The walk up the majestic temple of Abu Simble in Egypt can be quite pedestrian. There you are, trying to resist the temptations of the inevitable tourist shops, then trudging through the sand, then turning a corner and, then, wham! There they are, the giant statuues of Pharoah Rameses II, a sight familiar from the brochures, but breathtaking all the same, perched dramatically on the blue waters of the Nile.
It is a setting fit for the gods, and of course, one of ancient Egypt’s most powerful Pharoahs, considered no less than God by his followers. Now here’s the thing: the setting is modern construct-literally. When the Aswan dam was built and the waters of the Nile inundated vast tracts of land, this temple was one of the many historic sites under threat. So, in the 1960s, it was cut up and reassembled bit by painstaking bit here, above the tranquil waters of the Aswan reservoir.
The temple was built in the 13th century BC to commemorate the ascension of Rameses II to the throne or Upper and Lower Egypt. It consists of the main temple, flanked by two massive statues of Rameses II and another smaller one dedicated to his beautiful queen Nefertari. The temple consists of a succession of chambers, inscribed with hieroglyphics and displaying wall paintings whose colours still gleam after centuries in the harsh desert air.
The chambers culminate in the innermost sanctuary. And there lies the twice yearly spectacle associated with this temple. The ancient Egyptian architects positioned the temple in such a manner that, on February 20 and October 20 every year, the rays of the sun reach right into the sanctuary and illuminate the sculptures on the wall behind it-all except the statue of Ptah, the god of the underworld, who prefers the darkness.
This is obviously when the crowds are the thickest, so if you plan to visit on these days, make sure you get there early. The ancients had their geometry and calculations down to a pin point; all you have to do you is ensure you’re not too late. Which means you will have to set out in the dark of the night in a convoy that speeds across the desert-a dramatic journey that prepares you well for the beauty of Pharoah Rameses II’s awe-inspiring temple.