Temple of Rameses II

About 300m from Seti I’s temple at Abydos, on the western edge of the village of Beni Mansur, Rameses II built a another temple for himself. This was also dedicated mainly to the Osirian cult but was a more conventional design than his father’s temple. It was built when he was still co-ruler with Seti I. The walls of the temple of Rameses are very reduced, now only about 2m high, but the plan of the structure is still plain to see. The temple’s greatest attraction are the brilliantly coloured painted reliefs which are possibly the finest in any monument built by Rameses II.

Temple of Rameses II

The walls of the temple are built of limestone, with sandstone pillars. The first pylon and court are now ruined and the pink granite portal leads straight into a second court surrounded by a colonnade of Osirid pillars on its north, east and south sides. None of the pillars are preserved to their full height and the engaged Osirid statues of the king all lack their heads and shoulders. The north wall of the court depicts processions of priests and offering bearers with a decorated bull and gazelles, as well as soldiers, Libyans and negroes. Also on the north wall there are some interesting graffiti. Some ancient amateur artist incised an image of the god In-hert and a painted priest before him bears the inscription ‘Djed-Iah, the justified, wab-priest of Osiris, Djedi-ankh-f’.

At the back of the court on the western side is a raised portico with two chapels dedicated to Seti I and the king’s deified ancestors on the left and two chapels to the nine gods of the Ennead and Rameses II (and Osiris Khenty-Amentiu) on the right. The shrine of the ancestors once contained a table of kings on its north wall, part of which (the ‘Second Abydos List’) is now in the British Museum.

On the north wall of the portico Rameses carved nine name-rings of the Asiatic tribes he conquered. A magnificent highly polished black granite gateway, 5m tall and decorated with scenes and inscriptions, which has been restored in the centre of the portico leads us into the first hypostyle hall.

The first hypostyle was decorated while the young Rameses was still his father’s co-ruler though his cartouches were later altered to contain his own pharaonic titles. Eight rectangular pillars supported the roof which is now missing. The decoration of the hypostyle is similar to that in the court and portico, but has a brightly coloured dado on its lower walls depicting the Nile gods. These are painted in different colours; red represents the Nile at inundation, blue represents winter and green, summer. At the western end of the hall’s south wall a narrow staircase ascended to the roof, though there are now only 12 stairs remaining.

Reliefs in the western chapel

The second hypostyle contains eight sandstone pillars with three chapels on each of the north, west and south sides. The northern chapels are dedicated to Thoth, Min and Osiris. The southern chapels are very badly damaged but it is thought that the central one was dedicated to Osiris with a clothing room where the god’s daily garments were stored. The chapels on the western side of the hall were dedicated to Amun-Re, Osiris and possibly Horus. In the latter shrine on the north wall there is a colourful relief of the goddess Hekat ‘Mistress of Abydos’, usually portrayed as a frog, but in this case showing her human face. Next to her the god Anubis ‘Lord of the Sacred Land’ also has the head of a man rather than the usual jackal. This is the only known example of Anubis with a human head.

The Central shrine on the western side of the hypostyle is the ‘alabaster’ sanctuary of Osiris where we can see a restored statue group in grey granite which was brought from another location in the temple and depicts (probably) Osiris, Isis, Horus, Seti I and Rameses II.

In the corners of the western wall at the north and south are two chambers thought to be statue halls which also have some very colourful reliefs. The each contain decorated niches and the southern chamber has a beautiful relief of Rameses offering to Osiris who is being protected by a winged djed pillar. This is thought to be one of the earliest representations of a symbol which became popular in later dynasties.

Only the lower parts of the exterior walls still exist and the northern and western walls bear a version of Rameses’ Battle of Kadesh in beautiful incised relief, though not as complete as in some of his later monuments. On the southern exterior wall there is the lower part of a calendar of feasts which lists offerings provided by royal endowment to be presented on the days of the festivals. Beneath this Rameses describes his temple and seems to be accurate in what remains of the text. He describes a pylon of white limestone, granite doorways and a sanctuary of pure alabaster which must have been very beautiful in its time.

Fragmentary King-list from the Temple of Rameses II at Abydos. The upper row preserves the cartouches of the little-known kings of Dynasties VII & VIII. The middle row shows those of Dynasty XII, XVIII & XIX, omitting certain rulers such as Hatshepsut, Akhenaten & Tutankhamun. (British Museum EA117)

Nearby monuments

To the north-west of the Rameses II temple in an area known as Kom es-Sultan was an ancient mudbrick temple dedicated to the god Khenty-Amentiu ‘Foremost of the Westerners’, who later became associated with Osiris as god of the dead. It is uncertain whether Khenty-Amentiu was merely a title of Osiris or a different god altogether. Artefacts representing kings dating from the Early Dynastic Period to Graeco-Roman times have been found here but little of the structure survives today. There was also a tiny temple of Wepwawet in the vicinity.

It is likely that the area of Kom es-Sultan was crowded with temples by the Middle Kingdom and the pilgrimage to Abydos would have been an important part of religious life with many kings adding to the Temple of Osiris. Buildings constituting the settlement area in northern Abydos dating back to Predynastic times have been found around Kom es-Sultan. Recent excavators have found an Old Kingdom residential area to the south-east which contains a street of mudbrick houses with courtyards and a faience workshop with its kilns.

Dynasty XII king Senwosret III added a temple to the Abydos collection at the western edge of the desert to the south-east of Seti’s temple but there is now nothing remaining above the sands. Another cenotaph temple of Senwosret III lay further to the west.

Ahmose, the first king of Dynasty XVIII, built a terraced temple and cenotaph against the mountain to the south-west of Abydos and also a small shrine for his grandmother Queen Teti-sheri. Long after his death, Ahmose was worshipped as a demi-god and oracle at Abydos, along with his wife Ahmose-nefertari.

On the south-western side of the walls of the Osiris temple Rameses II built a limestone ‘Portal Temple’ which probably represented the entrance to the ancient cemetery area.

Recent excavations (1996) by the Pennsylvania-Yale Institute of Fine Arts have discovered a small limestone temple with very high-quality reliefs which was built in Dynasty XVIII by Tuthmose III. This temple is to the south-west of the Osiris enclosure at Kom es-Sultan.

A tiny temple built by Rameses I and now destroyed, stood between the Rameses II temple and Seti’s temple.

How to get there

See the page on the Temple of Seti I for how to get to Abydos. The Abydos area encompasses the modern village of Beni Mansur on the northern side and el-Araba el-Madfuna (now called Arabet Abydos) on the southern side. The Seti Temple lies between the two villages with the other monuments to the north and south stretching westwards into the desert. The Temple of Rameses II lies about half a kilometre to the north of the Seti Temple.

~ by Su on February 11, 2009.