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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

The Living on Earth Almanac

Air Date: Week of

This week facts about the solar lighting of the statues to the sun gods, deep in the temple of Ramses the Second in Abu Simbel (ah-BOO sim-BELL), Egypt.


KNOY: Each dawn on February 22nd, hundreds of people gather at Abu Simbel, Egypt, to witness a rare solar event: the lighting of the statues at the Temple of Ramses the Second. This phenomenon, which corresponds to the Pharaoh's birthday and accession to the throne, lasts about 20 minutes and takes place twice a year. Here's how it happens: More than 3,000 years ago Ramses carved a temple out of rock to honor his power and divinity. He claimed to be the reincarnation of a child born to the sun god. The temple is precisely oriented toward the east, so that twice a year, on the spring and autumn equinoxes, rays of the rising sun shine directly through a narrow entrance to illuminate statues of Egyptian sun gods, including Ramses, in the chamber's inner sanctuary 200 feet within the rock. After the construction of the Aswan Dam in the 1960s, rising waters of the Nile threatened to submerge the temple. It took an international effort and $40 million to reconstruct the monument on higher ground. The archaeological rescue operation was able to maintain the temple's alignment with the sun, but, because of the new position, the sun rays now enter the sanctuary one day later than Ramses had intended. And for this week, that's the Living on Earth Almanac.



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