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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 - 23rd December:
Click here for details.

Egyptian Temple


Astronomical Alignment in the Temples of Egypt
by David Furlong

Part 3
This is the third part of the article on Egyptian Temple Orientation. This part looks at possible lunar alignments. The sites involved are:

Seti 1 Temple

Ptah Temple

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

Lunar Alignments
At the latitude of Luxor or ancient Thebes the four major lunar alignments, assuming a level horizon, are as follows:

Northern major standstill Moon rise - 58º   ±0.3º
Southern major standstill Moon rise - 123.5º    ±0.3º
Southern major standstill Moon set - 236.5º   ±0.3º
Northern major standstill Moon set - 302º    ±0.3º

The proximity of the Theban Hills, on the west bank of the Nile would affect the setting azimuths, which could only be checked against specific temple orientations. Looking east the horizon is more even, however hills about thirty-three and a half kilometres to the east of Luxor could also slightly affect the sighting azimuth. One temple that points towards one of the Moon rise azimuths is the Qurna mortuary temple of King Seti I, who reigned from c. 1294 – 1279 bc .

Seti 1 Temple - Qurna (Plan 5)
The placement of this temple is intriguing for the projected central axis alignment from the Amun’s temple at Karnak very nearly hits the entrance gateway of Seti’s temple . It would seem that this connection was deliberate, linking Seti with his cult temple and the god Amun-Ra. Seti was responsible for setting out the Great Hypostyle Hall that was finished by his son Ramses II and would therefore have been intimately aware of the Karnak temple’s alignment. The distance between the two entrances is a little over three kilometres and involves the crossing of the Nile. This would not have been a problem for the Ancient Egyptian surveyors, and some form of causeway must have linked the two temples, not unlike the one that connected the Luxor temple with Karnak, for the Seti’s temple was the first stop in the “Beautiful Feast of the Valley” festival.

This being the case it would seem logical for Seti to have followed this same mid-winter sunrise azimuth for the orientation of his mortuary temple as did Hatshepsut before him. He chose instead to align his temple on an azimuth of 124º , which happens to be very close to the azimuth of the lunar rise at its most southerly limit. Was this a coincidence or could it have been intentional?

There seems to be no limiting site factors that would affect the orientation of the temple, nor does it appear to be orientated to any significant stellar events. The only significant astronomical orientation is to the Moon and here we hit a problem for, as already stated, there is no textual evidence that the Ancient Egyptians were aware of the ‘Metonic’ cycle (19 years), or indeed that they could predict eclipses , which is another lunar phenomenon.

We will never know what was lost in the great burnings of the Alexandrian library but as I have argued elsewhere in relation to pyramid geometry and the 3:4:5 triangle , the lack of textual evidence does not prove that the Ancient Egyptians were not fully cognisant of such things.

In the cult triad of Karnak (Amun, Mut and Khonsu) the god Khonsu was associated with the Moon, which also set a pattern of time sequences that established the lunar months of the Egyptian calendar. With their clear ability to observe, record and name the major stars and constellations of the night sky, it would be strange if the Egyptian priesthood did not track the rising and setting positions of the Moon.

Did Seti like Hatshepsut before him, perceive himself as the son of the god Amun-Ra and therefore, in his case, identify himself with Khonsu, with its lunar association? In returning Egypt back to the ‘established order’ after the Armana revolution one is forced to the conclusion that there had to be a very good reason why Seti chose a different orientation for his temple from that of Amun’s temple on the opposite side of the Nile. It is also a curious fact that one of the suggested years of the Seti’s accession to the throne, in 1306bc , the Moon just happened to be at its extreme southerly limit . This might suggest that the link to this southern major standstill of the Moon was a lucky coincidence but for another intriguing fact.

Seti I temple at Qurna
Plan 5 (From Google Earth Mapping Service/image©2007 DigitalGlobe)
Seti I Mortuary Temple aligned to the southern major standstill moonrise. The change in axis from the Karnak temple is clearly visible.

The plan shows the alignment from the temple of Karnak just missing the entrance gateway of Seti’s temple.

Ptah Temple - Karnak (Plan 12)
Seti’s full name from his cartouche was Seti Merenptah, which translated means “Seti beloved of Ptah”; Ptah being one of the creator gods of Egypt. Within the Karnak complex there is a small temple dedicated to Ptah. It is recorded on the temple walls that a previous wooden temple of Ptah temple was re-built in stone by Tutmosis III, who preceded Seti by some one hundred and seventy years. This small temple is orientated on an azimuth of 304º, which makes it another potential lunar orientated site. However like the Karnak alignment it faces the Nile and the hills opposite would have precluded any sighting of a Moonset. The orientation of the temple could therefore have been set to the Moonrise azimuth, at its extreme southern limit of 124º, which corresponds neatly with Seti’s temple alignment . That these two temples are on similar azimuths, yet separated in time by nearly two centuries suggests that something other than the Sun or the stars must have determined these temple orientations.

In addition to this the northern perimeter wall of Karnak, which runs alongside of the Ptah temple, follows for a large part the same azimuth. This suggests that the Karnak temple incorporated alignments to both the Sun and the Moon in its orientation and construction, which is logical bearing in mind the association of Amun-Ra to the Sun and Khonsu with the Moon (see Plan 1).

There is not space within the context of this article to explore the relationship between Ptah and the Moon, except to state that there are similarities in the depiction of Ptah and Khonsu. However Khonsu’s own sanctuary at Karnak is not aligned to any lunar event.

Other Lunar Orientated Temples
From the SB study there is one other temple that suggests a lunar azimuth:
Khnum Temple - 56 º (Esna). This is potentially aligned to the Northernmost Maximum Moonrise.

Computer Programmes
Astronomy Programmes
Starry Night Complete Space and Astronomy Park Deluxe Edition 6
Red Shift Deluxe Edition 5.1
StarCalc ver 5.73
MyStars ver 2.7

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 20 years


The ptah temple at Karnak
The Ptah temple at Karnak, which is aligned on a lunar azimuth.



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