Tuesday, March 7, 2017
Short Story: Crowds Descend on Abu Simbel
Abu Simbel was abuzz with Ramses fever this week as the sun’s rays penetrated through his temple to illuminate the pharaoh’s face 200 years after its discovery. Written By/ Nevine El-Aref.
A crowd of over 4,000 people descended on Abu Simbel 280km south of Aswan on Wednesday to witness a phenomenon that only takes place twice a year. On 22 February and 22 October every year, the sun’s rays travel through the Temple of Ramses II at Abu Simbel to illuminate the face of a statue of the pharaoh.
Despite the cold weather, visitors stayed awake all night waiting for the sunrise, entertained by a musical troupe performing Nubian folkloric songs and dances as well as other troupes from Indonesia, Greece and India.
The atmosphere was joyous, as hibiscus and tamarind drinks were sampled along with stuffed dates served on large, coloured bamboo plates. The sound of music filled the dry night air, as women, men, boys, and girls in colourful Nubian garb danced to the rhythm of the duf, a kind of tambourine, while other foreign dancers in traditional costumes danced to their music.
Archaeological chief inspector Hossam Aboud said the celebrations took place every year and that people from neighbouring villages often flocked to Abu Simbel to attend. According to Aboud, couples have even been known to plan their weddings on the day. One couple had chosen to have their wedding ceremony within the temple itself, he said.
Beit Fekry, the house of a Nubian citizen called Fekry, was also buzzing with people who had come to celebrate the sun’s alignment in their own way. They danced to Nubian music and moved in rows backwards and forwards.
At 3am, people began to reserve their seats at the foot of the monumental temple. At 6:25am, the sun struck the innermost wall of the temple’s sanctuary, illuminating images of the right arm of the god Re-Horakhti, the face of Ramses II, and the right shoulder of the god Amun-Re, leaving only the god Ptah in darkness. Twenty minutes later, the temple was dark again.
Afterwards, a Swiss tourist who had come to witness the festival and celebrate 200 years since Abu Simbel’s discovery told Al-Ahram Weekly that although the event was “great it was also difficult because people had to position themselves so as not to obstruct the sun’s rays and move quickly so that others could see.” He said he had been so wrapped up in being careful that he had almost not been able to see the event.
Mahmoud Afifi, head of the Ancient Egyptian Antiquities Department at the Ministry of Antiquities, said people sometimes wrongly confused the event with Ramses II’s coronation or birth, while it was actually the way the ancient Egyptians identified the beginning of summer and winter in order to alert farmers to the start of the cultivation season or harvest.
The two Abu Simbel Temples were built by Ramses II (1279-1213 BCE) to demonstrate his political clout and divine backing to the ancient Nubians. On each side of the main temple, carved into a sandstone cliff overlooking the Nile’s second cataract, sits a pair of colossal statues of the pharaoh.
Though the statues have been damaged in earthquakes since their construction, they remain an awe-inspiring, tremendous sight. The temple is aligned to face the east, and above the entrance sits a niche with a representation of Re-Horakhti, an aspect of the sun god.
In the early 1960s the temple was moved to higher ground, a task requiring considerable international resources, when the building of the Aswan High Dam caused Lake Nasser to fill and inundate the area. For this reason, the sun now strikes a day later than originally planned, though the event itself is no less stunning.
This year, the event also marks the celebration of 200 years since the discovery of the Abu Simbel Temples by Swiss explorer Johann Ludwig Burckhardt, who died shortly after his discovery, and his colleague Italian explorer Giovanni Belzoni.
To highlight this in advance of the gala ceremony to be held in October, the ministry organised a photographic exhibition in the area’s visitor centre that related the history of the temples since their discovery in 1817. The exhibition was inaugurated by ministers of culture Helmi Al-Namnam and of antiquities Khaled El-Enany.
Hisham Al-Leithi, head of the Antiquities Registration Centre, told the Weekly that the exhibition put on show a collection of 50 vintage photographs showing the temples covered with sand, while others showed their excavation. Other photographs showed the salvage operation of the temples in the 1960s and their relocation and reconstruction at their current location in the desert on a 65-metre artificial hill above the High Dam to protect them from the waters of Lake Nasser.... READ MORE.