Possibly the most awe-inspiring temple of all ancient Egypt, with its gargantuan rock-cut façade, the great Sun Temple of King Ramses II at Abu Simbel was created to revere the mighty pharaonic ruler King Ramses II. Guarding the entrance to the temple and hewn into the side of a mountain are four famous colossal statues of the pharaoh himself.
In a fit of precision and architectural egotism, Ramses II had the entire temple carefully angled and oriented in order that the sun’s rays would align twice a year on his date of his ascension to the throne (21 February) and on his birthday (21 October) and illuminate the inner sanctum of the temple. This incredible natural phenomenon provides for a most spectacular sight, which has come to be referred to as the Sun Festival of King Ramses II. Crowds pack in to the temple before sunrise and watch the shafts of light slowly creeping through the rock hewn inner Hypostyle Hall (replete with further statues of the king) and through to the Sanctuary. Significantly, the sun illuminates statues of Amun-Re, Re-Herakhte and Ramses the god, whilst the statute of Ptah - the god of darkness - remains in the shadows.
Over the centuries, the desert sands imperceptibly shifted until the temple was all but lost to humanity. It was rediscovered by chance in 1813 by a Swiss explorer called John Lewis Burkhardt. Only one of the heads of the pharaohs was showing and only a small part of the rest of the colossal temple peeked above the desert sands. It wasn’t until the British happened upon Abu Simbel and starting excavating, that the full glory of the temple of Abu Simbel was revealed to the modern world.
Famously, the temple was re-located in a multi-million dollar operation in 1972, further up from the shoreline of Lake Nasser, which had threatened to erode the foundations of this monolithic temple complex. For this reason, the sun now strikes a day later than Ramses had originally planned, though the event itself is no less stunning.
Lots of our trips give the opportunity to visit this astounding temple, either as a bolt-on, in the case of our group and family tours, or included in the itinerary of our Sun Festival and tailor-made tours. See below for a tantalising selection.