This festival celebrates the two days of the year on which the light of the rising sun can reach the 180-foot deep innermost chambers of Abu Simbel, the great temple of Ramses II, in Egypt. The temple was designed so that only on these two days in February and October does the sun shine on the four gods in the sanctuary: Ptah, Amen-Re, Ramses, and Re-Horakhty. This temple, the most colossal in Egypt, was built by Ramses II between 1300 and 1233 B.C., and is famous for its four 65-foot statues of the seated Ramses. It is actually two temples—one for Ramses and one for queen Nefertiti— and is extraordinary for its grandeur, beauty, and history. It was unknown to the European world until Swiss explorer Johann Burckhardt found it in 1812. The Italian Giovanni Belzoni excavated the entrance and explored the temple in 1816. In 1964, when the new Aswan Dam was to be built, creating a lake that would have drowned the temple, it was cut into 2,000 pieces and reassembled at a site about 180 feet higher. It is not as perfect as it was at the foot of the cliff— but it was saved.
It is thought that there must have been ritual celebrations in ancient times on the days when the sun penetrated the sanctuary. Today, television covers the event, and people gather to see the sunrise and to meditate. The sun now shines on the sanctuary a day earlier than it did before the temple was moved.
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