Text: Christian LEBLANC
French archaeologic mission director at West-Thebes (CNRS)
Translation: Géry FLAMENT, Douglas RAND
Pages and Photos: Gérard FLAMENT



Ramses II was still very young when he acceded to the throne after a brief co-regency beside his father Sethos I. Once crowned, he was to achieve projects as large as his ambitions. He came from the north where he founded his capital Pi-Ramses, however he covered both parts of Egypt, north and south, with a multitude of monuments. At Thebes, he undertook the construction of several monuments and devoted them to the glory of Amon, his divine father.

As tradition demanded, his tomb, dug into the Valley of the Kings, was one of the priority works. It was upon his accession to the throne that began the building of the House of millions of years of Ousermaâtrê Setepenrê that unites with Thebes-the-city in the domain of Amon, in other words, the royal worship temple of Ramses II. The name Ramesseum was given to by Jean-François Champollion in 1829.

The construction began before the end of the year II of the reign of Ramses, and was finished about twenty years later, well before the first celebration of the sovereign's sed festival. The realization of this foundation was carried out under the authority of two foremen : Penrê who came from Coptos, and Amenemone who came from Abydos. Both these architects were buried at West-Thebes.



Like the majority of the temples erected on the west bank at Thebes, the Ramesseum stands at the limit between the cultivated ground and the desert. It consisted of two temples and a palace. Broadly oriented east-west, the temple with its brick-built outbuildings covers a surface of about 5 hectares.

The plan of the site includes:


Temple map

The material goods or the temporal goods of the Ramesseum must have been considerable, but we don't have any inventory like the one of the estate of Karnak under Ramses III. However, there is a lot of information about the activities which took place in the economical area of the temple. Some sources of information about its personnel are available, in particular the texts, reliefs and paintings of several civil servants's theban tombs such as that of Amenemipet [TT.177], Amenemipet [TT.374], Amenouahsou [TT.274], Bakhet-Sekhmet [TT.384], Hori-mes [TT.C.7], Mahou [TT.257], Mes[TT.137], Nachtamon[TT.341], Nebmehyt [TT.384], Nebmehyt [TT.170], Nebsoumenou [TT.183], Nedjemger [TT.138] the person responsible for the garden, Neferrempet [TT.133] person responsible for spinning and weaving, and Piay [TT.263] .

The architectural plan of the Ramesseum shows some incontestably original features :


The iconographic topics, in sunk relief, sum up the four important functions of the sovereign.



The West-Thebes temples are most often called mortuary temples, as if they were considered as the mortuary complexes of the old kingdom. Actually, this appellation is ill-fitted for the new kingdom if we bear in mind that the worship was already being done during the pharaoh's lifetime.

Certain Egyptologists see them as jubilee temples, but there isn't really enough proof to support this idea.

The term House of Millions of Years was given to these temples by the ancient Egyptians. This appellation needs some explanations.

Egyptian temples are each a microcosmic representation of the original creation. It was within their precincts that, by the mean of a daily worship, the divine energy had to be continuously kept up.

The originality of the temples of millions of years is, above all, that the divine worship (Amon at Thebes) is associated with the sovereign's worship by the mean of hypostases (pictures and statues within the holy precinct).

In these monuments, architecture and sculpture express the same spiritual message in which the heavenly matters and the earthly matters are clearly united. From this program the god is brought to life again everyday and so is the king, the god's son. Hence the notion of royal worship temple where the royal power is exalted.

Beginning in the sanctuary, a place connected with the mystery of creation, then approaching the first pylon, the final step, this walk leads one to the apotheosis of the king who masters again the forces of evil and restores the Maat balance of Egypt. It's a journey that is suggested - in the iconography as well as in the architectural elements- and which expresses the revival, the continuous regeneration of royal power, and maybe even of the monarchic institution.

To sum up, like all the houses of millions of years, the Ramesseum would be a temple in which the royal function is sublimated, in which the Pharaoh identify himself with the deity with the very clear idea of an assimilation of the human to the divine. This monument must also be considered as a memorial in which all the great actions of the life of Ramses II are collected and materialized and which sets up his perfect symbiosis with Maât.



Because these royal worship temples celebrated the pharaoh's glory, they were also very close linked with the notion of royal power. We understand that they disappeared at the end of the XXth dynasty when the high priests or the king priests acceded to the throne. At the Ramesseum, the official worship didn't go on beyond the end of the ramesside period.

However, the abandonment of the worship is not synonymus of the abandonment of the place. As soon as, the XXIIth dynasty, a necropolis was settled in most of the outbuildings. The Tombs and the funerary chapel were reserved for the members of the Theban clergy. Some princesses in charge of sacerdotal functions like Sathorkhenem and some divine adoratrices such as Karomama, who came from royal families (Osorkon I, Takélot II) were inhumed in the precinct of the Ramesseum. An organization was set up to manage the plots, the inhumations and the upkeep of the necropolis.

From the XXIXth dynasty onwards, and during the Ptolemaic and the Roman periods, the Ramesseum was subject to several amputations, which brought about the disappearance of the mammisi of Touy and Nefertari and the dismantling of many walls, pillars and columns. Many of these materials were reused in the late arrangements of the complex of Medinet Habou. The removal of pieces of the Ramesseum lasted until the medieval period.

During the first century AD, the temple was transformed into a church. This is proved by some hasty arrangements in the last hypostyle halls and by many engraved or painted graffitis on the walls. The hammering of many reliefs is also a feature of this period. During the last archaeological digs, some architectural elements and some liturgical objects were discovered.



It took a long time for Thebes to be rediscovered.

It was during the Bonaparte's expedition that a study of the monument was carried out. In august 1799, Engineers Jolio and Devilliers recognized the famous " tomb of Osymandyas" known in the antiquity and described by Diodore de Sicile. They identified it to the " memnonium ". They made the first scientific survey which was published in "Description de l'Egypte".

In 1829, Champollion made a long stay at the Memnonium which became in his writings the Ramesseum. Strongly impressed by the ruins of the building, he set up an inventory of the scenes and copied some inscriptions. He concluded that this temple might be considered the loftiest and the purest of the Theban architectures.

The main subsequent studies were made by R. Lepsius in 1844 who studied it in a relatively exhaustive way and set up the plan of it, then by J.R Quibell in 1866, who dug the economical area and discovered many Third Intermediate Period tombs.

Between 1900 and 1908 H. Carter and E. Baraize carried out some cleanings and some consolidations.

In the seventies and eighties, some diggings, cleanings, and epigraphics survey were carried out in the temple and its outbuildings by a CNRS French research unit. These researches were made in close collaboration with the Egyptian CEDAE (Center of Documentation and Studies on Ancient Egypt)

In 1989, the " Association pour la Sauvergarde du Ramesseum " (Trust for the safeguard of the Ramesseum) was created and continues the Egyptien-French diggings, studies and restorations which go on every year. (INET-Louvre, ASR, CEDAE, CSA).



Its first aim is to help the scientists so that the house of millions of years of Ramses II might recover all it's importance from an architectural point of view, and reveal, thanks to a systematic exploration, not only the key of its functioning but also the stages of its long history.

Its second aim is to enhance the site according to the international rules of restoration. This monument like all the archaeological sites at Thebes, was inscribed by the UNESCO in the inventory of mankind's cultural heritage.

The trust publishes a yearly issue, MEMNONIA, about West-Thebes and in particular about the researches carried out in the Ramesseum and in the tomb of Ramses II. Its volume VIII was published in 1997.


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Association pour la sauvegarde du Ramesseum
Monsieur Christian Bernard LEBLANC
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