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ramesseum - mortuary temple ramses iii

Connie Tindale
The statues of Ramses II at the Ramesseum are huge and impressive but may have been usurped from Amenhotep III.

The Ramesseum is located on the right-hand side of the road, several hundred metres north of the West Bank Ticket Office very near to the Deir el Bahri and immediately north of the Temple of Amenhotep III.. Its main attraction is the huge broken statue of Ramses II, some well preserved mud brick wine vaults and impressive wall carvings.  The cost of entrance is 30 le and tickets are available only from the Ticket Office. It is open from 7.00 am until 5.00 p.m. in winter and from 7.00 am until 6.00 p.m. in summer.


Ramses II followed his father Seti I as Pharaoh of all Egypt and ruled from 1279-1213 BC (19th Dynasty).  He is perhaps the most well known of Egypt’s Pharaohs and reigned for 67 years.  In Thebes, his greatest building achievements were extensions to Karnak and Luxor Temples and completion of the tomb of his favourite wife Nefertari in the Valley of the Queens, but the one that would have been most important to him would be his own mortuary temple which he intended to last for a million years.  Unfortunately, the place he chose to build it was prone to flooding and occasional earthquakes, which eventually caused its ruin although it is thought to have been still standing in the first century CE..

The Ramesseum is most famous for its huge statues some of which might have been usurped from the  mortuary temple of Amenhotep (Amenophis) III as many of the Ramesseum's’s building blocks are known to have come from that site.  In the forecourt of The Ramesseum are several impressive statues of Ramses in the form of Osiris but the most atmospheric statue is massive and carved in rose granite. It was this statue that prompted the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley to write ‘Ozymandias’.

The pillars backing the statues and the columns in the hypostyle hall are deeply carved.

The first pylon is constructed of sandstone which gives a glorious glow in the afternoon light and gives the whole temple a feeling of warmth to show off the rose granite of Ramses' enormous broken statue which twisted as it fell leaving its feet facing the river while the upper body lies in the opposite direction. The engravings on this statue are still fresh and new and give no indication of its antiquity. It is not known whether this statue was made for the temple or whether it was usurped from Amenhotep at the same time as the blocks. However, as it is the largest carved statue in the world, its estimated weight was over one thousand tons and it stood 17.5 metres high without its base, it cannot have been easy to move even that short distance.

The original entrance to the temple faced the river but this entrance is now largely inaccessible and visitors enter from the side.  Beyond the atmospheric but crumbling forecourts and the statues of Ramses as Osiris, the temple is remarkably intact with 29 of the original 48 columns in the hypostyle hall still standing.  The hall has three entrances from the forecourt and there are some fine carvings of Ramses’ achievements and of him making offerings to the various Gods to ensure his passage through the underworld and into eternal life although most of the carvings on the temple relate to Ramses' military achievements and the battle of Kadesh.

The building is of sandstone and the colour changes in the light of the day. There are three entrances to the hypostyle hall.

The site also held Ramses Palace and considerable work has been in done in recent years preserving and restoring the vaulted storerooms, kitchens and living quarters that would have housed the temple staff and the Royal Family. A treasury and administrative offices were also located there. There is an earlier chapel close by which was built by Seti I and this may have been the reason for the choice of site. The chapel later became a mammisi or 'birthing house' honouring his mother Queen Tuy whose statue stood in its courtyard.

Not only was the Ramesseum badly situated, Ramses' tomb in the Valley of the Kings (KV7) was also badly place as it suffered severe damaged from continual flooding.  His mummy was  moved to safety several times in antiquity and was eventually found in the royal cache to the south of the Deir el Bahri but it was well  preserved and is now in Cairo Museum alongside his father Seti I. The mummy of his grandfather Ramses I is in Luxor Museum having been ceremonioisly returned to Egypt from Canada where it had been for the last century. 

My name is Ozymandias, king of kings,
Look on 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 - (1792 –1822)