Orientation of temples

Much has been written about the orientation of Egyptian pyramids and temples with reference to the sky. Popularized by the great British scientist J. Norman Lockyer in his book The Dawn of Astronomy, the idea was that the Egyptians oriented the axes of their religious structures in the direction of the cardinal compass points (especially the meridian line) or some important astronomical event, such as the rising or setting of the Sun or a star during a religious festival day or during an equinox or solstice (Figure 2.6). For example, the entrances for the three pyramids at Giza all face north, and the entrance corridors are angled such that one could see the northern circumpolar stars from them. Many structures located close to the Nile were oriented on an east-west axis, but this was probably because the Nile flows northward, and it was appropriate to align a rectangular building facing toward the river for aesthetic (not necessarily religious) reasons. In some cases, a temple was oriented so that the inner shrine was illuminated by the rays of the rising Sun during a certain festival day. In other cases, there seemed to be an intent to orient a building toward the rising or setting point of a bright star that had a special meaning, like Sirius. But there did not seem to be a universal pattern, and one gets the impression that a supporter of the orientation hypothesis can almost always find a good justification for a particular orientation. Work in this area continues, with scientists performing statistical analyses on a number of temples looking for specific orientation patterns and ways of explaining them—see Belmonte and Shaltout (2006) and Shaltout and Belmonte (2005) in the Bibliography.

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