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Mid-Winter Solstice Celebration Holiday 2024

Hatshepsut temple

A fabulous holiday in Luxor visiting many ancient sites culminating in celebrating the mid-winter solstice at the magnificent temple of Queen Hatshepsut.

8th - 22rd December 2024:
Click here for details.



Egyptian Temple


Astronomical Alignment in the Temples of Egypt
by David Furlong

Part 2
This is the second part of the article on Egyptian Temple Orientation. This part looks at solar alignments. The sites involved are:

Main Amun Temple (Ipet-Sut)
Deir El-Bahari:
Hatshepsut Temple
Hatshepsut Temple - Solstice Alignment detail
Amenhotep III Temple

(This article runs over six pages. To download the whole article in pdf format please click here)

For .pdf article on Karnak Temple Alignments click here

Solar Aligned Temples
The Karnak Temple (Plan 1)
The main directional orientation of the vast temple of Amun, known as Ipet-Isut, which stands on the east bank of the Nile, faces west towards the Theban hills on the opposite side of the river. Its calculated azimuth of 296º - 53’ (SB study suggested 296.75°) corresponds with a mid-summer sunset on a level horizon. This is what Sir Norman Lockyer suggested, in his book The Dawn of Astronomy first published in 1894. However the height of the cliffs on the far bank of the Nile precludes the observation of such a phenomenon. For this reason the solstice alignment was dismissed by Egyptologists. It is possible that this solar alignment is simply chance, because the temple axis is broadly at right-angles to the Nile at this point so that it could have been the river rather than any astronomical events that determined the temple’s axis. It is an accepted fact that the Nile does play a significant part in the alignment of the temples close to the river. However the SB study shows a number of other temples in Ancient Thebes and elsewhere in Egypt are all aligned, to within ±1° on the same axial azimuth or its converse opposite of 116 º - 53’. This degree of precision supports the argument for an astronomical basis for the orientation, for a meandering river could never have provided such an exact correspondence for so many sites, as is clearly evident from a map of the area

In the case of Ipet-Isut, a more plausible explanation is that the temple orientation was set to the opposite solar event of the mid-winter sunrise, which is a case that was argued by Gerald Hawkins in his book Beyond Stonehenge published in 1973 and is supported by the SB study. It was initially thought that whilst the solstice phenomenon would have been observed when the original temple was laid out in the early part of the Middle Kingdom in the reign of Senwosret 1, the temple design would have blocked this phenomenon being observed from within the sanctuary. Photographic evidence of solstice sunrises from years 2007, 2008 and 2010 suggests this perception may be incorrect. Magnificent solstitial sunrises can be experienced today from the position of the alabaster altar in the outer courtyard, close to the entrance of the present temple right through to the alabaster altar in the middle of the courtyard behind the present ‘barque’ shrine of Amun. This latter altar marks the position of the original Middle Kingdom temple complex. The reason the mid-winter solstice sunrise can be experienced so clearly today is that some of the eastern walls of the temple that would have blocked the view through to the eastern horizon have collapsed.

Unlike Newgrange in Ireland , where the golden light of the rising mid-winter Sun slowly illuminates the inner chamber, the Karnak alignment would not have work in the same way. At first observation the Sun shining from behind the sanctuary would only symbolically appear to illuminate the aisle of the temple. However, unlike almost every other temple in Egypt, the present sanctuary of Amun has two doorways; a main door that faces out to central aisle of the temple and a secondary rear doorway, opposite the first, facing east towards the morning Sun. Despite the visual obstructions of the “Festival Hall” of Tutmosis III and Nectanenbo’s Gateway, a point close to the horizon can still be seen in the Fig 1 picture, and as such, the mid-winter solstice can still be witnessed from within the sanctuary. One might speculate that at special moments, such as the mid-winter sunrise both doors could have been opened to allow dazzling sunlight to flood the aisle from behind the ‘golden statue of Amun. Such an effect would have been awesome.

Karnak Sunrise Karnak Sunrise Karnak Sunrise
Karnak Sunrise Karnak Sunrise Karnak Sunrise
Karnak sunrise Karnak Sunrise Karnak Sunrise
Karnak temple Mid-winter sunrises Years 2007, 2008, 2010

The Karnak temple developed in stages. What we see today is the remains of nearly two thousand years of history and construction. There is no doubt from all of the Karnak studies that at one point the view through to the eastern horizon was blocked by the erection of a huge obelisk, at the eastern end of the temple. Standing over 32 meters in height this enormous block of stone was erected during the reign of Thutmosis IV around 1400 BCE. It is known today as the ‘Lateran’ obelisk because it now stands in Laterano Square in Rome and its position and size would have certainly blocked any view of the solstice sunrise along the axial line of the temple.

Prior to the erection of the obelisk Thutmosis’ grandfather Thutmosis III had erected a festival hall called the ‘Akh-menu’ across the rear of the temple and there is no evidence that it would have permitted the solstitial sun to be seen from within the barque sanctuary of Amun after its construction. Yet prior to the erection of these monuments the situation is not so clear.

Queen Hatshepsut, who ruled for twenty-two years from around 1500 BCE built a barque shrine, known as the ‘Chappelle Rouge’ or Red Chapel, in what is now thought to be the position of the present shrine. What is interesting about Hatshepsut’s shrine and that of the one that preceded it, known as the Alabaster shrine of Amenhotep 1 is that both had two door entrances, one looking west into the main temple and the other looking east towards the solstitial sunrise. From the excellent computer graphical reconstruction of the Karnak temple by the University of California, Los Angeles it is clear that with minor adjustments a view through to the eastern horizon could have been seen from within the temple complex and may indeed have played a part in its rituals. Opening the rear doors of the barque shrine to allow the brilliant solstitial Sun to flood behind the cult statue before opening the opposite doors would have produced a profound effect on all who witnessed such an event.

The present “holy of holies”, was built circa 323 BCE by Philip Arrhidaeus the half brother of Alexander the Great. It is the last of a number of shrines that have stood on this sacred spot. It is possible today to witness the power of the solstitial Sun, from within this sanctuary as it rises for several days on either side of the solstice around 21/22 December as can be shown from the photographic evidence that is now available to us.

The Festival Hall of Tuthmosis III and the ‘Lateran’ obelisk to the east of the shrine would have prevented this event being experienced during most of the temple’s active life. The height angle created by the ‘Latern’ obelisk to the sanctuary is a little over sixteen degrees, which in practice would have meant that more than fifty days would have been required for the Sun to penetrate directly into the shrine.

Does this mean that all solstitial observations from the temple then ceased? Not necessarily, for the computer graphics show that observations could easily have been made from the roof of the temple (see below) and other monuments, such as the shrine of Taharqa (690-664 BCE) could also have been used for the mid-winter solstitial observations. Indeed, Hawkins argued a case for another room, called ‘The High Room of the Sun’ within Thutmosis III’s ‘Akh-Menou’ to have used for such solar observations.

computer modelling computer modelling
computer modelling computer modelling
Computer modelling of Hatshepsut's barque sanctuary looking out to horizon and from in front of chapel. Computer modelling showing view from the temple roof and the way that the obelisk's could have been used for observation.

Kark Temple alignments
Plan 1 (From Google Earth Mapping Service/image©2007 DigitalGlobe)
Karnak Temple - The plans shows the main temple axis alignment to mid-winter sunrise. Secondary alignment to southern major standstill moonrise is shown on the north of the plan. This alignment passes through and is aligned to the orientation of the temple of Ptah. Note the alignment runs parallel with the boundary wall of the temple.

Other projected alignments are also shown running from the Luxor Temple, the Mut temple and Hatshepsut’s temple in Deir El Bahari.

Hatshepsut Temple at Deir El Bahari (Plan 2)
On the opposite bank of the Nile, on an almost exact reciprocal bearing to the Karnak temple is the beautiful mortuary temple of Queen Hatshepsut built by her architect Senenmut during her reign which lasted from 1473 – 1458 bc. The azimuths of these two temples are offset from each other by about three hundred and eighty-five metres. The SB study suggests that the orientation of Hatshepsut’s temple is 115.5 º, against the calculated Google Earth azimuth of 116 º - 53’. When projecting both the Hatshepsut and Karnak` alignments across the landscape one is immediately struck by their parallel nature (see Plan 3).

Queen Hatshepsut perceived herself as the divine daughter of Amun - Ra, which is how she asserted her claim to the throne of Egypt. It is hardly surprising then that her temple should mirror, in its alignment, that of Amun’s temple on the opposite bank of the Nile. There can be little doubt that the alignment to the mid-winter sunrise was clearly intended in the orientation of this temple. This has now been confirmed in a visit in December 2007 (Click here for a full report). The view from the upper terrace level provides a panoramic outlook towards the far distant eastern horizon and there is every indication that the rising sun of mid-winter would illuminate the inner recesses of the central chapel.

For full details on Hatshepsut's Mortuary Temple at Deir El Bahari please click here.

Hatshepsut and Montuhotep temple alignments
Plan 2 (From Google Earth Mapping Service/image©2007 DigitalGlobe)
Hatshepsut and Montuhotep temples at Deir El Bahari are both aligned to the mid-winter sunrise.

Amenhotep III Temple at Qurna (Plan 4)
About a kilometre and a half south of Hatshepsut’s temple lies the scattered remains of the temple of Amenhotep III, who reigned from 1382 – 1350 bc. Little now is left of this once great temple saving two famous statues of the king, known as the Colossi of Memnon that stand as huge sentinels, looking out towards the morning mid-winter sun, at its eastern end. Its orientation, however, can be easily established both through the statues and from a road that abuts the temple and runs straight for three and a half kilometres to the bank of the Nile. The calculated azimuth of the temple is 116° - 25’ against the SB study of 117°, making this another mid-winter sunrise alignment in the Luxor area.

Amenhotep III temple at Qurna
Plan 4 (From Google Earth Mapping Service/image©2007 DigitalGlobe)
Amenhotep III Mortuary Temple aligned to mid-winter sunrise. The giant statues of Amenhotep III known as thee Colossi of Memnon can be seen at the eastern end of the temple site.

Other Solar Orientated Temples
Other temples that point towards a mid-winter sunrise from the SB study include:
· Horus Temple - 117° (Thoth Hill)
· Montuhotep - 117° (Deir El Bahari)
· Amenhotep 1 - 115½ º (Deir Medina)
· Satet - 118½ º (Elephantine)
· Re-Horakhty chapel - 117 º (Abu Simbel)

Computer Programmes
Astronomy Programmes
Starry Night Complete Space and Astronomy Park Deluxe Edition 6
Red Shift Deluxe Edition 5.1
StarCalc ver 5.73

Google Earth Plus ver 3.0.0762

Azimuth Calculator

Plans of the different Temple sites taken from Google Earth mapping Programme.

For further information please write to: David Furlong
Myrtles, Como Road, Malvern Worcs WR14 2TH
or phone 01684-569105 or 07779789047                        
Email: David Furlong

David Furlong
David has been taking groups to Egypt for more than 15 years

Karnak Avenue
The pylon and sphinx entrance to the Karnak temple showing the alignment towards the eastern horizon. The site of the sanctuary can just be made out in the distance.

Karnak sunrise
The Mid-winter Solstice sunrise on the Karnak temple axis.

Karnak Sanctuary
The rear doorway of the sanctuary of Amun. The Great Hall and avenue can clearly be seen

Karnak sunrise through sancturay of Amun
The early morning sun shining into the sanctuary of Amun in November

Karnak Sanctuary
The view into and through the sanctuary of Amun. Looking towards the mid-winter sunrise

Hatshepsut temple at Deir El Bahari
Hatshepsut temple at Deir El Bahari is aligned to the mid-winter sunrise

Hatshepsut inner chamber
The inner chamber of Hatshepsut's temple is illuminated at the mid-winter sunrise

Hatshepsut temple - Upper level
The view from the upper level of the Hatshepsut temple, which is aligned to the mid-winter sunrise.

Hatshepsut Sunrise
Midwinter sunrise at Hatshepsut's temple.

The colossi of Memnon at the front of the great temple of Amenhotep III
The Collossi of Memnon, which face towards the mid-winter sunrise and stand in front of the ruins of the great mortuary temple of Amenhotep III


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