Throughout has manipulated light affectively to emphasize purpose

Throughout history there has been
civilisations whose architecture has manipulated light affectively to emphasize
purpose in their creations. Monumental buildings across numerous civilisations
have incorporated light, more specifically, The Abu-Simbel temples carved
during the 19th dynasty reign of Egyptian king Rameses II and the
Templo de Kukulkan in the state of Yucatan, Mexico.

The Abu-Simbel temples consist of two
large rocks of approximately 20m in height in which colossal statues have been
carved from. Erected in Nubia, a small town in southern Egypt, the temples now
stand 65m higher and 200m back from its original location due to the construction
of the Aswan High Dam that threatened to submerge them. Two temples compose
what is popularly known as The Abu-Simbel temples; The Great Temple is the most
significant of the two since its considered to be one of the most beautiful
works commissioned during the dynasty of Rameses II. Completed around 1265 BC,
The Great Temple is dedicated to three ancient Egyptian deities (Amun,
Ra-Horakhty, and Ptah), and Rameses II himself. Like many of the numerous
projects produced by the Ancient Egyptians; The Great Temple reflects the
scientific excellence of this civilisation, particularly in the fields of
astronomy, construction, and sculpture. Twice a year, for 33 centuries, people
have witnessed a Pharaonic miracle in which a solar alignment occurs onto the
statue of King Rameses II and the inner sanctum located 60m from the entrance. However,
the statue of Ptah (god related to the Underworld) does not become illuminated
during these occurrences. This happening takes place on the 22nd of
February and 22nd of October which are believed to be Rameses’ date
of birth and coronation. This phenomenon proves this ancient civilisation’s
manipulation of sunlight and excellent scientific understanding.

Ancient Egyptians were not the only
civilisation to manipulate sunlight. Excavations in the 19th century
discovered what was, at the moment, Mexico’s prime archaeological territory in
the state of Yucatan. What was found was Mesoamerican antiquity. El Castillo,
or also known as the Temple of Kukultan, is a step-pyramid built sometime
between the 9th and 12th century by the pre-Columbian
Maya Civilisation. This pyramid stands at approximately 24m tall and has 4
sides with a sum of 365 steps – the number of days in a solar year. The
fascination with astronomy and math is reflected in Mesoamerican architecture,
as it was in Ancient Egypt. The Temple of Kukulcan is considered to be a
physical representation of the Mayan calendar, and its positioning was
calculated in order to create a phenomenon noted as the ‘Descent of Kukulcan’. Kukulcan
is a feathered serpent deity found in many central Mexican cultures between
1000-1697, and it also decorates sides of the temple. During the spring and
autumn equinoxes, an illusion of a snake undulating down the step-pyramid is
formed by a series of triangular shadows. This phenomenon occurs for
approximately five hours where Mayans believed Kukulcan returns to earth to
bless their harvest and health. It has been questioned whether this phenomenon
was purposely designed or is miraculously coincidental. Nevertheless, this
ancient civilisation designed an incredible temple that embodied their
astronomical discoveries and was able to remarkably manipulate sunlight.  

A third example of how ancient
civilisations have used the built environment as a way to manipulate light is
the 17-arch bridge in Beijing, China. This structure was built during Emperor
Qianlong’s dynasty (1711-1799) on the eastern shore of Kunming Lake. With a
length of 150m and a width of 8m, the bridge acts as a passageway to Nanhu
Lake. On the winter solstice when the sun is at its lowest point, bright
golden-red shines through the 17 arches. Because each arch is sized
differently, the sun can shine through them simultaneously; creating a
phenomenal twilight scenery.