ABU SIMBEL, Egypt—Hundreds of visitors gathered in Egypt on Wednesday at the Great Temple of Ramses II to watch the sun illuminate colossal statues, a rare 3,200-year-old astronomical ceremony that happens twice a year.
At dawn at Abu Simbel, local dignitaries and tourists patiently waited for the sun to send a beam of light into the ancient temple’s dark inner chamber for over 10 minutes, lighting three of four enormous, 22-meter (72-feet) -high statues.
Thirty-two centuries ago, during the reign of Ramses II, the temple was precisely built to align with the sun twice a year, celebrating the pharaoh’s birthday and coronation.
It is considered one of the most beautiful of Egypt’s ancient monuments and it is well-known for its four colossal statues of Ramses II, the sun gods Re-Horakhte and Amon-Re, and the Theban god of darkness Ptah, the only one who is not lit by the solar alignment.
“The phenomenon attracts a lot of people who want to come and see it because it doesn’t exist in any other country,” said Moustafa Yousri, governor of the city of Aswan.
Six folklore groups from across Egypt entertained the crowd with regional varieties of traditional costumes, dances and songs.
Since being relocated in the 1960s to make way for the Aswan dam’s reservoir, Lake Nasser, the day of the solar alignment is one day later in the year.
Egyptian authorities are working hard to revive the tourism industry, collapsed in the wake of the 2011 uprising and the political turmoil that followed.