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Egypt: The Tomb of Ramesses II (Ramesses the Great) in the Valley of the Kings


The Tomb of Ramesses II (Ramesses the Great)
in the Valley of the Kings

by Jimmy Dunn writing as Mark Andrews

Regrettably, the huge tomb of perhaps the greatest ruler, Ramesses II, is unsuitable for excursions by tourists. For all his greatness, he perhaps chose one of the worst places for his tomb, which has seen no less than seven major flooding events. Even the underlying shale has been subjected to moisture induced swelling. The once magnificent paintings on the wall have mostly flaked off, and are now buried in different layers of flood strata.


The Tomb of Ramesses II (Ramesses the Great)

A number of people have examined this tomb (KV 7) in the Valley of the Kings on the West Bank at Luxor (ancient Thebes).It is located at the foot of the northern side of the main valley. The tomb has at least partially stood open since antiquity. Explorers and Egyptologists who have investigated the tomb include Henry Salt around 1817, Champollion and Rosellini, Lepsius, Harry Burton (for Theodore Davis) between 1913 and 1914, and the Howard Carter, who cleaned up the entrance between 1917 and 1921. All of them came away from the tomb feeling as though there was nothing in it to explore, due to the extreme damage. However, the French are back under Christian Leblanc, once again excavating this tomb but apparently with some success. Today the tomb is almost completely cleared of flood debris.

The Tomb of Ramesses II (Ramesses the Great)

The tomb is not the longest tomb of any king in the Valley of the Kings, but it is probably the largest in area. It covers more than 820 square meters (8,800 square feet). We believe he began construction on it during the second year of his reign.

The tomb reverts to an older plan for tombs, with a bent-axis plan, but it does not regress in style. The bent axis is most likely because its architects were required to avoid a bed of shale during the tomb's construction. In order to enter the tomb, one must progress down a short ramp and stairway and then make a left turn. The decorative program is similar to the tomb of Seti I, but with some new additions. It is the last royal tomb that still features decoration entirely in true relief. At the entrance and for the first time, we find a lintel with decorations of a solar disc flanked by Isis and Nephthys. In the doorway we find scenes of Ma'at seated above heraldic plants of Egypt.

From here, there is a split stairway with a descending ramp that leads to the first corridor, which along with the next stairway, is decorated with scenes from the Litany of Re. This stairway is also split with a center ramp, and descends to the second corridor, where passages from the scenes of the Amduat can be found. This corridor is followed by the ritual shaft, which is decorated with the twelve divisions of the Book of Amduat, a feature not repeated in any other tombs in the Valley of the Kings. This shaft is six meters (20 feet) deep.

The Tomb of Ramesses II (Ramesses the Great)

Just after the ritual shaft is the first pillared hall, known as the Chariot Room, which is decorated with an Osiris shrine and scenes from the Book of Gates. Within this room there are four pillars, with a central stairway descending down to the third corridor. On the right side of the first pillared hall is a smaller four pillared annex. The long third corridor is decorated with scenes from the Opening of the Mouth ceremony. It leads finally to the antechamber.

The antechamber is decorated with scenes from chapter 125 of the Book of the Dead, a new innovation the future kings would follow. There are also scenes of the weighing of the heart that cover parts of the wall. On the antechamber's right side, so that the tomb makes somewhat more than a 90 degree turn, is the entrance to the burial chamber. The burial chamber (or Golden Chamber) has eight pillars and is decorated with scenes from the Book of Gates, and the Amduat.. Interestingly, the crypt is positioned in the center of the room instead of at the rear as most other tombs are arranged. Two small annexes sprout off from the burial chamber on both sides, and are also decorated. The right front annex is decorated with scenes from the Book of the Divine Cow, while the other mostly repeat the decorative theme of the burial chamber.

Two, two pillared annexes are located at each corner at the rear of the burial chamber.The left chamber is decorated with scenes from the Amduat, while the right chamber was decorated with scenes from both the Amduat and the Book of Gates. The right annex next leads to a plain, large room that had four containers for canopic jars, guarded by the goddesses Isis and Nephthys, who flanked the doorway. This room leads to the final two pillared annex which is decorated with chapter 110 from the Book of the Dead.

Part of Ramesses II's Sarcophagus

Part of Ramesses II's Sarcophagus

Not much was found in the tomb in the way of funerary equipment. What a pity. Imagine if you will what might have been found had the tomb been largely undisturbed like the tomb of Tutankhamun. The only funerary equipment we know of consists of:

  • A badly damaged cast bronze shabti, now in the Berlin collection
  • A wooden shabtis now in the Brooklyn Museum
  • A wooden shabtis, transformed into a resin coated Osiris figure now in the British Museum
  • Fragmentary shawabty carved in bluish anhydrite
  • Fragments of statues
  • Fragments of faience
  • Bits of glass, calcite and limestone lids from vessels
  • A fragment of calcite from either the kings sarcophagus or canopic chest
  • Other fragments

A robbery of Ramesses' tomb was the subject of a well known papyrus known as the Strike Manuscript, which dates back to the 28th year of the reign of Ramesses III.

The mummy of Ramesses II was not found in his tomb. It was first removed to the tomb of his father (KV 17) during antiquity, and later moved to the cache at Deir el-Bahari, where it was discovered in 1881 by H. Brugsch and Maspero.

General Site Information


  • Structure: KV 7
  • Location: Valley of the Kings, East Valley, Thebes West Bank, Thebes
  • Owner: Rameses II
  • Other designations: 10 [Hay], 7 [Lepsius], 8 [Champollion], C [Pococke],Commencement d'excavation ou grotte ferme [Description], K [Burton]
  • Site type: Tomb

Orientation


  • Axis in degrees: 324.76
  • Axis orientation: Northwest

Site Location


  • Latitude: 25.44 N
  • Longitude: 32.36 E
  • Elevation: 169.75 msl
  • North: 99,621.308
  • East: 94,063.747
  • JOG map reference: NG 36-10
  • Modern governorate: Qena (Qina)
  • Ancient nome: 4th Upper Egypt
  • Surveyed by TMP: Yes

Measurements


  • Maximum height: 5.82 m
  • Mininum width: 0.74 m
  • Maximum width: 13.06 m
  • Total length: 168.05 m
  • Total area: 868.4 m
  • Total volume: 2286.43 m

Additional Tomb Information


  • Entrance location: Base of sloping hill
  • Owner type: King
  • Entrance type: Ramp
  • Interior layout: Corridors and chambers
  • Axis type: Bent

Decoration


  • Grafitti
  • Painting
  • Raised relief
  • Sunk relief

Categories of Objects Recovered


  • Sculpture
  • Tomb equipment
  • Vessels

Dating:


History of Exploration


  • Pococke, Richard (1737-1738): Mapping/planning
  • Napoleonic Expedition (1799): Mapping/planning
  • Burton, James (1825): Mapping/planning
  • Franco-Tuscan Expedition (1828-1829): Epigraphy
  • Lepsius, Carl Richard (1844-1845): Epigraphy
  • Lepsius, Carl Richard (1844-1845): Excavation
  • Lepsius, Carl Richard (1845): Mapping/planning
  • Burton, Harry (1913-1914): Excavation (conducted on behalf of Theodore M. Davis)
  • Maystre, Charles (1938): Excavation
  • Maystre, Charles (1938): Epigraphy
  • Brooklyn Museum (1978): Excavation
  • Theban Mapping Project (1979): Mapping/planning
  • Leblanc, Christian (1993-): Excavation
  • Leblanc, Christian (1993-): Conservation
  • Salt, Henry (ca. 1817): Excavation
  • Salt, Henry (ca. 1817): Visit

Last Updated: June 22nd, 2011

References:

Title Author

Date Publisher Reference Number
Complete Valley of the Kings, The (Tombs and Treasures of Egypt's Greatest Pharaohs) Reeves, Nicholas; Wilkinson, Richard H. 1966 Thames and Hudson Ltd IBSN 0-500-05080-5
Valley of the Kings Weeks, Kent R. 2001 Friedman/Fairfax ISBN 1-5866-3295-7

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