Colossus of Ramesses II

If you aren’t familiar with Ramesses II — Ramesses the Great — before you go to Egypt, you will be heartily sick of him afterwards! No pharaoh before or after embarked on such a building plan, with temples, statues, inscriptions, and other monuments from one end of the Nile to the other.

the colossus of Ramesses II, laying down but still impressive

It almost seems as if Ramesses was determined to be remembered by sheer volume of his work, if not the importance of it. His name is everywhere, oftentimes inscribed over the top of other pharaohs, and his name added to their statues when his own sculptors couldn’t finish them fast enough.

This colossus is one of a pair — the other (a replica, of the original, I believe) stands in front of the Midan Ramses train station in Cairo — and was discovered in 1820. They were probably meant to stand at the gates of a monumental temple to Ptah, the patron deity of Memphis.


the carving of his wife, Nefertari, reaching to touch his leg

The statue here is cut off at the knees, but it still an impressive sight laying on its back in a concrete shelter. The fineness of the carvings, and the sheer size of the thing are impressive up close.

the cartouche of ramesses II, carved into the shoulder of the colossus



Despite its size, the work on the statue is very fine. The pleated details of Ramesses’ kilt and belt and the nemes headress seem more suited to smaller, more finely detailed statues. At this size, it makes the statue seem very lifelike. Most people immediately recognize that the herculean task of smoothing and shaping some 40 feet of stone to this flesh-like smoothness is the work of a skilled artist, not the mass labor of slaves.

I was used to depictions of people in Egyptian art being strange-looking, with straight-on eyes and profile faces, legs and feet from the side, but shoulders seen from the front. It makes many people believe that the Egyptians did not care to accurately represent the human form — or that they were not capable of realism in art. The subtle shaping of muscles and bone are obvious in this statue. The graceful scultping of the knee reminded me of of the fragments found at Tanis.

The carvings on the shoulder and chest are not intended as tattos, although they do remind me of them, but rather as labels — in case we had any question who this gargantuan statue might belong to. They are inscriptions of his name and formal epithets to commend the king, in the form of this statue, to the gods.

There are a few other fragments of statues in the rectangular building, including some earlier statues in red granite, and a lumpy, oddly carved statue of the dwaft Bes, the god of fertility and childbirth. And, of course, a few helpful attendants...


one of the site attendants with the colossus, and a faceless granite statue

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