On two days a year – February 21 and October 22 – the small desert oasis town hosts a festival of music, dance and food. The highlight, as it has been for 3000 years, is the sunrise on the Great Temple. The entrance is sited to allow a beam of sunlight from the rising sun to illuminate three – Ramses, Ra and Amun – of the four statues deep inside the Sanctuary, beyond the Hypostle Hall. The fourth statue – the god if the underworld Ptah – remains forever in darkness.
Visitors must travel by night, and thousands arrive in darkness at about 03.00 for the event. A lucky few enter the temple but the majority watch on a screen outside for the moment when the pale sunlight finally illuminates the statues of the deities.
After centuries covered by the shifting Sahara sands, the temple was in danger of being covered by the waters of the Assam Dam. In the 1960’s UNESCO rescued the temples and moved them block by bock into the side of a man made mountain on the shores of Lake Nasser.
Ramses guards the entrance, that opens into a grand hall that separates into two smaller treasure rooms. Deeper into the labrynth you find the Hypostyle hall filled with pillars with portatraits of Ramses and his family and a history of his reign.