Archaeoastronomy: The study of stones and stars

Abu Simbel Temples

Abu Simbel is a pair of temples cut into sandstone cliffs by Pharaoh Rameses II between 1279 and 1213 B.C.E. to celebrate his domination of Nubia. Over the centuries, it was covered by sand, then rediscovered and excavated in 1817. The front of the larger temple is massive at over 100 feet tall and 125 feet wide, with four statues all representing Rameses II.

The front of the Ramses Temple at Abu Simbel by Than217 at English Wikipedia, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The entrance faces just slightly south east, essentially facing the rising sun. The temple is deep, with many rooms carved out of the cliff. These rooms contain engravings, sculptures, and paintings that depict different scenes of Ramses II’s life and victories. At the very back of the temple, 185 feet from the door, is a wall with four sculptures representing Ramses II (again!) with three of the most popular gods at the time, Ptah, Amun-ra, and Ra Harakhte.

Inside the Temple at Abu Simbel UNESCO, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO, via Wikimedia Commons

Twice a year, as the sun rises, it’s rays make it all the way to the back of the temple and illuminate three of these four statues. The god Ptah (far left), who had ties to the underworld, remains in shadow, while Amun-ra, Ramses II, and Ra Harakhte all get lit.

Click here to visit the UNESCO site on Abu Simbel..

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