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the valley temple of Pharaoh Ramses II
Ramesses II (Rameses, Ramses) built more temples than any other pharaoh of ancient Egypt. Each temple he endowed with giant statues of himself, lest anyone forget the source. Here in the desert west of Thebes, a few miles from his tomb, he built a temple intended only for the eternal worship of his memory, for Pharaoh is a god and after his death he joins the stars in the sky. Or so they said.
The Ramesseum, from the West
The vaulted mounds are the grain storehouses of the temple estates.
Made of mud brick, they still stand in the desert after 3300 years.
By David Roberts, 1839.
The Ramesseumfrom: The Spell of Egypt (Excerpt)
by Robert Hichens, published 1911
Etext prepared by Dagny
and John Bickers
Adapted for AscendingPassage.com.
"This, my lord, is the thinking-place of Rameses the Great."
So said Ibrahim Ayyad to me one morning--Ibrahim, who is almost as
prolific in the abrupt creation of peers as if he were a democratic
I looked about me. We stood in a ruined hall with columns, architraves
covered with inscriptions, segments of flat roof. Here and there
traces of painting, dull-red, pale, ethereal blue still adhered to the stone.
This hall, dignified, grand, but happy, was open on all sides to the
Sun and air. From it I could see tamarisk and acacia trees, and far
off shadowy mountains beyond the eastern verge of the Nile.
trees were still in an atmosphere that was a miracle
of clearness and of purity. Behind me, and near, the hard Libyan
mountains gleamed in the sun. Somewhere a boy was singing,
suddenly his singing died away. And I thought of the "Lay of the
Harper" which is inscribed upon the tombs of Thebes--those tombs under
those gleaming mountains:
"For no one carries away his goods with him;
Yea, no one returns again who has gone thither."
It took the place of the song that had died as I thought of the great
king's glory, that he had been here and had long since passed away.
"The thinking-place of Rameses the Great!"
"You must leave me alone here, Ibrahim."
The Ramesseum, previously called the Memnonium
by Charles Wilson
I watched his gold-colored robe vanish into the gold of the Sun
through the copper color of the columns. I was quite alone in the
"thinking-place" of Rameses. It was a brilliant day, the sky dark
sapphire blue, without even the spectre of a cloud, or any airy,
vaporous veil. The heat was already intense in the full sunshine, but
delicious if one slid into a shadow. I slid into a shadow, and sat
down on a warm block of stone. And the silence flowed upon me--the
silence of the Ramesseum.
Was Horbehutet, the winged disk, with crowned uroei, ever set up
above this temple's principal door to keep it from destruction? I do
not know. But, if he was, he failed perfectly to fulfil his mission.
And I am glad he failed. I am glad of the ruin that is here, glad that
walls have crumbled or been overthrown, that columns have been cast
down, and ceilings torn off from the pillars that supported them,
letting in the sky. I would have nothing different in the thinking-
place of Rameses.
Like a cloud he loomed over the Egypt that is
dead. The same cloud looms over the Egypt of today. Everywhere you meet his
traces, everywhere you hear his name. You say to a tall young
Egyptian: "How big you are growing, Hassan!"
He answers, "Come back next year, my gentleman, and I shall be like
Rameses the Great."
Or you ask of the boatman who rows you, "How can you pull all day
against the current of the Nile?" And he smiles, and says to you: "Look! I am strong as Rameses the great."
This familiar fame comes down through some thirty centuries. Carved upon
limestone and granite, now it seems engraven also on every Egyptian
heart. Thus can inordinate
vanity impress its own view of
itself upon the minds of millions. This Rameses is believed by some to be the
Pharaoh who oppressed the children of Israel.
The Ramesseum, as re-created by Napolean's scholars
from "la Description de l'Egypte"
As I sat in the Ramesseum that morning, I recalled his face--the face
of an artist and a dreamer rather than that of a warrior and
oppressor. Handsome he was, not insensitive, not cruel, but subtle,
aristocratic, and refined. I could imagine him bending above the sistrums as they lifted their melodious voices to bid
And I could imagine him looking profoundly grave, not sad, among the
columns with their opening lotus flowers. For it is the hall of lotus
columns that Ibrahim calls the thinking-place of the pharaoh.
There is something both lovely and touching to me in the lotus columns
of Egypt, in the tall masses of stone opening out into flowers near
the Sun. Near the Sun! Yes, only that obvious falsehood will convey to
those who have not seen them the effect of some of the hypostyle
halls, the columns of which seem to soar to the sky.
Papyrus columns line the exterior of the Ramsseum
From La Description de l'Egypte, published c.1809.
Flowers of stone. There was poetry in the minds that conceived them, in the
thought that directed the hands which shaped them and placed them
where they are. In Egypt perpetually one feels how the ancient
Egyptians loved the Nymphaea lotus, which is the white lotus, and
the Nymphaea coeruloea, the lotus that is blue. Did they not place
Horus in its cup, and upon the head of Nefer-Tum, the nature god?
To Seti I., when he returned
in glory from his triumphs over the Syrians, were given bouquets of
lotus-blossoms by the great officers of his household. The tiny column
of green feldspar ending in the lotus typified eternal youth. Kohl pots were fashioned in the form of the lotus, cartouches
sprang from it, wine flowed from cups shaped like it. The lotus was
part of the very life of Egypt, as the rose, the American Beauty rose,
is part of our social life of today.
The Ramesseum by Samuel Manning, 1875.
And here, in the Ramesseum, I
found campaniform, or lotus-flower capitals on the columns--here where
Rameses once perhaps dreamed of his Syrian campaigns. That
famous combat at Kaldesh when, "like Baal in his fury," he fought single-handed
against the host of the Hittites massed in two thousand, five hundred
chariots to overthrow him.
The Ramesseum is a temple not of winds, but of soft and kindly airs.
There comes Zephyrus, whispering love to Flora incarnate in the Lotus.
To every sunbeam, to every little breeze, the ruins stretch out arms.
They adore the deep-blue sky, the shining, sifted sand, untrammeled
nature, all that whispers, "Freedom."
From "la Description de l'Egypte"
So I felt that day when Ibrahim left me, so I feel always when I sit
in the Ramesseum, that exultant victim of Time's here not sacrilegious
All strong souls cry out secretly for liberty as for a sacred
necessity of life. Liberty seems to drench the Ramesseum. And all
strong souls must exult there. The Sun has taken it as a beloved
possession. No massy walls keep him out. No shield-shaped battlements
rear themselves up against the outer world as at Medinet-Abu. No huge
pylons cast down upon the ground their forms in darkness.
glows with the Sun, seems almost to have a soul glowing with the
sense, the sun-ray sense, of freedom. The heart leaps up in the
Ramesseum, not frivolously, but with a strange, sudden knowledge of
the depths of passionate joy there are in life and in bountiful,
glorious nature. Instead of the strength of a prison one feels the
ecstasy of space. Instead of the safety of inclosure, the rapture of
This place of the great king is a public of Theban hills, of light airs, of
drifting sand grains, of singing birds, and of butterflies with pure
white wings. If you mount an Arab horse in the
heart of an oasis, then ride him to the verge of the great desert, you will remember
the bound, thrilling with fiery animation, which he gives when he sets
his feet on the sand. A bound like
that the soul gives when you sit in the Ramesseum. You see the
crowding sunbeams, the far-off groves of palm trees, and the drowsy
mountains, like shadows, that sleep beyond the Nile. And you look up,
perhaps, as I looked that morning, and upon a lotus column nearby you perceive the figure of a young man singing.
A young man singing! Let him be the tutelary god of this place,
whoever he be, whether only some humble shepherd or the
"Superintendent of Song for the King". Rather
even than Amun-Ra let him be the god. For there is something nobly
joyous in this architecture.
It has been said, but not established, that Rameses the Great was
buried in the Ramesseum, and when first I entered it the "Lay of the
Harper" came to my mind, with the sadness that attends the passing
away of glory. But an optimism almost as
determined as Emerson's was quickly bred in me there. I could not be
sad, though I could be happily thoughtful, in the light of the
Ramesseum. And even when I left the thinking-place, and, coming down
the central aisle, saw in the immersing sunshine of the Osiride Court
the fallen colossus of the king, I was not struck to sadness.
Imagine the greatest figure in the world--such a figure as this
Rameses was in his day. His was all might, all glory, all climbing power,
all vigor, tenacity of purpose, and granite strength of will
concentrated within it. Then struck suddenly down, and falling backward in
a collapse of which the thunder might shake the vitals of the earth. You have this prostrate colossus. Even now one seems to hear it
fall, to feel the warm soil trembling beneath one's feet as one
A row of statues of enormous size, with arms crossed as
if in resignation, glowing in the sun, in color not gold or amber, but
a delicate, desert yellow, stand watch near it like servants of the dead.
stupendous. That is obvious and that is enough. Nor does one think of
its finish, of its beautiful, rich color, of any of its details. One
thinks of it as a tremendous personage laid low, as the mightiest of
the mighty fallen. One thinks of it as the dead Rameses whose glory
still looms over Egypt like a golden cloud that will not disperse. One
thinks of it as the man that commanded: and lo! there rose up above
the sands, at the foot of the hills of Thebes, the exultant Ramesseum.
The Ramesseum from: The Spell of Egypt
by Robert Hichens, published 1911
OzymandiasI met a traveler 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 sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed.
And on the pedestal these words appear --
"My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Behold 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."
by Percy Bysshe Shelley, 1818
The great Statue of Rameses was known as Ozymandias (or Osymandyas) to an earlier age,
engraving by David Roberts.
Plan of the Ramesseum
from La Description de l'Egypte, 1809
Additional images from La Description de l'Egypte (2),
Hector Horeau, and Georg Erbkam (2).
Temples of West Thebes
In the western desert,
New Kingdom pharaohs built great temples
for the everlasting worship of themselves.
Amenhotep III Memnon
Rameses III Medinet Habu
Rameses II - Ramesseum
Seti I Kourna
Queen Hatshepsut Deir el Bahari
Temples of the Craftsmen Deir el Medina
Countless beautiful 19th century images of ancient Egypt
and 75 pages of architecture, art and mystery
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