Known as the Ramesseum, the mortuary temple of Pharaoh Ramses II, who reigned for 67 years, is considered one of the most elaborate in the Necropolis of Thebes. The temple was built in the 13th century BC and modelled after the mortuary temple of Pharaoh Sethi I, also in western Thebes. Unfortunately, when I was in the Necropolis of Thebes in December 2007, the Ramesseum was closed for restoration, so I was unable to visit the site. The attached photo from the car had to suffice.
This is another monument raised by Ramses II. 29 of the original 48 columns of the great hypostyle hall are still standing. Admission ticket 20 EGP (May 2006), which should be puchased in the central ticket office near the Colossi of Memnon.
The modern name for the Ramesseum was given in the 19th century when the European looters, or rather archeologists, first found it. The 2nd Pylon has a relief depicting a scene typical of Ramses' interaction with Gods Osiris and Amon and is enormous in size. Beyond the colossal statue are a number of interesting boulder sized fragments, and if one walks around the 1st pylon, interaction with local farmers is possible. I met a boy on a donkey and took his picture. I also found a guard who wanted me to pay an extra tip to view a "mummy". I was reluctant to pay anything, but he showed me anyway. I'm not sure whether is was the remains of a modern dead body, a family that had been mummified, or a fragment of a mummy that wasn't found by the archeologists or what.
While much of Ramesseum remains in ruins, a significant portion of the great hypostyle hall remains, and restoration work is in progress. Some 28 of 48 columns stand. Ramesseum features a mural of the Battle of Kadesh. In this conflict, Ramses himself fought on chariot far away from home. Kadesh is in Syria, I believe, and when Ramses arrived with a contingent of his forces, he unexpectedly ran into a much larger Hittitie army, which nearly enveloped him. Unlike Darius, who would be personally assaulted by Alexander, Ramses did not flee. Rather, he rallied his troops and demonstrated considerable personal bravery. Later, when his generals arrived with additional troops, Ramses was able to bring the conflict to a stalemate as the Hittite armies, though still much larger found themselves out flanked. The life of Ramses and this conflict is nicely recreated in Norman Mailer's Ancient Evenings, which also features chapters on the sexual intrigues of court life. Mailer claimed to have done "research", and he describes nicely how Ramses may have fought the battle. Ramses who had learned the mastery of tying the reins to his hips to direct the horses pulling his wooden axle chariot, shot arrows at close range against Hittite troops that attempted to capture him. As the mural depicts, the enemy is massacred or flees in terror. This may have been propaganda because the Egyptians eventually lost this territory. In any case, Ramses ruled for some 60 years and the hypostyle hall is but one of may monuments he built to himself.
As anyone who has traveled through Egyptian ruins knows, Rameses II thought a great deal of himself, but perhaps he had to. During these dynastic periods, Egypt transitioned from God-King to Military Empire. The Egyptians learned about the empire builders of the near east, particularly of the Hittites, against whom Ramses fought to a draw at the battle of Kadesh. In any case, Ramses II was required to punish his enemies and build monuments in part as a show of strength to the Egyptian people who had previously seen their God-King dynasties vanish by military defeat. The great colossal statue of Ramses is fragmented and perhaps with special large equipment can be rebuilt one day. I was particularly impressed by the quality of work done on the hands and feet. Shown here also are the Osiris Pillars, which create a dramatic entrance to the Great Hypostyle Hall. I'm also very fond of the black granite head that came from a statue of Ramses II.
The layout of Ramesseum is confusing at first because the tourist entrance seems to come in the back. I began by hiking over to the first pylon and climbing up it to see over the entire complex. It seems from my images that considerable work remains for restoration. This fact is not lost on Lonely Planet which notes the allusion romantic period British poet Shelley made for the colossal statue in his poem Ozymandias. The statue is broken into huge fragments, possibly in much the same place that they fell, so note the comparison with people standing nearby for better perspective on how large this statue must have been. The hands and feet are visible in these overview pictures. From atop the pylon is also a great view of the fertile agricultural region of the Nile West Bank.
Although this temple, built by Ramses II, is in ruins, it is still very beautiful and has the Valley of the Nobles as a back drop. As tourists are so busy visiting the Valley of the Kings, they often miss this temple, so you are free to walk around without the crowds. Originally there was a 16 m high bust of Ramses, standing in front of the south quay of pylon II, however, you can now see this lying on the ground.
Entrance fee: 20 LE (2 GBP)
The Ramesseum is the name given in the 19th century to the huge funeral temple of Ramses II. The Statue of Ramses II, seated on a throne, with originally a weight of over a thousand tons and 17M high is mutilated and fallen. The temple and its ornaments had to impress others like priests, successors and gods by its large scale.
Which hand is the biggest?
The Ramesseum is the funeral temple built in order of Ramses II. The temple was built to the ultimate glory of himself as an eternal testimony to his greatness. His ''Castle of the Million Years'' was built by the architect Penre on such a huge scale, to overshadow other temples of that time.
Today remains little of that splendor: the Osiris pillars on the facade of the hypostyle hall and a giant fallen statue of Ramses II, not much more.
I met a traveler 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 upon my works, ye Mighty, and despair!"
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away
Percy Bysshe Shelley
Bits of the giant statue which inspired Shelley's poem are still at the Ramasseum, although the head is in the British Museum.
For a superb view of the Ramasseum turn left as you enter and head behind the First Pylon. From here it`s an easy scramble to the top.