Egypt: The Ramessuem

The Ramessuem on the West Bank at Luxor, Egypt

By Jimmy Dunn writing as Mark Andrews

A view of The Ramessuem on the West Bank of Luxor, Egypt

Ramesses II built his fabulous mortuary temple on the site of Seti I's ruined temple, where he identified himself with the local form of the God, Amun. It was begun early in his reign, and took twenty years to complete. It was described by Diodorus as the 'tomb of Ozymandia' which inspired a verse by the great poet, Percy Bysshe Shelley. Diodorus also mentions a 'sacred library' at the temple, though modern Egypologists have found no evidence to support this claim. This great temple reportedly rivaled the wonders of the temple at Abu Simbel, and is very similar both in reliefs and architecture to Ramesses III's mortuary temple at Medinet Habu. However, Ramesses built the temple too close to the Nile and the flood waters took their toll. Only a single colonnade remains of the First Courtyard.

The main building where the funerary cult of the king was celebrated was a typical stone-built New Kingdom temple. It consisting of two successive courtyards with pylon entrances, and a hypostyle hall with surrounding annexes. The pylons, some of the oldest examples of such structures, are decorated with scenes from the Battle of Qadesh (Kadesh). These scenes show Ramesses fighting the Hittites. He is depicted in a heroic counterattack, standing in his chariot firing arrows with deadly precision at the fleeing Hittites.

View of Osirian Statues at the Ramessuem

The second court is much more complete then the first. It is flaked both east and west by pillarered porticos with Osiride statues of Ramesses. These statues show Ramesses being summoned to rebirth in anew life, tightly wrapped in a shroud with his arms crossed, holding his scepters.

The hypostyle hall has a well preserved ceiling in the center. It was lit by traceried windows. Behind the facade on the interior (south) wall is a scene showing the capture of the Syrian fortress of Dapur, while across the hall at the far end of the west wall, Ramesses Ii si depicted receiving his scepters from Amun-Re. The Hall lead to a room for the sacred bark (a ritual boat) and sanctuary.

The remains of the complex include a royal palace and a large number of mud-brick granaries and storerooms, as well as a small temple dedicated to Ramesses' mother, Tuya, and wife, Nefertari.

Beneath the floor of the mortuary temple is a shaft tomb of a Middle Kingdom priest that was excavated by James Quibell in the late nineteenth century. This very interesting find revealed religious and magical artefacts, including a statuette of a woman wearing a lion mask and holding two snake wands (now in the Manchester Museum), an ivory clapper, a section of a magic rod, a female fertility figure, a bronze cobra wand (now in the Fitzwillima Museum, Cambridge) and a box of papyri in scribed with a wide range of religious, literary and magical texts.

Another view of the Osirian Statues at The Ramessuem

It is also likely that there was a school for scribal training in the complex, as evidenced by a large pile of ostraca. A number of papyri of the Third Intermediate Period have been found at the site, as well as an elite cemetery of about the same time period.

In front of the ruins is the base of the colossus of Ramesses that once stood 17m (about 69 feet) high. The statue would have weighed more than 1,000 tons and was bought from Aswan in one piece. On the granite colossus's shoulder is an inscription describing Ramesses as the "sun of Princes". The statue fell into the Second Court and the head and torso remain there, but the other broken pieces are in museums all over the world. It is this statue that Shelly's poem, though completely incorrect, alludes to:

I met a traveller from an antique land
Who Said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert, Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed.
And on the pedestal these words appear:
"My name is Ozymandias, king of kings;
Look on my work, ye Might, and despair!?
Nothing beside remains, Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and leve sand stretch far away.