are pretty unusual for a city like Aswan, which is usually warm and sunny with clear skies, even in winter.

“It’s an amazing phenomenon that should be preserved through protecting the environment,” a Ain Shams University professor said, pointing out indirectly to climate change as a possible cause of the phenomenon absence and unusual weather conditions.

Related: No Egypt without the Nile

Egypt has been seeing unstable weather these past few years, including more rainy winters, as well as summers that seem to be hotter and longer each year. December 2013 saw the first snowfall in Egypt in a hundred years, while October 2015 saw floods in different areas as Egypt got hit by rain showers that, light as they might be considered in rainy countries, were too much for Egypt, unprepared as it is for more than a few inches of rain throughout the year. These floods have caused many deaths from traffic accidents to electric shocks to drownings.

“Egypt has always been a desert country, and ancient Egyptians built monuments that lasted thousands of years because of that,” a Helwan University student said. “These temples were saved from the water, but if the weather keeps changing and we get more rain, not only the Abu Simbel temples, but all monuments across Egypt will be in danger.”

Cover credit: Dreamstime.com


Noha Elmessiri

Art major at Helwan University, Cairo former US Department of State Scholar, former Intern at Rush Art Gallery, former exhibitor at "I in you, you in i" and "no exit" Art Exhibits. "I like to write because it's a way to express your opinions. I especially love fiction because I feel part of the world I'm writing or reading about."