Today is the summer solstice in the northern hemisphere, with the sun at its zenith on the sunniest day of the year. Midsummer brings with it holidays, festivals and celebrations the world over. Pagans all over the hemisphere celebrate the vitality of the sun on this day, and light bonfires to ward off evil spirits which could take over as the sun moved southward henceforth.
Here are 5 unique places from around the world which are especially worth visiting on this day –
- Chichen Itza, Mexico
Chichen Itza was the cultural and religious centre of the Mayans, where the ancient civilization thrived and created several architectural wonders which displayed their advanced understanding of astronomy.
The Temple of Kukulkan, also called El Castillo is a 4 sided step pyramid dedicated to Kukulkan, the Feathered Serpent God. While the Spring Equinox here is renowned for creating an illusion of a feathered serpent crawling down the pyramid, the summer solstice also attracts huge crowds who come to see the play of light and shadow. In the early morning just after sunrise, the north and east sides of the temple are illuminated by the sun’s rays, whereas across a perfect split the west and south are drenched in total darkness.
- Stonehenge, United Kingdom
Sunrise over Stonehenge on the day of summer solstice is a marvelous spectacle, as the ancient site has been designed to perfectly align with the sun on this day. The sun rises between two Heel Stones outside the site, and goes right through to the altar stone at the centre. At midday the sun shines directly overhead the centre.
- Abu Simbel, Egypt
The Egyptians worshipped Ra, the Sun God and built several temples dedicated to him. The two gigantic rock temples at Abu Simbel are more than 3000 years old and stand as a testament to the engineering skills of the Egyptian civilization, of which the pyramids also speak volumes. Part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Nubian Monuments, the temples of Ra-Horakhty and Hathor highlight the standing of pharaohs as divine in ancient Egypt. On the summer solstice, the sun rays line up at a perfect angle to illuminate the length the temple, including the statues of Ra and Rameses II. On February 22 and October 22, the birth and coronation dates of Rameses, the sunrays line up to light up the interiors of the temple.
- Ajanta Caves, India
The 2000 year old rock-cut Ajanta caves contain sculptures and paintings dedicated to the life and teachings of the Buddha. These Buddhist monasteries are believed to have housed wandering monks during the monsoons. There are 30 caves, of which number 26 aligns to the rays of the rising sun on this solstice, which illuminates the statue of the Buddha in the stupa (mound with Buddhist relics).
- Externsteine, Germany
The Externsteine are a unique, natural sandstone outcrop forming pillars. Once a place of Pagan worship, it attracts hordes of visitors every year who come to see the rock carvings. At the top of the tallest spire is a pre-historic temple with an altar-stone that may have been used for sacrifices below a circular hole in the wall, which perfectly aligns with the sun during the summer solstice.