Ramesseum


The mortuary temple here belongs to Ramesses II — and with his inimitable style, he has writ his name large on the structure here. The huge temple was begun in the second year of Ramesses II’s reign and took nearly 20 years to complete. The temple is called “The House of Millions of Year of User-Maat-Re” Napoleon’s archeologists dubbed it the Memnonium.

The temple is perhaps best known for the gigantic statue, toppled to the ground, which inspired Shelley’s sonnet. Ozymandias, of course, is a Greek corruption of the name Usermaatre, throne name for Ramsesses II.

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 scuptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things
The hand which mocked them, and the heart that fed.
On the pedestal these words ap
pear:
‘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.

The ruins were nearly empty when we visited — the site is not often mobbed by bus tours. This is an enormous, sprawling temple, surrounded by mudbrick walls and row upon row of storage rooms like long arched tunnels. Our guide told us that the storage held enough grain to feed the entire city for several years. Given the size of the place, I can believe that.

The Ramesseum is built on the ruined foundations of an earlier temple of Seti I. He didn’t, however, take into account the reason that Seti I’s temple had failed — the yearly inundation of the Nile slowly ate away at the foundations. THis is surprising, as the Ramesseum marks the firs ttime that the great pylons of the temple were bult in stone — prior to this, they were usually mudbrick. Still, the temple had been abandoned by the 22nd Dynasty and used as a necropolis. By the 29th Dynasty, it was being dismantled for building materials.

Currently, the first two pylons have collapsed and only the courtyards remain. The entrance now no longer goes through the ruined pylons but instead through the side of the courtyard, which skewed our ability to “see:” the temple inthe ruins.

The temple faces east, as do all the mortuary temples on the west bank and woul d have been entered through the first pylon, which stands a ways away form the rest of the temple. It was crumbled in an earthquake which destroyed it and the colonnatded hall behind it. This earthquake, in 27 BCE, probably brought down the giant colossus as well.

The current structure is mostly made up of the second court and the startlingly large colossus. THis was a seated statue, but still 18m (60 ft) tall and weighing about 1000 tons. The Colossi of Memnon are larger, but only because they retain their pedestals. All that remains here is the fallen head and shoulders and fragments of the statue, including feet and a knee. There were originally two colossi — the other was aquired by Belzoni in 1816. This is the largest statue in Egypt (freestanding — the Sphinx is much larger, of course). The ear of the statue is 1.2 m (3 1/2 ft) tall, and the index finger is 1m (3 1/4 ft)

Inside on the north wall of the second court is a freize of Ramesses “signature battle”, the Battle of Kadesh. Nearly all of his monuments glorify this battle — which most certainly happened, but most likely not with Ramesses II’s particular version.

The hypostyle hall had 48 columns although only 29 still stand. Some have papryus shafts and lotus capitals, the outer ring of columns have lotus-bud capitals. Beyond it there are two smaller hypostyle halls, one with a fabulous astronomincal ceiling. This may be the earliest known example of a 12 month calendar, It probably represents a solar year.

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