THE RAMESSEUM (EGYPT),
RECENT ARCHAEOLOGICAL RESEARCH
Guy Lecuyot, CNRS Paris (UMR 8546)
SITUATION OF THE MONUMENT
The ruins of the Ramesseum are situated in Upper Egypt, at Luxor - the former "Thebes" - on the west bank of the Nile.
The Ramesseum, which was built for Ramesses II, was begun before the end of the second year of his reign. The decoration of the monument was undertaken not before the fifth year and probably ended in year 21. As you probably know, the reign of Ramesses II was one of the longest in the history of Egypt - it lasted 67 years, from 1279 to 1212 BC - and that is without taking into account the fact that he may have coreigned with his father Sety I who ruled over Egypt from 1294-1279 BC.
At the time of Ramesses II this temple was called "the Mansion of Millions of Years of Wsr-M3't-R' Stp-n-R' (one of Ramesses' names) which United with Thebes (Waset) in the Domain of Amun." Amun was the god who presided over the destinies of the Egyptian empire and who resided in the monumental temple on the east bank, in Karnak and in Luxor.
CULTURAL ATTESTATION OF THE RAMESSEUM : FROM GREEK TIMES TO THE 19th CENTURY
If we accept the idea that the description by Diodorus of Sicily in his Historic Library of "the tomb of Osymandias" - a deformation of the name Wsr-M3't-R' - is indeed that of the Ramesseum, then we must conclude that this temple was still, at least at this time, a fine example of the greatness of ancient Egypt. In fact, Diodorus borrows his description from a work written by Hecataeus of Abdera (Aigyptiaka) during the reign of Ptolemy I Soter (323-283 ; King in 306). Diodorus went to Egypt between 60 and 57 BC, but he probably never visited Thebes. Was this "tomb" already one of the tourist curiosities of the time ? Some rare graffiti inscriptions which were made by visitors seem to point in this direction.
Then followed many centuries of isolation and oblivion for this part of the world. Indeed, not until the 17th and 18th centuries would these ruins be rediscovered, thanks to the curiosity of the first travellers and the accounts they left of their travels. These travel accounts include : Father Cl. Sicard, R. Pococke, F-L Norden.
Since the 18th century, the temple has attracted adventurers like Belzoni. He did not hesitate to have shipped away (for the Consul H. Salt) the upper part of one of the colossal statues which decorated the second courtyard of the temple. Today this bust is housed in the British Museum. The Ramesseum has inspired many artists : painters such as D. Roberts and later William H. Bartlett. It also inspired poets like Percy Bysche Shelley in his poem Ozymandias of Egypt  and numerous photographers who took pictures of the pillars of the second courtyard or of the fallen colossus.
In the monumental work, Description de l'Egypte, Jollois and Devilliers, two scientists who participated in the Napoleonic Expedition to Egypt (1798-1801), provided in 1821 the first scientific study and the first plans and restitutions of the monument. This study was published under the title, and I translate, Description of the tomb of Osymandyas, called by some travellers the palace of Memnon.
The name that designates the monument today, "the Ramesseum", was inspired by Champollion during his visit to Egypt in 1829. Champollion chose this name "Rhamesséion" because he discovered the inscription "Ramesses" on the temple walls. Nestor L'Hôte was the draughtsman attached to this Franco-Tuscan mission, and he left us a large number of drawings of the temple.
Throughout the 19th century there was an ever increasing number of visitors to the site, but it was not until the middle of the 19th century that the first true archaeological investigations began : such as the one led by Lepsius who, during a trip to Egypt and Ethiopia in 1844-45, drew up the first plan of the ruined parts of the sanctuary and another led by Quibell who studied the annexes of the temple in 1896. Hölscher excavated mainly in the area of the palace and of the small temple in order to draw comparisons with the temple of Ramesses III at Medinet Habu where he was working. His findings were published in The Mortuary Temple of Ramesses III.
Though the Ramesseum is, today, largely ruined - it fell victim to the rigours of time as well as to human damage - this monument remains a unique example of a temple that included numerous mud-brick storerooms and their partially preserved arched roofs.
CHOICE OF THIS SITE
When Ramesses II decided to have his monuments built in the shade of the Theban mountain, he followed the example of the kings of the 18th Dynasty and those of the beginning of the 19th Dynasty. His tomb was dug in the Valley of the Kings (KV 7) and the "Mansion of Millions of Years" was built at the edge of the valley. The separate structure of this complex corresponds to an evolution in the concept of the funerary temple : the tomb was hidden deep in the mountain, and the temple was built on the edge of the desert area, facing the Nile and the temples of the east bank. This concept combines the purely funeral function with the resting place of the bark of Amun ; for example during the processions on the west bank, in particular the Beautiful Feast of the Valley. This evolution in funerary architecture culminates in a true divine temple at the time of Ramesses II. This kind of temple had his own local form of the god Amun with which the dead king, as a god, was identified.
The Ramesseum can be said to illustrate the traditional plan of an Egyptian temple : microcosmic evocation of creation and receptacle of gods' energy which was reinforced by daily worship. The originality of these mansions of millions of years resides, above all, in the association of the heavenly world and the earthly world, and in the exaltation and glorification of the royal function.
Towards 1279 BC, many monuments were probably located parallel to the Nile, adjacent to the farmland that lies between the temple of Sety I to the north and the small temple of Medinet Habu to the south ; this small temple dates back to the 18th Dynasty. Ramesses II chose as a site an area that was bordered, to the north, by the temple of Amenhotep II and the "Chapel of the White Queen" and, to the south, by the temple of Tuthmosis IV and the chapel of Wadjmes. This site had earlier been occupied by a small temple built during the reign of his father, Sety I.
It is his respect for the plan of his father's monument (Ramesses II built upon the very same foundations as his father) and the choice of the particular orientation of the main axis of the temple (corresponding to the movement of the sun and facing the temple of Luxor) that accounts for the irregularity of the entire monument and for the trapezoidal shape of the temple. The east-west walls of the temple are not parallel to the outer walls of the annexes.
DESCRIPTION OF THE MONUMENT
The temple is built mostly of sandstone that came from Gebel Silsileh, a quarry located south of Luxor. The names of two architects of the temple of Ramesses have been preserved : Penrê, who began the work, and Amenemone.
The monument, in its entirety, covers an area of approximately 6 hectares (N-S 220 m ; E-W more than 280 m). The two stone temples are situated in the centre of the complex and, around them, on three sides, the northern, southern and western sides, the annexes and mud-brick houses are located. These constructions, with their outstanding remaining vaults, have made the storerooms justly famous. A paved path led from the small temple.
The path led from the small temple, ran alongside and around the two temples, and led to different groups of stores, each of which had only one entrance.
The sheer size of the temples and the annexes (workshops and stores) is a clear indication of the importance of this complex in religious terms, but also in economic terms. In addition to the storerooms in which raw materials and perishable foodstuffs such as corn, wine, oils, honey and incense were stored, there was also, in the north-western section, a treasure house - identified by Prof. J.-Cl. Goyon - which housed the most precious objects. This treasury belonged to a group of stores which was more monumental than the others, with a total of 12 storerooms which were laid out symmetrically on either side of the treasury, and a colonnade of 28 stone columns which formed an impressive portico on a courtyard. At the western extremity of this courtyard a stone pedestal marked the spot where the royal throne was located.
This group of stores was probably built quite late, perhaps around the year 30.
A whole variety of workshops provided food for daily worship. Some served as bakeries and butcher shops and in others textiles were woven. The wealth and the economic importance of the temple were due to the land the king had granted. We should indicate that, a century later, Ramesses III accorded approximately one fifth of the income from the grand temple in Karnak to his own mansion of millions of years in Medinet Habu.
In order to have a clear idea of the great power of the clergy of Amun and of the great number of people who worked for them, allow me to quote some figures which were provided by the royal scribe Panehsy, head of the treasury. He was writing to Hori, prophet of Amun, in the year 24 of Ramesses II reign. At least 48 190 people worked in the temple, and this figure only took into account grain farmers, goatherds, fowl and donkey keepers. There were more than 7 million fowl and 11 million donkeys on the land belonging to the temple.
Feasts were times of great indulgence. For example, at the Ramesseum, for the feast of Opet which lasted three weeks, the following refreshments were on the menu : 11400 bread-loaves and cakes, 385 measures of beer plus diverse offerings such as meat, wine, fruit and incense. For the feast of Sokar, which lasted 10 days, there were 7400 bread-loaves and cakes, and 1372 measures of beer.
It is interesting to note that one of the superintendant of the treasure and of the cattle at the Ramesseum was the brother-in-law of Ramesses II.
When it was at the height of its glory, the Ramesseum must have been the greatest example of a Mansion of Millions of Years. It was to serve as a model for later temples and, in particular, for that of Ramesses III at Medinet Habu.
This temple takes advantage of the innovations which Sety I had already used in his temple at Gurna. These innovations enabled him to build in new monumental style : a stone pylon, a colossus and a hypostyle hall.
In ancient Egypt the temple was accessible from the Nile by means of a canal which probably came to an end at a quay in front of the great pylon which was 69,38 m long and approximately 22 m high. A stairway which led from the northern side gave access to its summit.
All the structures which were situated in front of the pylon have today disappeared and are now covered over by the farmland. We can imagine that between the quay and the pylon there was a forecourt with a monumental entrance and a dromos. The pylon, whose eastern side is today totally ruined, most certainly had two flagmasts on each of its piers. It marked the entrance to the temple and to the first courtyard. The Egyptians regarded their monuments as being charged with magical power and the temple's façade is seen as a protective barrier. Clearly the pylon symbolized the last barrier between the world-image contained in the temple and the chaos outside.
The preserved western side of the pylon is decorated with war-campaign scenes from year 5, notably episodes from the famous battle of Kadesh (a central Syrian city) waged against the Hittites. This battle is known about thanks to certain literary pieces : the war report and the poem of Pentaour. This battle is also illustrated in the temples of Abydos, Karnak, Luxor and Abu Simbel.
On this side of the pylon we can also see representations of the towns which were recaptured by Ramesses II in the year 8.
The architectural remains of the first courtyard (N-S : 52,33-53,45 m ; E-W 42,55-43,64 m) are poorly preserved. This courtyard is bordered, to the north and to the south, by porticos : to the north side by 11 Osiride pillars bearing statues of the king dressed as if he was alive (these statues referred to Osiride figures) ; to the south, by a double colonnade. The palace was situated behind this portico.
The palace was built with mud bricks. It was accessible by two doors which had between them, and in the centre of the portico, a window for royal appearence which opened onto the courtyard. Ramesses II sometimes appeared at that window. During the king's lifetime the palace served as a royal sacristy when the king attended worship. The first attestation of this sacristy in a mansion of millions of years with such a window is in the temple of Hatshepsut (1479-1457 BC) at Deir el Bahari.
The palace, as such, is not known of prior to the reign of Pharaoh Ay (1327-1323 BC). Its funerary aspect is highlighted by the presence of a false-door stela in the hall where the throne is located. It was thanks to the false-door stela, which created a magic link between the temple and the tomb, that the dead king could sojourn in his temple on feast days and participate in worship.
The palace was composed of a huge vestibule with 16 columns, a throne hall with 4 columns, and a dozen annex rooms. At the back of the palace, on a site which today is occupied by modern houses, there were several residences. The ground plan of the palace corresponds largely to that of Sety I at Gurna.
The very same plan, but on a smaller scale, is also to be found in the first conception of the temple of Ramesses III at Medinet Habu.
It was in the first courtyard that the famous granite colossal statues superbly described by Diodorus once stood. Today they are broken and lie on the ground.
Our research has enabled us to determine their precise location, side by side in the southern part of the courtyard, in front of the west wall. To the north stood the colossus of Ramesses II (called "Ramesses, Sun of Sovereigns"). Diodorus spoke of an inscription that proclaimed "I am Osymandias, King of Kings" called "Ramesses King of sovereigns". The colossus was one of the highest in Egypt ; it was almost 16 metres high. To the south there was the smaller colossus of Queen Tuya (around 9 m high).
The clearing of the site has enabled us to discover numerous scattered blocks which belonged to the colossus, and also to discover the existence of a frieze decorated with baboons which crowned the doorway leading to the second courtyard.
The first courtyard can be called "the king's courtyard" on account of the presence of the palace and its decorations.
A ramp, situated along the base of the colossus of Ramesses II, linked the two courtyards which were on different levels.
The second courtyard (53,83 x 43 m ; open space 30,80 x 26,50 m) has porticos on its four sides and, on the eastern and western sides, magestic Osiride pillars that show the king as the mummified Osiris. Originally there were 8 pillars on each side. The second courtyard is instilled with more religious spirit than the first. We know this thanks to the representations of offerings, of the introduction of the king to the gods and of coronation scenes. On the eastern wall there are episodes of the battle of Kadesh, and also a representation of the festival of the god Min.
Three ramps lead up to the level of the western portico which is elevated in comparison to the courtyard floor. Three doors, situated in the axis of the ramps, give access to the hypostyle hall. Two statues stood on either side of the central ramp. Of the statue that stood on the northern side all that remains is the head.
The lower part of the second statue was put back into place. Its upper part was that which Belzoni had shipped away and which is today housed in the British Museum.
The hypostyle hall (39,60 x 29,65 m) is a model of the genre with its 48 papyriform columns laid out in six rows. The high columns (10 m) of the central row have open blossom capitals and the side columns have closed blossom capitals.
Lighting was assured in the room by means of windows which were built in the area between two levels ; between the central row and the side rows. The walls and columns of the hypostyle hall are decorated with scenes of rituals and offerings.
On the main axis of the temple, two other small hypostyle halls each with 8 columns complete the inventory of the temple's architectural remains.
The first room (9.17 x 16,50 m), which is called the "Boats Room" on account of the drawings of royal and divine boats that figure on the walls (8 boats : Khonsu, Mut, Ahmes Nefertari, Amunet, and Ramesses II twice), is also called "the Astronomy Room" because of the drawings on the central part of the roof. The roof served as a liturgical calendar. On the roof, laid out in three registers, we can see : the list of the decans (36 decans to cover the year) and the planets, the constellations of the northern hemisphere, and a lunar calendar. In the centre, Sothis (Sirius) and Orion are represented on boats. Their appearence marks the beginning of the year ; the 19th July using the Julian calendar.
The second room is called "the Litanies Room" on account of the long list of offerings that are inscribed on the eastern wall. This room was considered by Champollion as the "library" that had been mentioned by Diodorus. In fact, it is a bipartite place of offerings, with both solar and chthonian functions. To the south, libations were offered to Ra-Horakhty and, to the north, incense were burned in honour of Ptah.
All of the back of the temple, where the sanctuary proper was located along with the chapels dedicated to the Theban triad, has disappeared. So too have the chapels and the side rooms of which only the rubble and foundations remain. By analogy with the temple of Sety at Gurna or with the temple of Deir el Bahari, we can identify two sub-cult complexes : the complex dedicated to the father of Ramesses, Sety I, which is accessible by the hypostyle to the south-west, and, the complex dedicated to the god Ra-Horakhty in the north-western corner of the temple which has an open-air courtyard and a chapel with 8 square pillars.
The reliefs on the walls and the columns which are still erect allow us to have some idea of the themes of the temple's decorative programme, as it was wished by Ramesses II. The offering scenes to innumerable gods engraved on the stones indicate that the temple was dedicated mainly to the god Amun and to the Theban triad. Moreover, the offering scenes also englobe a much broader pantheon which associates all of the great gods of Egypt.
The royal function, represented in many different ways, is the second important aspect of this decorative programme. The royal function is depicted by heroic and triumphant representations of the king. The exploits of Ramesses II are accorded particular importance : a battle scene in which the king is represented destroying his enemies and thus ensuring the salvation of Egypt. This military activity is here almost entirely concerned with Asia, in particular with the battles against the Hittites for supremacy in the Near East. A confrontation from the year 5 featuring the battle of Kadesh is represented on the first pylon, and under the eastern portico of the second courtyard, we see the king occupying the place of honour amidst his officers A battle dating from year 8 waged against the cities of Tunip and Dapur is represented on the eastern wall of the hypostyle hall. Let us point out that the Egyptian-Hittite treaty was engraved on the western wall of the first courtyard. For this treaty, versions from both parties survive, probably the first ever text of this type known in history.
The enthroning of the king among the gods is also abundantly represented ; for example, on the eastern wall of the second courtyard, at the entrance to the hypostyle hall. Inside the hypostyle hall, on the eastern wall, there are several investiture scenes. In exchange for the Pharaoh's piety, the gods assure the Pharaoh an everlasting reign and innumerable jubilees. The name of Ramesses II, inscribed by the god Thot or the goddess Seshat, on the fruit of the persea - the sacred tree of Heliopolis - will guarantee a reign of many million years.
Indeed, Ramesses celebrated many jubilees ; the first in the year 30 (as testifies an inscription at Gebel Silsileh). In all, about 14 jubilees have been recorded. Jubilees occur more frequently as the reign advances. The family of Ramesses is closely linked to the celebration of the jubilee which uses patterns elaborated in the XVIIIth dynasty and which were very popular in the Amarnian period. This association is marked by the numerous processions of princes and princesses in the different parts of the edifice and also by the presence of princes in the battle scenes and at the foot of the colossal statues. The most complete list has more than 100 representations (sons and daughters) at Wadi Sebua. The successor of Ramesses II, Merenptah (1213-1203 BC), son of Queen Istnofret, occupies the 13th place in the Ramesseum processions.
All these elements give the monument the dimensions of a royal memorial. This aspect is further emphasized by the small temple which adjoined the major temple, to the north. This small temple had its own entrance, but it was linked to the main temple by the terrace of the second courtyard. Dedicated to the Queen Mother Tuya and to the great Royal Wife, Nefertari (who died in year 26), it must have associated the queens with the great divine principal of femininity. As at Abu Simbel, the queen participates in the renewal of the solar nature of the king, at the beginning of each year. Mme Desroches Noblecourt defined this monument as the divine place of birth, the "mammisi of Ramesses II at the Ramesseum". A fragmentary scene of the marriage of Amun and the Queen Tuya was found reused in a construction at Medinet Habu. The sanctuary of the mother and of the wife confirmed the divine essence of the Pharaoh and assured the legitimacy of his royal descendants.
THE RAMESSEUM AFTER RAMESSES II AND UNTIL THE COPTIC PERIOD
The history of the Ramesseum does not end with the reign of Ramesses II. This Pharaoh, who occupied the throne for 67 years, represented a model for his successors. The monument seems to have remained in activity during the entire Ramesside period (XX dynasty : 1189-1069 BC). At the time of Ramesses III it was still a place of worship, and it is mentioned in the so-called "Strike Papyri". Ramesses VI still considered it important to have his name engraved there. Thefts committed in the reign of Ramesses X indicate that at least part of the temple must have still been in use at that time. The Ramesseum probably ceased to be a place of worship in the 21st Dynasty (1069-945 BC).
In the Third Intermediate Period, between the 22nd and the 25th Dynasties (945-656 BC), the temple was still sufficiently influential to attract a sacerdotal necropolis. The necropolis occupied the annexes of the temple and had a great number of tombs. The western and northern annexes were particularly occupied. Pits were dug in the floors of the storerooms and chapels that were situated in the courtyard.
After having been deserted and plundered in the Late Period this monument seems to have been used progressively as a quarry. Many blocks from the Ramesseum are to be found in the late construction carried out at the small temple of Medinet Habu. And, in fact, it was only a fair reversal of fortune because Ramesses II had not hesitated either to use building material from the temples of his predecessors. In the southern annexes, in particular, there are many limestone blocks ; some of them probably came from Deir el Bahari.
During the Coptic period, a part of the monument regained a sacred function for a while, but this time it was for a different type of worship. A church was established there, in the area formerly occupied by the second hypostyle hall ("Boats Room").
With the rediscovery of Pharaonic antiquities and the creation of the Egyptian Antiquities Service, the first consolidation and clearing work was undertaken at the beginning of the 20th century. In 1901, Carter consolidated the face of the wall of the second pylon which is still upright. In 1903-06 Baraize cleared the monument, and in so doing, hid the periphery of the complex under a mound of rubble. Thus, for many decades, the boundaries of the monument were arbitrarily defined.
For many years now a French CNRS team has been working on this prestigious site in association with an Egyptian team from the Centre for Study and Documentation on Ancient Egypt and, more recently, with the help of the Egyptian Supreme Council of Antiquities. Up until 1982, this work was directed by Mme Desroches Noblecourt, and, since 1982, it has been under the responsibility of Christian Leblanc. The initial research work was carried out, more often than not, in very restricted time periods and with limited funds. The research and the findings gave rise to a certain number of publications, books and articles. But the monument still remains largely undocumented.
The work of clearing the site included the tasks of examining, documenting, drawing and photographing its contents. In this way we were able to study a part of the necropolis dating from the Third Intermediate Period, to discover the different types of chapels, excavate some funeral pits and find some other remains of funerary furniture. Quibell, who had excavated more than 200 pits, found only 4 tombs intact. We were much less fortunate. However, the remains we discovered clearly illustrate the funerary practices of this era. A stela which was found on the terrace located at the back of the grand temple belonged to a great granddaughter of Osorkon I, and one of the tombs cleared to the west of the storerooms has been dated more precisely from the reign of Takelot II, towards 825-800 BC. Among the funerary items we found, let me mention : stelae, fragments of sarcophagi and papyri, canopic jars, funerary and magical statuettes (ushabtis).
But the most original discovery made during that excavation was the identification of a processional path. The path is partly hidden under the mound of rubble. It was bordered by sphinxes which were found in a fragmentary state around the temple and even inside the pits of the necropolis. Different types of sphinxes were found : sphinxes with human heads, or lion heads, but also, a big jackal lying on a high pedestal in the shape of a chapel. The processional path, which is most exceptional, considerably modified our understanding and knowledge of the monument.
In 1989 an association was created in order to continue the research work : "The Association for Safeguarding the Ramesseum". This association publishes a yearly review, the "Memnonia", the 9th issue of which has already appeared.
In fact, the Egyptian Supreme Council of Antiquities no longer accords an excavation concession unless, in addition to the programme of scientific research, the excavation is carried out on a clearing and restoration project officially approved of by the Egyptian authorities. The obligation to restore, which had long been neglected, is a recent development. Today, it is a fundamental consideration, and Egypt has very precise demands. Quality professional work must be assured without getting involved in the task of preserving the national heritage, which must remain the sole responsibility of the Egyptian government. The right balance must be found between what the host country is entitled to expect, and what the foreign teams can legitimately decide, and all that, of course, in keeping with respective financial considerations and specific priorities. The excavation work must be allowed to continue as long as it doesn't disfigure the site, but also, the research work must not be hampered by projects that are too restrictive.
Often considered as secondary to archaeological excavation, the notion of restoration is rapidly evolving. Architecture and preservation are true specialties, and restoration is a discipline in itself. Today, archaeological teams must include restoration units. In the case of the Ramesseum we immediately considered that it was our duty to preserve these prestigious remains of the past as best we could in order to pass them on to future generations. A programme spreading out over several years has been drawn up. It is planned to continue the present research work and to systematically study the monument from east to west.
In the restoration project, basic principles have been drawn up for the work, and these are in accordance with the Charter of Venice : respect for the monument, minimal intervention, the reversibility of the work undertaken, and didactic presentation of the findings. We endeavour to use local know-how and the means that are available in the area, but also, insofar as it is possible, we also use modern technology.
In 1991, the first intervention - which was considered an emergency - aimed at consolidating the door of the first pylon whose dilapidated state was particularly worrying as it seemed it would collapse at any moment. Preliminary studies have been undertaken which are indispensable before definitive intervention. A sounding has been done in the first courtyard and under the first pylon and it has revealed foundations of very small depth which are built on silt. It is clear that the safeguarding of such a monument goes far beyond the means and capacity of a single CNRS team. Effective safegarding can only be envisaged with the participation of a public engineering company, with sufficient financing and modern technological equipment.
The study of the building material and, in particular, of the disintegrating sandstone blocks has been undertaken. The Egyptian Supreme Council of Antiquities provides the material for the restoration work and it has begun to clear the pile of rubble on three sides of the temple. The clearing away of the rubble has revealed a set of objects which come from inside the temple and the storerooms : Ramesside ceramics and items from the necropolis as well as sphinx fragments. The material has been classified and will be published conjointly. A cavity in the ground has revealed a small tomb which predates the temple. In fact, it goes back to the end of the Middle Kingdom (18th century BC) and still contains some remains from this time. Quibell had already found several tombs from the Middle Kingdom under the northern group of storerooms at the Ramesseum.
RESUMPTION OF RESEARCH WORK
The autumn 1991 mission marked the serious resumption of research work at the Ramesseum. In the begining the work was concentrated in the eastern part of the monument. Electrical prospection has been undertaken in front of the first pylon in the hope of localising the Ramesside constructions.
The clearing of the north-eastern sector has just begun, and it is here that the sacred lake is generally supposed to be located. An enormous quantity of rubble which piled up in this area at the beginning of the century must be removed in order to reach the archaeological layers and the constructions that date from the time of Ramesses II. Some remains of storeroom walls, however, have been brought to light in this area.
To the north, beyond the annexes, the ring wall of the temple which borders the older temple of Amenhotep II has also been discovered.
On the north-west side Monique Nelson is excavating the ruins of a monument known as the "Chapel of the White Queen". Some soundings were made by Petrie at the beginning of the century. The recent work allowed us to identify the construction as a chapel belonging to the time of Amenhotep IV (1353-1337 BC) and which was transformed later into funerary chapels.
On the southern side we have just begun clearing the remains of the palace and studying it. The palace was first studied, fifty years ago, by the American mission from Chicago. Still on the south side but outside the temenos, we are studying the remains of the chapel of Wadjmes. This little monument goes back to the begining of the 18th Dynasty. The chapel was composed of a courtyard, a vestibule and three sanctuaries. Wadjmes was a prince, son of the Pharaoh Tuthmosis I (1493-1481 BC), and he was deified after his death. A cult was celebrated there until the time of Ramesses II and perhaps later during the Third Intermediate Period.
In 1997 we began important clearing work in all the devastated area at the back of the temple corresponding to the most sacred part of the monument. Very recently, in October 1998, in the southern annexes to the temple, the ground remains of the kitchens were discovered and identified by Christian Leblanc.
Research work has begun on the scattered fragments of the colossal granit statues - the colossus of Ramesses II and the colossus of Queen Tuya - and the blocks are in the course of being classified. The French Electricity Commission (EDF) has offered its technological know-how to propose a three-dimensional computerized representation of the huge colossus of Ramses II.
In parallel with this archaeological research, restoration work has begun in the temple itself. This work is concentrated in the part of the temple that is most visited : the second courtyard and the hypostyle hall, the boats hall and the litanies hall. The local workers have been of great assistance to us particularly in moving the blocs of stone.
In order to restructure the spaces and to facilitate the reading of the architectural plan, we have indicated the location of the architectural elements that have disappeared and, in particular, we have outlined the columns that have disappeared in the second courtyard and the pilars of the west portico of the same courtyard. We have also filled in the paving by laying small sandstone slabs in the second courtyard and in the covered rooms of the temple. The most important work was the reconstruction, on the subsisting remains, of the central ramp to the hypostyle room which, moreover, greatly facilitates visits to the temple. We also carried out important reconstruction work on the southern walls of the second courtyard, and, in 1997, we built up to its original height the remainder of the small colossus of this courtyard "the young Memnon". The upper part of this colossus is exhibited today in the British Museum.
Another part of our work was to preserve the existing remains, to give some form of unity to the damaged parts, and to clean the painted surfaces.
We had to consolidate and rebuilt the top of the mud-brick walls of the preserved storerooms in order to protect them and to have a clearer reading of the structures.
The stonework has many cracks and holes made by the animals, birds and insects that nest there, and this makes the job of preservation more difficult. An Egyptian team has performed the task of plugging them. This plugging work enables us to have a better reading of the sculpted scenes as there are fewer breaks in the figures. A team of French specialists, the CRETOA, has undertaken the dusting and the consolidation of the relief paintings that have retained a part of their polychromy. This minute work will give back to the monument some of its former splendour.
I hope that these few words will have convinced you that the Ramesseum, magestic witness of the greatness of Ancient Egypt, deserves all the care we can give it. It is of the utmost importance to preserve the "romantic" charm of a monument which has inspired many generations of visitors. Many more years work will be necessary in order to achieve our goal and for the temple to regain its true architectural importance, to provide the keys for an understanding of how it once functioned and to reveal the successive periods of its history.
Let us leave the last word to Champollion : "The Ramesseum is the most dilipadated monument in Thebes, but it is also, without any doubt, that which, by the elegant majesty of its ruins, leaves in the minds of visitors the most profound and lasting impression".