Abu Simbel Sun Festival

by Jennifer Hayes
The statues of Ramses II outside the Great Temple at Abu Simbel

The statues of Ramses II outside the Great Temple at Abu Simbel

Photos.com/Photos.com/Getty Images

Every 22nd of February and October, thousands gather in the sands at the foot of the Great Temple in Abu Simbel, Egypt to celebrate the Sun Festival, honoring the birth and coronation of the great pharaoh Ramses II. No ordinary celebration, this 3,000-year-old festival also occurs on the only two days of the year that the rising sun enters the sanctuary of the temple, illuminating the statues of Ramses and the sun gods Amon-Re and Re-Horakhte.

Ramses II

The third pharaoh of the 19th dynasty, Ramses II ruled Egypt for 66 years between 1270 and 1213 B.C. Known for his military triumphs and the many temples and monuments erected during his reign, Ramses II is one of the most celebrated pharaohs in Egyptian history. As a testament to his popularity, thousands of people attend the Sun Festival, gathering before dawn for a solar phenomenon lasting only 22 minutes.

The Great Temple

The Great Temple, also referred to as the Sun Temple or Rock Temple, sits about 143 miles south of Aswan. The exterior temple displays four seated statues of Ramses, flanking an entrance that leads into the great hall. Handpicked by Ramses himself, the site of the temple coincided with ancient trade routes to Syria and Nubia and not only boasted of his achievements but also stood as an announcement of power to foreign or conquered enemies.


In the 1960s, the construction of the Aswan Dam placed the temples at Abu Simbel in danger of flooding. In an effort to save the temple from the rising waters of Lake Nasser, a massive relocation project began, funded by the United Nations organization UNESCO. Cut into 30-ton pieces, the temple was moved over 197 feet up the sandstone cliff and 690 feet back from the original site. This caused a shift by one day in the illumination; it previously occurred on February and October 21.

Queen Nefertari

Another site to visit in Abu Simbel is the temple of Queen Nefertari, chief wife of Ramses II. Also relocated to prevent flooding, the temple of Nefertari or the Small Temple is a monument celebrating both the queen and Hathor, the goddess of love, beauty and motherhood. Six enormous standing statues flank the entrance, with a statue of the queen on each side set between statues of her husband.

About the Author

Jennifer Hayes began writing professionally in 2010. Previously published online, Hayes has written a series of crafting tutorials with an emphasis on green crafting and creativity on a budget. She attended Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas, where she studied English and art.

Photo Credits

  • Photos.com/Photos.com/Getty Images