6 of the Best: Ancient Monuments That Align With Solstices & Equinoxes

Posted by Hayley Cleeter 21st June 2023
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6 of the Best: Ancient Monuments That Align With Solstices & Equinoxes

Weather patterns, timezones and seasons may vary across the world, but as equinoxes and solstices are dependent on our planet's orbit around the sun, these astronomical events unite us all. In the northern hemisphere, the longest day of the year marks the first day of summer, and in the southern hemisphere, the first day of winter. And throughout history, people have marked and celebrated these occasions in unique ways.

When we look at these ancient monuments around the world, it’s hard not to feel connected to the civilisations of the past who thought up some truly remarkable ways of observing the universe and tracking the sun’s path across the sky.

Here are six of the most fascinating ancient monuments built to align with the solstices and equinoxes.

Karnak Temple, Egypt

Karnak Temple in Egypt was once better known as the ancient site of the Temple of Amun, dedicated to the god of sun and air. The ground the temple was built on was known to Ancient Egyptians as Thebes, believed to be the first city founded when the world was created. Built 5,000 years ago, on the winter solstice as the sun rises in the morning, the light penetrates the inner sanctum of the temple and rests on Amun Ra's Holy of Holies at the centre of Karnak. 

Chichen Itza, Mexico

The pyramid of Chichen Itza was built in the early 400s A.D. and is dedicated to the feathered serpent god Kukulcan who ‘visits’ the temple at the spring equinox. The light and shadows create triangles on the side of the staircase and when the sun sets, it looks like a snake is slithering down the northern steps of the temple. At the summer solstice, the north and east sides of the pyramid become illuminated due to the axes running through the northwest and southwest corners oriented toward the rising point of the sun at this time of year, leaving the other side in shadow, seemingly splitting the pyramid in two.

Temple of the Sun, Machu Picchu, Peru

The Incas believed themselves to be descendants of the sun, so when the southern hemisphere is furthest away from the sun producing the shortest day of the year for the winter solstice, it’s considered a very sacred time. Machu Picchu was partly designed to celebrate this once-a-year event and clearly demonstrates that the Incas had a complex understanding of the movement of the sun. 

At sunrise on the winter solstice, the light will stream through the window of the Temple of the Sun and fall directly on the ceremonial stone in the room, but head to the highest point within Machu Picchu, and you’ll see sunrise light up the entire ruins.

Jantar Mantar, India

Jantar Mantar means ‘instruments for measuring the harmony of the heavens’ and there are five of these astronomical observatories in north India built by Maharajah Sawaii Jai Singh II of Jaipur in the early 18th century. The stone-built instruments at the site are used to predict the time and the movements of the sun, moon and planets with the naked eye. Of the 13 architectural astronomy instruments there, you’ll find the Misra Yantra, which was designed to determine the longest and shortest days of the year. At the summer solstice, the back wall will show the sun's rays for a considerable amount of time, while a straight rod that acts as a gnomon will cast a shadow that looks like a large clock hand.

Karahan Tepe, Turkey

In the Tek Tek Mountains of Turkey, an important archaeological site was recently excavated and has unearthed some very interesting artefacts that suggest the site was ingeniously and creatively used by the Neolithic people for healing and regeneration. But at the winter solstice, sunrise will fully illuminate the stone head located there, much like other ancient solstice/equinox sites around the world. 

Stonehenge, England

The 5000-year-old Stonehenge is one of those recognisable ancient sites synonymous with a solstice! The origin of this mysterious formation of enormous 13-foot erect stones located in Wiltshire is subject to much speculation, but for thousands of years has played host to summer solstice celebrations. Step inside the ring facing northeast you can see the sun rise just over the Heel Stone outside of the circle.

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