"Concerning Egypt, I will now speak at length,
because nowhere are there so many marvellous things,
nor in the whole world beside are there to be seen so many things of unspeakable greatness."
With huge stone pillars, massive osirid statues and intricate relief scenes, the Ramesseum, also known as the Mortuary Temple of Rameses II, is one of the greatest ancient monuments of Egypt. It was the mortuary temple complex of pharoh Ramses II (1279-1213 B.C.E) and it was called "The Tomb of Ozymandias," by Diodorus Siculus, which is a Greek variant of Ramses II's first name, Usermaatre Setepenre. The site had previously been home to a holy shrine erected by Ramses II's father, Seti I.
The building is basically rectangular in shape. However, the central wall is slightly off-center, creating corners in the rooms that aren't right angles. The whole temple complex was surrounded by a brick wall, and all around it were smaller workshops and other buildings for storage use. The temple itself was built in the New Kingdom temple pattern: two forecourts, a hypostyle hall, several antechambers, a sanctuary and its surrounding rooms. Large osirid statues of Ramses II are by the central staircase that leads from the Second Court to the portico.
The first pylon of the building was decorated with scenes from the battle at Kadesh; it is partially collapsed along with the second pylon. The first pylon leads to the colonnaded First Court the forecourt of the temple. In front of the second pylon is the statue of Ramses II, which has fallen; the base and feet are intact, with the top of the statue lying on the ground. It was over 18 meters tall and weighed approximately 1,000 tons.
The Second Court leads into the hypostyle hall, which has eight rows of six columns each. It has three aisles with taller columns in the center and lower ones on the sides, so it will allow light to come through windows on the architraves of the rows of shorter columns. The hall originally had 48 columns (6 rows of columns) but only 29 stand today. The relief scenes on the east wall inside show the victory at the city of Dharpur, and the west wall reliefs list the names of 23 of Ramses II's 50 sons.
Continuing onward, there are passages to the "Astronomical Room," which, on the ceiling, remains intact the oldest known 12 month calendar. After that, there is a large library were temple records were stored, and behind that, the Bark Hall, which contained a ritual boat with a cult image of the pharaoh. The main sanctuary follows this room, all the way to the rear of the temple. By the northeast wall of the temple is the shrine to Seti I, which was originally built by him but Ramses II built. It is thought to be dedicated to Ramses II's mother Touy, and might be a mamissi.
Early explorations of the site began in the 19th century, with Giovanni Belzoni going there in 1816 and taking part of the huge colossus of Rameses II to the British Museum. From 1896 to 1897 Sir William Flinders Petrie and James Edward Quibell excavated the smaller temples and tombs nearby. In 1911 and 1913, Anthes and Möller worked on the tombs to the south for the Berlin Museum. Today, the Ramesseum remains one of the most important archaeological sites in Thebes.
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