This magnificent mortuary temple is unfortunately half in ruin. It
compares in both construction and quality of material with the mortuary temple of Sety I at Kurna but not in the
artistic execution of the murals. The design is simple for a New Kingdom structure and though Ramesses' son Merenptah,
and his successor Ramesses III, made some additions they were minimal and did not detract from Ramesses II's original
Ramesses II developed what can only be described as an extraordinary building activity during his 67-year reign. He
enjoyed having his state sculptors depict him repeatedly and there is hardly a pylon, hall or chamber in the temples of
Egypt that does not bear his name. His monuments, mostly massive, spread from Memphis and Heliopolis to Abydos and
Thebes, apart from those in the heart of Nubia. His image is also perpetuated in gigantic detail in the rocks of Asia.
One can imagine with what joy his sculptors presented ostentatious projects that they were sure would be accepted. The
image of Ramesses II is more indelibly projected into the modern age than any other. His favourite theme was his famous
alliance with the King of the Hittites. It is in fact depicted on the great pylon that forms the eastern entrance to the
Ramesseum. This campaign was the Pharaoh's only really important one in Asia over some fifteen years, though he was also
responsible for suppressing some Nubian revolts and carrying out a campaign in Libya.
The entire structure of the
Ramesseum within the girdle-wall measures approximately 275 metres by 168 metres, though a large portion consisted of
subsidiary buildings and storerooms.
A - First Pylon, North and South
B - First Court
C - Royal Palace
D - Colossal statue of Ramesses II
E - Second Pylon
F - Second Court
G - Original position of statue taken to London by Belzoni
H - Vestibule
I - Hypostyle Hall
J - "Room of Barques" with astronomical ceiling
K - "Room of Litanies"
L - Sanctuary
M - Temple of Tuya and Nefertari
Scenes and Reliefs
[a] Battle of Kadesh
[b] Siege of Syrian city, year 8
[c] Battle of Kadesh
[d] Siege of cities of Dapur and Tunip
[e] Ramesses II consecrated and crowned by Sekhmet, Amun-Re
[f] Barques procession - Beautiful Feast of the Valley
[g] Litanies to Ra-Harakhty and Ptah
Entrance Pylon The murals on the inner surfaces of the entrance pylon show, on the northern tower [a right] towards the centre of
the wall (lower rows), the Egyptian army on the march with infantry and charioteers. The Egyptian camp is shown above
them with a rampart of shields. This is a lively scene with the chariots drawn up in long lines and heavy baggage-wagons
with their teams nearby. Some of the un-harnessed horses are being foddered. Some of the soldiers converse with one
another. One drinks from a wineskin. Two others quarrel. The scene to the right of this same tower shows Ramesses II
seated on his throne taking counsel with his princes who stand before him. Below him is a row of captured spies being
beaten to extract information.
On the southern tower [a left] the actual attack is shown. The entire left-hand side of the pylon shows the battle of
Kadesh. Ramesses II dashes into battle in his chariot, dead and wounded cover the ground, others retreat in confusion
only to fall headlong into the Orontes, the Hittites take refuge in their fortress. The reliefs on the right-hand half
of the tower show the Pharaoh grasping enemies by the hair whilst smiting them.
First and Second Courts The first court of the Ramesseum (B) is mostly in ruin. Towards the rear, before the ancient western gate, lie the
remains of what was once a colossus of the king and one of the most enormous pieces of stone ever shaped to such
perfection (D). This massive statue, or rather the remains of the chest, upper arm, foot, etc., shows work of superb
craftsmanship even to the final polish. When the French expedition under Napoleon visited Egypt careful measurements
were made of the various remaining parts and it was estimated that the statue's total height must have been over 17
metres and its weight over 1,000 tons. In other words this granite statue not only exceeded in size the Colossi of
Memnon, but also most of the statues of Ramesses' ancestors. Its transportation from the granite quarries of Aswan in
one piece is almost impossible to conceive. Hatshepsut's obelisks at Karnak were only one third of the weight. The
Statue was named "Sun of Princes" and was originally flanked by the statue of him mother Tuya.
On passing the colossal remains we enter the second court (F) which is in a much better state of preservation. It has
colonnades on all four sides, those to the rear on a terrace. Facing the court are statues of Osiris and the
representations on the column shafts show Ramesses II sacrificing to the deities. This court was the one identified with
the Augustan historian Diodorus' description of the 'Tomb of Ozymandias'. 'Ozymandias' may be explained as a corrupt
form of User-ma-re, one of the names of Ramesses II. The two colossal monoliths of the king, which must once have
towered over the pylons of the Ramesseum, inspired Shelley to write his famous poem Ozymandias.
Percy Bysshe Shelly (1792 - 1822)
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 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."
In this court are well preserved scenes of the battle of Kadesh (c). Ramesses II dashes into
battle (lower row). He is depicted larger than his men, and the enemy, mostly dead and wounded, lie in heaps on the
ground. The fortress of Kadesh, surrounded by a moat, divides a group of the enemy from the battlefield. These men, far
from preparing themselves for battle, are lending a hand to their drowning companions. Though this mural has been
considered by some as a pretentious interpretation, there is no doubt that the complexity of the composition shows
development and sophistication. The individual figures, however, indicate marked deterioration from the expressive
detail of the murals of Seti I's mortuary temple.
Higher on the wall (c) are scenes from the Festival of the God Min
which was celebrated when the Pharaoh came to the throne. The priests, who stand to the side of the king and await a
procession headed by other priests carrying images of the royal ancestors, let forth four birds to carry the royal
tidings to the four corners of the earth. Further to the right the Pharaoh cuts a sheaf with a sickle for presenting to
the god. Murals portraying such festivals are immensely effective. The artists' ability to depict battle action is less
so in view of the stylized treatment of the human form.
At the back of the court are some stairs, and on the rear wall to the left (f) are three rows of relief work. The bottom
row depicts Ramesses II as a family man with his eleven sons. The middle row (left) shows the hawk-headed Montu holding
the hieroglyph for life before the king's face and (right) the king kneels before the Theban triad while Thoth, who is
behind him, writes his years on a palm-leaf. In the top row he is making a sacrifice to Ptah and offering incense to
Hypostyle Hall The Hypostyle Hall (I), which follows a small flight of stairs at the centre back of the court, is markedly similar
to the one at Karnak. Both have three aisles, the taller columns at the centre with calyx capitals and the lower ones at
the sides with bud capitals. As at Karnak the difference in height is made up by a wall with openings for light. The
hypostyle hall of the Ramesseum is less cumbersome than that of Karnak. The columns appear more graceful and better
proportioned. Throughout the hall the representations depict Ramesses II in battle. This time the troops with ladders
storm the fortress of Zapur (g-lower row). The Pharaoh dashes into the thick of battle in his chariot (to the left),
leaving the enemy in flight or scattered on the ground. To the right the attacking Egyptians scale the fortress on
ladders and push up to the walls under the protection of storming-sheds and shields. The sons of the Pharaoh took part
and proved themselves worthy of their heroic father. Each is identifiable by his name engraved beside him.
On the western walls [e] the sons of Ramesses II are shown (in the lower rows). Above them the Pharaoh is followed by a
goddess in the presence of Amun and Mut. Above the princes he is depicted before Amun and Khonsu with the lion-headed
Sekhmet behind him.
Smaller hypostyle halls Beyond the hypostyle hall are two smaller hypostyle halls falling one behind the other in the middle of the
remaining chambers which spread backwards and sideward from the few standing walls. The first (J) has astrological
representations on the roof and on the eastern walls [f] priests bear the sacred boats of Amun, Mut and Khonsu, each
decorated with the head of its god. On the rear right-hand wall Ramesses is seated beneath the sacred tree of
Heliopolis, on the leaves of which his names are being written by Atum, who is seated on a throne to the left, with a
goddess and Thoth to the right.
The second hypostyle hall (K) is mostly in ruin. It has some sacrificial representations including a scene [g] of Ramses
burning incense to Ptah and the lion-headed Sekhmet.
The Portrayal of Ramesses II When looking at the murals of the Ramesseum, recording the wars of conquest and aggrandisement, one cannot help
recognising this as a very early form of mass persuasion. On no monument, wall, column or pylon, is there a record of a
single governmental setback, neither through internal ferment nor through military defeat. The Pharaoh is always a hero.
His chronicles are always glorious. And none are more glorious than those of Ramesses II. According to his royal scribe,
Pentaur, when he and his chariot driver were separated from the army and hopelessly surrounded by the enemy, the
fearless Ramesses II six times charged the foe single-handed. He hewed them down with his sword and trampled them under
the wheels of his chariot. According to Pentaur, Ramesses overthrew 2,500 enemy chariots, scattered 100,000 warriors and
drove the rest into the water!
Ramesses II's feats on the home front do not have to be exaggerated. They stand today as proof of his abilities. He was
the Pharaoh who dug out the heart of a mountain at Abu Simbel in order to fashion within it a great hall and no less
than fifteen spacious chambers. He faced the hollowed construction with four carved colossi that, even in a seated
position, tower to a height of 20 metres. Ramesses II will always remain a central figure in Egyptian history and one
that can be forgiven for claiming full credit, here and there, for work begun by his ancestors.
Source: Luxor, a Guide to Thebes; Jill Kamil; 1973