Today we witness the amazing effect the ancient architects created with Sun and stone.
On the morning of the December solstice, the sun rises directly in line with the main axis of many temples throughout Egypt. And this is one of the best places on Earth to experience the dawn of the winter solstice. Karnak Temple.
Today, December 22, marks the shortest, darkest day in the northern hemisphere – and a turnaround towards spring and summer. In ancient Egypt, this was a day to rejoice.
This morning, Karnak Temple opened early so that viewers inside could see the sun rise dramatically above the central gateways. For a few moments the sun’s rays gleam through the pillars and grand pylons.
Guests were invited to enjoy the free entry from 6 a.m. and be ready to soak up the Winter Solstice Sunrise at 6:45. After the dawn, everyone makes their way slowly through the temple, reaching the eastern gate at 7:30. It must be a wonderful experience.
Some researchers believe that many Egyptian temples, including the great Temple of Amun at Karnak, were built to honour the winter solstice; aligned to ‘welcome’ the rising winter solstice sun.
Across the river, the memorial temple of Queen Hatshepsut is aligned so that the on the winter solstice a shaft of light illuminates the sacred inner sanctuary.
Today, the sun doesn't rise in exactly the same position as it did when the temples were originally built, over three thousand years ago; it is ever so slightly off. This is due to the minor changes in the Earth's axial tilt that occur on a very long timescale. As the sun's rays gleam through the temples today however, you would have a hard time finding someone who could pick the slight deviation.
Of course, for our Southern Hemisphere readers, today marks the longest day of the year. From here, we begin the slow march towards winter.
In this photo, a sun-lover takes in the winter solstice sunrise from 2014. Photo: Ibrahim Zayed