The Sun

The many points of light that fill the night sky have always mystified human beings, spurring feelings of wonder and reverence. For the Babylonians and many other civilizations, the symbol for God was a star, but the sun has been given special attention in most cultures. Examples abound throughout history.

In Ancient Egypt, the Divine Father was the sun god Ra, the supreme ruler of all creation. The ruling Pharaoh was his offspring and his representative on earth (Quirke, 2001). The ancient Egyptians believed that each night the sun god journeyed on an evening barque within the bowels of the earth to fight evil but emerged triumphantly every morning in the east bringing warmth and sunlight, a perpetual daily return to the sky that signified the triumph of life over death and good over evil.

The religious beliefs related to the sun influenced and informed the town planning and the architecture of ancient Egyptian cities. The Pharaonic city of lunu, referred to by the Greeks as Heliopolis or 'the city of the sun,' represented the geographical center of the sun cult that existed in ancient Egypt. Little is known today about this city, but its relative importance appears to have been highly significant to that civilization. Its name appears in Pharaonic religious literature more frequently than that of any other ancient Egyptian city. What is known is that the Pharaohs applied astronomic principles with extreme accuracy and rigor in temple building and perhaps other forms of habitation. The layouts of Egyptian temples such as Karnak were usually informed by the movements of the sun and accommodated seasonal variations (Figures 1.1, 1.2 and 1.3).

Located on the east bank of the Nile in Thebes, Egypt, Karnak is known as the solstice solar temple. Many of its features were built along an east-west axis that acknowledged the movement of the sun and a north-south line that mirrored ancient Egypt's geographic shape and the course of the Nile. In addition, Karnak had special alignments that corresponded to the summer and winter solstices. The winter solstice sunrise appears in the east in the archway of the axis of Karnak celebrating the sun god Ra through its majestic pillars (Figures 1.2 and 1.3).

The belief that the sun was the supreme creator of the universe was not unique to the ancient Egyptians. Ancient sites worldwide have been attuned to the annual journey of the sun across the sky. In Mayan mythology, the sun god created the first Inca, Manco Paca, and his sister on the Isle of the Sun in Lake Titicaca. He then instructed the two of them to set out and teach the civilized way of living to the other Indians who were living in 'darkness and ignorance.' The Incas celebrated the summer solstice with solemnity

Figure 1.1 Plan of Karnak Temple laid out with winter and summer solstices in mind such that the winter solstice sunrise appears in the archway of the main axis of the temple (graphics by Charles Miller).

and reverence and made the most of the power of the sun in their architecture. They laid out the city of Machu Picchu (Figure 1.4), sometimes called the 'lost city of the Incas,' at 2430 m above sea level with its walls primarily facing east and south to capture and store the heat. Because wood and combustible fuels were difficult to obtain at high altitudes, they were replaced by passive solar heating. Located in the sacred and primary zone of the three main sectors of the city of Machu Picchu, the Temple of the Sun (Figure 1.5), known as the Intihuatana, was dedicated to the most revered and greatest deity, the sun god.

Figure 1.2 The main axis of the temple Karnak with the hypostyle hall at midpoint along the axis (photo by Dreamstime).
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