The Sun Perpendicularity on Abu Simbel Temple Phenomenon
By Prof. Dr. Mosalam Shaltout
Abu Simbel Temple is the biggest single-cut rock in the world, and can be considered as a perfect example of ancient architecture and geometry. It is difficult to say how this large building is found in such a far and remote area of the country, but here are two theories for this: either Abu Simbel hill held a special holiness, or the Pharaoh may have wanted to dazzle his neighbors in an area near the second fall by showing them his force and wealth.
There is much evidence indicating that the origin of the idea of building Abu Simbel temple was that of King Seti I. Also, it was found that a large internal section was cut before the time of King Ramses II, who rose to the throne in 1301 B.C. But no one can say to what extent King Seti I was responsible for the temple's completion, particularly the finishing of the front section. As is well known, King Ramses II was not begging the favor to any one before him.
Abu Simbel temple was built by prisoners of war, who finished their work sometime before 1259 B.C. The temple was dedicated to the worship of Ra Harmakhis, as were many others in Nubia. The god Ra Harmakis has been combined with the sun, and is represented as a human body with a hawk's head wearing the solar disc. Thus, the purpose of the foundation of this temple in this particular place was for sun worship.
The most important architectural points of this temple are the four colossal seated statues of King Ramses II cut into the hillside rocks. Each of the two pairs of statues are seated on either side of the temple entrance. They are more than 65 feet in height and represent King Ramses II wearing the double Egyptian crown (the Pschent). Also, we can find some relatively small statues of Queen Nefertari (known as "the most beautiful woman of all the beautiful ones") as well as some royal children. All four of these groups stand on a high base of a cartridge of King Ramses II, with a group of Asian and Black captives painted on the base. The thrones, which are box-shaped, have been painted according to the traditional groups that represent the unification of the two lands (Delta and Upper Egypt). The front section, which represents the background of the four colossal statues, has been painted in the shape of a frame, incorporating a row of 22 seated baboon monkeys, which have their arms raised in sun worship; this is significant, as it is known that baboon monkeys usually shout at sunrise. Also, on the entrance, we find a statue of the god of the sun Ra Harmakhis, also shown with a hawk's head.
The entrance of the temple leads to large hall (pronaos), featuring eight pillars, in two rows of four. A large standing statue of King Ramses II, again wearing the double crown (Pschent) and holding the scepter and the flail, reclines on each of these pillars. The pillars and the walls of the hall, which is 30 feet in height, have been covered by religious scenes, texts and scenes of the military glory of King Ramses II. The most interesting and famous scene is on the northern wall, where we can follow the various phases of the battle of Kadesh, including the pharaoh’s military campaign against the Hittites in the fifth year of his reign. A long epic poem, written by the court poet Pentaur, is engraved in hieroglyphics at this site, and is also seen on the walls of the other temples, such as Luxor and Karnak.
The pronaos leads into a hypostyle hall, with four square pillars painted with images of the pharaoh before the various gods. The walls are also decorated with liturgical scenes, including the transportation of the sacred barge. The ceiling has been painted in traditional scenes, such as the cartridge and the eagle of the extended wings.
On the northern and western walls, we find entrances leading to a group of chambers which were used as stores for the priests (determined as such as the scenes of those chambers wall are liturgic).
The middle entrance of the western wall leads to a smaller hall of four square pillars also featuring liturgic scenes. This hall has three doors; those on the northern and southern sides are of unpainted chambers, while the door on the western side illustrates the sacrarium ("The Holy of the Holies"), which is the extension of the temple axis. On the western wall of the sacrarium, we find four seated statues cut into the rock. From right to left, these statues are of Ra Harmakhis, King Ramses II, Amon Ra and Ptah. In the middle of the sacrarium, we find the table of oblation, onto which the oblations were offered when sunlight entered the chamber at dawn.
The phenomenon that makes this structure significantly different from the other ancient Egyptian temples is the entrance of the sunlight twice a year in the early morning hours; at these times the sunlight enters the sacrarium to reach the four statues, thereby illuminating this dark deep place in the rock that is 65 meters from the temple's principal entrance.
In 1874, the explorer Miss Emilda Edwards and her team observed this phenomenon and recorded it in her book published in 1899 (One Thousand Miles on the River Nile) as follows:
“At sunrise, the sacrarium statues become of an incredible effect and are covered by a beautiful corona of fear and veneration. If any one did not observe the falling of the sunlight on the statues, he would doubt about its big effect accurately calculated according to the astronomy and arithmetic of ancient Egyptians. This is because the direction of the temple was accurately calculated for a certain angle to receive these radiation on the four statues faces”.
At 6:25 a.m. on the 21st of February, or at 5:55 a.m. on the 21st of October in every year, the sunlight enters smoothly upon King Ramses’ face, representatively hugging and kissing him. A flux of light irradiates the King’s face in his chamber located inside the feared temple heart. A feeling of fear and a small pulse vibrate your heart as if the light catches you and perturbs your depth by a magic obscure force. What a magic?! -- and what obscurity perturbs your existence as though you are experiencing a moment of miracle.
Then, the sunlight spreads into a bundle of light, illuminating the four statues faces inside the sacrarium.
It is known that as a result of the motion of the earth around the sun in a semi-circular orbit, there is an apparent motion of the sun through what is called the celestial zodiac circle, which is a circle that declines by 23.5° on what is called the celestial equator. Thus, the position of the sunrise on the horizon varies daily in an interval between –23.5° and 23.5° from the true east from which the sun rises, this occurring only on the 21st of March and the 23rd of September each year (these dates being the equinoxes, or the beginning of Spring and Autumn, respectively). In the Spring and the Autumn seasons, the sun rises from a position declining from the east by some degrees north. This declination reaches its maximum on the 21st of June (the beginning of the Summer season) and will be 23.5° north. On the other hand, in the Autumn and Winter seasons, the sun rises from a position declining from the east by some degrees south. This declination reaches its maximum on the 21st of December (the beginning of the Winter season) and will be 23.5° south. Accordingly, if we have a long path directed to the east or declined to it by an angle 27.5° north or south as a maximum, and closed from the west, the sunlight will thus illuminate the closed wall twice a year.
So, it is normal to find that sunlight enters Abu Simbel temple and shines upon the four statues in the sacrarium perpendicularly twice a year, because its axis declines on the real east by an angle of precisely 10.5° south.
But the miracle appears here if the two days of illumination are selected and determined before the sculpture process. This is because a complete knowledge of the astronomy basis and many calculations are required to determine the declination of the axis of the temple from true east. Also, the miracle appears in the perfect straight axis along a distance of 65 meters cut in the rock.
Although there are no historical references to assure this, many postulate that the two days, the 21st of February and the 21st of October, are, respectively, the birth and the enthronement days of King Ramses II. Also, many references cite that the origin of the concept of building Abu Simbel temple was that of King Seti I, King Ramses II’s father. Moreover, it was found that a large internal part of this temple was cut before King Ramses II's enthronement.
We suggest here that those two days represent both the beginning of the Agriculture Season (the 21st of October) represented by uncovering of the water of the River Nile, and the beginning of the Harvest Season (the 21st of February), due to the representation of eaten green crops, such as onions and green beans. Thus both were very important days in ancient Egypt, when the land was planted once a year in a system of irrigation via basins.
We are hoping that the tourism-related announcements of this phenomenon will be accurate and scientific, especially as the history and antique-oriented tourist is typically well-educated at not easily fooled. Thus, if the announcements are not built upon true scientific and historical basis and fact, they could easily lead to a result opposite that which is desired.
Now, we will refer to the geological report of the temple prepared by a French consultative office according to a joint request by the Egyptian government and UNISCO, which was published in Paris in October, 1960. This report states that there is a strong probability that the great temple axis was not actually selected by the ancient Egyptian architects, but rather that they were pushed to select this axis as a result of the geological structure within the rocks. The report also mentions that this is not a unique case, as the same conditions occurred at the temple of Hathour (the ancient Egyptian goddess of the love and beauty). This means that the ancient Egyptians were also pushed to select the temple axis by the same factors.
Sun was the first god of the ancient Egyptians and the Solar disc Ra was their greatest god. They founded the temples for this god and joined its name to theirs. Similarly, they made the city of Heliopolis, or Ain Shams, as a center for its worship. Thus, the main purpose of cutting Abu Simbel temple in a rock mountain in such a remote location was motivated by the worship of the sun at the time of its rise. Also, we can say that the ancient Egyptians were interested with following the sun's motion through the stars and observing it accurately and regularly.
There is much evidence that show their observational accuracy and their leading other civilizations in the observation of celestial bodies, and conducting deep study based upon regular and accurate observations, coupled with a great knowledge of mathematical basis:
First: The ancient Egyptians used an accurate astronomical calendar since the pre-ancient era. This calendar was based upon the sidereal year as a basic unit of time measurement. Also, they measured its length (365.25 days) by the phenomenon of the "Helical Rising" of the star Sirius, which occurred at the time of the floods of the River Nile. Further, their paintings make it evident that they knew of this prior to the construction of the pyramids. The ancient Egyptians invented the civil year and divided it into 12 months, each having 30 days, and finally they added 5 or 6 additional days (called Al- Nassea in Egypt) to complete the year. On the other hand, the other contemporaneous cultures (Greeks, Romans and Assyrians) were essentially aiming at random in many attempts to correlate the beginning of the lunar months with the civil months.
Second: The ancient Egyptian's built the pyramids as their kings' tombs because they believed in revival after death. It can be noticed that the Giza pyramids were built at latitude 30° north on the edge of the rock plane, not at its center. The sides of the bases coincide with the original directions with an error not exceeding 5´ of arc as measured by modern instruments. The pyramid sides are equal within an error of 20 cm. and the internal inclined paths coincide with the Meridian. Thus many astronomers have deduced that the internal paths were used as star observation instruments. Also, they determined that the Sirius light was perpendicular on the southern face of the largest pyramids in 2300 B.C. This accuracy in the determination of direction, as measured by its present difficulty with the use of modern instruments, is evidence that the ancient Egyptian priests who were supervising the construction of the pyramids, were using astronomical observations in their design, placement, and planning.
Also, there is evidence which proves the ancient Egyptians careful study of the celestial objects; this evidence includes factors such as the pictures of the star clusters with which the ceiling of the Dandara temple is decorated, and which can now be seen at the Louvre Museum in Paris. Also, there are many wall paintings depicting the day and the night hours, moon faces and the path of the sun through the stars.
Our research group designed a computer program for Abu Simbel temple, and entered astronomical, geographical and topographical data for calculating the altitude and azimuth of the sun for every day of the year. Also, we calculated the azimuth of the sun for the latitudes of ancient Egypt from 20° north to 35° north.
The calculations showed that the azimuth of the sun for the two days, the 21st of February and the 21st of October, gets narrower as we move to the south. For example, it is 9.2´ for Memphis, 7.5´ for Thebes, and 6.3´ for Abu Simbel. This leads us to say that the site selection and structure position of such a temple may have been based upon astronomical and architectural reasons over and above the holiness of the location. (The azimuth of the sun is the angle of deflection of the sun about the geographical north as measured towards the east direction). This angle must be absolutely coincident with the direction of the temple axis on both the 21st of February and the 21st of October in order to enable the solar rays to fall upon the sacrarium at sunrise. We know that the deflection angle of the temple axis about the geographical north was 100° 33´ 33, measured toward the east direction, prior to the temple's restoration and transition to the top of the plateau during the 1960's (which was done in order to save it from sinking into the High Dam Lake). Further, we must say that the temple's transition and restoration process was done accurately, and is considered to be a wonderful geometrical and architectural work.
Also, the calculations showed that the sun must rise on Abu Simble temple on the 21st of February at 6:22 a.m. if there is no topographical obstacle in the eastern horizon. But in reality, the phenomenon occurs at 6:26 a.m., at which time the azimuth of the sun coincides with the deflection angle of the temple axis. During these four additional minutes, the sun rises 34´ of arc above the horizon so that the hills lying in the eastern bank of the River Nile do not obstruct its rays from reaching the temple and the sacrarium. Consequently, there is a definite relation between the height of the eastern bank hills and the deflection angle of the temple.
These calculations assure that the direction of the temple axis was accurately selected and previously determined prior to the cutting operation, and that the calculation were performed in order to ensure that the phenomenon occurs on both the 21st of February and the 21st of October each year. Also, we can be sure that the calculations were based upon accurate astronomical, geographical, topological and mathematical bases going back approximately 3300 years.
As mentioned above, there is no sure evidence indicating that the two days of the 21st of February and the 21st of October are the days of birth and enthronement of King Ramses II. They are similar in the azimuth of the sun at the time of sunrise. Similarly, there are other comparable pairs of days such as the 20th of February and the 22nd of October, and the 22nd of February and the 20th of October. The differences in azimuth for these four days do not exceed 20´ of arc. Those days, besides the two days of the 21st of February and the 21st of October, may have an importance in the ancient Egyptian history.
Further, we have to state that the temple axis direction is slightly different from that in the time of its construction some 3300 years ago. This direction has probably changed by about 20´ of arc due to astronomical reasons (such as a variation of the position of the star Polaris within a very small circle around the earth's true north pole every 26,000 years, and the fact that the ancient Egyptian astronomers' observations were based on the observations of this star). But this is not the most important aspect, as this effect is quite small. The most likely reason is the crust motion in Egypt as a result of Plate Tectonic Theory. This effect has been proved by recent geophysical studies that used the earth's gravitational force around the High Dam Lake and recent space studies using lasers in artificial satellite observations as used in geodesy studies. Also, there is old earthquake activity in this area due to the Kalabsha natural crack. In 1210 B.C., an earthquake occurred and led to the destruction of one of the four colossal statues of the temple facade during the reign of King Seti II. This king repaired the first of the two statues on the north of the portal, the sign of damage of which have begun to appear.
As also previously mentioned, the pyramids' base-sides coincide with the original directions
with an error not exceeding 5´ of arc, as measured by the modern instruments. There are many
recent studies which indicate that this slight difference is not due to a defect in the
building or a mistake by the ancient architects, but is actually due to crust motion in Lower
Egypt. This crust motion was in a larger scale than in Upper Egypt.
Dr. Shaltout is one of the most famous intellectuals in the Arab world, and is well known to the general public through television, radio and daily newspapers. He is an independent writer on the subjects of national strategy and projects in the fields of scientific research, technology development, energy and the environment.
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