Ramses Square (and the Colossal Statue of Ramesses II

Ramses Square and the Colossal Statue of Ramesses II

by Lara Iskander

A map indicating Ramses Square

Midan Ramses is the name of the large square fronting Cairos main railway station Ramses Station/ Mahattat Ramses and the district of streets and neighborhoods surrounding it. It is located immediately north of the city center, Midan Tahrir. Ramses Square is not considered the most attractive part of modern Cairo as it is a core point of Cairos transportation system, notorious for swirling traffic and massive crowds at peak hours, though many tourists leave out of the station on overnight trains into southern Egypt.

An older view of Ramses Square a few years after the Statue of Ramesses II was erected at this location in Cairo

An older view of Ramses Square a few years after the Statue of Ramesses II was erected at this location in Cairo

Despite all this, the district does have some graces to offer the traveler. Located at the eastern end of Ramses Station is the Egyptian National Railways Museum. This museum houses an amazing collection of steam locomotives, including that used by Empress Eugenie during her opening of the Suez Canal in 1863. The square is also home of the ancient Ramesses II statue and the main train station.

A view of the train station at Ramses Square

Ramses Station was first built in 1856 but was reconstructed in 1892 to incorporate a more traditional Arabic style of architecture. In 1955 the facade was refurbished in the same style and it was during this time that a statue of Ramesses II was placed in the esplanade near the train station. The red granite statue of Ramesses II had been found in 1882, broken into six pieces, at the Great Temple of Ptah at Mit-Rahina (ancient Memphis).

View of the statue at the time of discovery in 1882

At the time of the discovery, there were restoration attempts to re-erect the statue, however, they failed and it remained as it was until February 1955 when the minister Abdel-Latif El-Boghdadi, decided to move it to Bab Al-Hadid, now named Ramses Square. Only then was it restored and reassembled by inserting iron bars inside the body. Standing on a three-meter-high base specially built to hold it, it rested on the edge of a rectangular fountain. The statue soon became a famous Cairo landmark, appearing on postcards, tourist maps and guide books.

A closeup of the statue in its traditional location in Ramses Square

Ramesses II was the third king of the 19th dynasty and ruled Egypt from 1304 to 1237 BC. He presided over an era of great military expansion, erecting statues and temples all over Egypt. He is traditionally believed to be the pharaoh mentioned in the biblical story of Moses, though more recent studies have cast doubt on that tradition. He was buried in the Valley of the Kings, in KV7, but his mummy was later moved to the mummy cache at Deir al-Bahari. It was found in 1881 and placed in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo five years later, where it is still exhibited.

The statue has stood in the square for more than 50 years but with the growth of the city, the square has become increasingly noisy and polluted. Raised pedestrian walkways make it hard to see the eleven meter (35-foot) statue from some angles. Culture Minister Farouk Hosni told a news conference that after lengthy studies and debate the government had decided to move the statue away from the city center to the tranquility of the outskirts of Cairo, where it would be safer and probably viewed by more tourists.

Another photo fo the statue in its present location

This decision was reached given the tests that were carried out on the statue revealed 12 types of polluting materials accumulating over the surface of the statue, including dust, carbon, lead and oxides. However, the most endangering problem threatening the survival of the statue is the underground running underneath it, which is a constant source of vibrations. However, it is no easy task moving the 3,200 year old Pharaoh Ramesses II, which weighs around 83 tons. Studies and careful planning have been in progress since 2002 in order to guarantee a safe trip for the pharaoh.

A view of the statue surrounded by gardens

To test the accuracy of the plan, a copy of the statue was made with the exact same measurements and weight. The replica even took the deteriorating parts of the real statue into account. The contracting company that will be carrying out the transportation of the real statue, in collaboration with German experts, moved the replica some weeks ago through the same route intended for Ramesses II. This trial was intentional to test the stability and power of the vehicles meant to transport it. The vehicle traveled the 30-kilometer route through the city's streets at just five kilometers per hour to guarantee the statue's safe arrival.

A view of the mock trial of the Pharoah transportation that took place from Tahrir Square to the Giza plateau.

A view of the mock trial of the Pharoah transportation that took place from Tahrir Square to the Giza plateau.

A view of the mock trial of the Pharoah transportation that took place from Tahrir Square to the Giza plateau.

The pharaohs route has been determined in collaboration with the Cairo and Giza governorates as well as the army, police and other concerned ministries. All obstacles will be removed from the designated route in preparation for the transportation due on Friday, August 25 in the early hours of morning when Cairos traffic is quietest.

Moving the replica through Cairo streets at early hours of the morning

Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA) officials stated that the red granite statue will be wrapped and covered in rubber foam. Then, it will be transported vertically in one piece. A steel cage will be constructed around the statue and connected to steel beams supported on two vehicles specially adapted to carry the 83-ton statue.

A view of the statue now with preparations being made for its move.

The ongoing process started by strengthening the current statue base with external supports and replacing the existing steel rods with additional reinforcement. The steel beams holding the cage will be erected and the old base will afterwards be destroyed, shifting the weight of the cage and the statue onto the beams. Using jacks of 400 ton capacity, the front and back ends of the beams will be lowered onto the two vehicles. The two flatbed trucks will carry it through the city overnight to avoid traffic on the eight-mile trip west of Cairo, that will take several hours to reach its destination.

On going preparations to move the statue

The statue will reach a temporary location at the Giza Plateau, where it will undergo a 6 to 12 month restoration process. When the construction of the nearby Grand Museum base is complete, the statue will be moved there. The statues new home is to be the 480,000 square meter site of the Grand Egyptian Museum (GEM), overlooking the Giza Plateau, which is now under construction.

The site lies on a higher hill at the beginning of the Cairo-Alexandria desert road and is also accessed from the Fayoum Desert road. The top of the museum level has a wonderful clear panorama of the three Giza Pyramids. The new museum - due to open in 2010 will exhibit at least 100,000 artifacts from the Pharaonic and Greco-Roman periods. A large triangular gate in the facade will lead into the museum, where the statue of Ramesses II will greet visitors. The government is gambling that the museum will lure an additional 3 million tourists to Egypt every year.

Many argue that moving the ancient granite statue out of the square may not save it from the ravages of Cairo's pollution. Archaeologists and others have expressed concerns over the necessity and safety of the plan, saying that the statue's future home is not much cleaner. At the same time, many have expressed their dismay with the project's cost, which comes up to 6 million LE, arguing that this amount could have been better used in other restoration projects and emergency stabilization of other monuments.

Ramses Statue in the Square before traffic and pollution spread around it.

The project is definitely controversial, as it far from an easy plan. However, even though it might be a better home from the Pharaoh, he will surely be missed both by Cairenes who have grown accustomed to his towering presence and by the square that bears his name, which will be left vast and empty.