Abu Simbel Sun Festival
The Abu Simbel Sun Festival: Everything you need to know
The Abu Simbel Sun Festival is a bi-annual event, which takes places on the 22 February and the 22 October each year in Egypt. Unsurprisingly, the festival takes place at the temple of Abu Simbel, located around three and a half hours by road from Aswan. Abu Simbel was built to commemorate the legendary pharaoh Ramses II and is adorned by several giant statues of the man himself. On the days of the festival, the rising sun illuminates the inner sanctum of the temple in a geometric marvel, bathing the entire room in a golden glow. All except the statue of Ptah, the god of darkness, which remains engulfed in shadow.
The Sun Festival is renowned by travellers and locals alike, and the whole region takes on a party atmosphere during the day of the festival. An early start is needed to get the most from the event, but the rewards are truly worth it. Here’s everything you need to know about the Abu Simbel Sun Festival.
What’s the history of Abu Simbel?
It is thought that the Abu Simbel temples were constructed between 1290 and 1224 BC, under the orders of Pharaoh King Ramses II. Clearly a rather egocentric ruler, he commissioned several imposing statues of himself to be constructed in and around the temple. Carved straight into the sandstone cliffs, many consider the temples to be as architecturally impressive as more famous sites such as Karnak and the Pyramids of Giza themselves. There is a second temple alongside the main attraction, a much smaller and simpler construction, dedicated to the kings’ wife, Nefertari.
Abu Simbel is one of many of Ramses II’s construction projections, he was renowned as a great builder of cities and temples, and a great conqueror of peoples. He had a long reign given the low life expectancies of the time. It is believed that Ramses II died in around 1213 BC, a whopping 66 years after his ascension to the throne. Anyone interested in this great ruler can see Ramses II’s preserved mummy at the famous Egyptian Museum in Cairo.
When is the Abu Simbel Sun Festival?
The festival takes place twice every year, on the 22 February to celebrate Ramses II’s ascension to the throne, and on the 22 October, the king’s reported birthday. Interestingly, these dates are not exactly as Ramses II planned them. In the 1960s, the construction of the Aswan Dam threatened to destroy the temple due to rising water levels in the surrounding area. In a painstaking operation, the temple was relocated brick by brick to a safer level on higher ground. Because of this slight reorganizing of the temple’s alignment, the festival now takes place a day later than the true dates of Ramses II’s ascension and his birthday, which were on the 21 of February and October respectively.
What can I expect from the Abu Simbel Sun Festival?
The main aspect of the festival is the rising sun, perfectly aligning to illuminate the inner sanctum of the main Abu Simbel temple in a dazzling display. But there is plenty else going on in the area. Travellers and locals flock to Abu Simbel to mark the event, which is followed by an explosion of activity outside. Expect traditional Nubian dancing, live music and an assortment of food stalls – you’ll be hungry after your early start. The festivities last all day, so it’s well worth booking a couple of days in the area to fully enjoy the festival.
There’s no bad time of the year to enjoy an Egypt holiday. But it makes sense to time your trip with the Abu Simbel Sun Festival if circumstances allow. It really is a once in a lifetime experience and certainly an event to remember. The easy access to Aswan means it is no trouble whatsoever to add Abu Simbel to any itinerary in Egypt. And even if you can’t make it for the festival, the temple is well worth a visit in its own right, just to see the colossal façade and the Ramses II statues glaring down at you from their timeless perch.