|Ramsesses II, temple of millions of years, Thebes|
Text: Christian LEBLANC
French archaeologic mission director at West-Thebes (CNRS)
Translation: Géry FLAMENT, Douglas RAND
Pages and Photos: Gérard FLAMENT
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
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 :
iconographic topics, in sunk relief, sum up the four
important functions of the sovereign.
Function of the Ramesseum
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.
Abandonment of the Worship and Subsequent Transformations
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
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.
Scientific Exploration of the Ramesseum
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).
L'association por la Sauvegarde du Ramesseum
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.