Ramses the Great shines in Paris

Zahi Hawass , Sunday 21 May 2023

As a new exhibition on Ramses II mesmerises visitors in Paris, important work is being done to excavate and publish new information about the great king’s tom, writes Zahi Hawass

Ramses the Great shines in Paris
Ramses the Great shines in Paris


The ancient Egyptian Pharaoh Ramses II was the most famous king of ancient Egypt, building the greatest architectural monuments and erecting monuments all over the country.

Ramses the Great has now come to Paris in the shape of the touring exhibition “Ramses the Great and the Gold of the Pharaohs”, which includes artefacts relating to Ramses II and other kings of Egypt in addition to the largest collection of gold from the era of the Pharaohs ever to have left Egypt.

The exhibition will allow French and European visitors not only to see more of the magic of the Pharaohs, but also to see part of the greatness of the ancient Egyptian civilisation that combined perfection in workmanship with absolute beauty.

Ramses II extended the Luxor and Karnak temples by constructing the most beautiful pillared halls, pylons, obelisks and statues. One of the largest and most beautiful funerary temples in Egypt is the famous Ramesseum on the west bank of the Nile in Luxor. It was also Ramses II who built the famous temple of Abu Simbel, in addition to many other temples in Nubia.

He is credited with the construction of the most beautiful tomb for a queen on earth, the tomb of his beloved wife queen Nefertari, whose name means “the most beautiful one.” The tomb is the most magnificent in the Valley of the Queens in Luxor.

The amazing buildings of Ramses II, sometimes still in a good state of preservation despite the thousands of years that have passed since their construction, has led many not to believe that his own tomb, KV7 in the Valley of the Kings, is actually the tomb of Ramses II. Even two years ago, the tomb had still not been fully excavated, and many of its passages and chambers were still filled with debris and sediments from the floods that the tomb had suffered.

I had always dreamed of being able to reveal the secrets of the tomb of Egypt’s greatest Pharaoh, and thanks to funds provided by the Cityneon Group and World Heritage Exhibitions, the company that has now organised the “Ramses the Great and the Gold of the Pharaohs” exhibition, I was able to lead an Egyptian team in revealing the secrets of the tomb of Ramses II in the Valley of the Kings.

The tomb of Ramses II represents one of the mysteries of the ancient Egyptian civilisation. Ramses II’s mummy was uncovered among those found in the Deir Al-Bahari cache in 1881, and there is no doubt that tomb KV7 in the Valley of the Kings belongs to him.

The famous “Strikes Papyrus” in the Turin Museum provides detailed information about an attempt by two tomb robbers to penetrate inside KV7 during regnal year 29 of Ramses III, further supporting the idea that tomb KV7 is Ramses II’s tomb. During the ancient Egyptian 21st Dynasty, Ramses II’s mummy was moved first to the tomb of his father Seti I (KV17) and then to the cache in the tomb of Queen Inhapy at Deir Al-Bahri (TT320), where the king’s mummy was eventually found.

The ambiguity surrounding the last resting place of Ramses II can be summarised as follows. First, Ramses II, as one of the longest-lived Pharaohs, identified himself as king of all the kings, and his 66-year reign is considered to be Egypt’s most glorious and powerful period.

He is well known as a master builder, as he erected more monuments, statues, and obelisks than any other Pharaoh of ancient Egypt. As a result, he has long been regarded as Ramses the Great. Therefore, many Egyptologists expected that his tomb would be a marvelous one full of wonderful treasures, especially if compared with the tomb of a minor king like Tutankhamun.

This leads to the second reason for the doubts surrounding the tomb of Ramses II. The current appearance and state of preservation of KV7 do not satisfy the expectations one would have of the tomb of a great Pharaoh like Ramses II. It has been open to visitors since at least the Roman period, and it has suffered successive thefts and random digging in search of hidden treasures in its walls and under its floors.

The tomb was also exposed to severe floods that washed dirt and debris inside it, destroying its beautifully executed reliefs and inscriptions. The tomb’s passages and internal rooms were blocked completely. Despite the fact that many archaeological missions tried to excavate the tomb, they all failed to clean it completely or to reveal its secrets.

After two fruitful seasons working inside the tomb starting in January 2021, the Egyptian mission now intends to publish a series of updates on the work that will reveal new information that has never been told before.

The mission has successfully managed to remove the debris and clean the tomb, revealing new information on its construction and pictorial programme. It is in fact the only royal tomb complete with inscriptions and decorations in the Valley of the Kings.

Even the most beautiful tombs, such as that of Seti I, father of Ramses II, were left unfinished in some parts. This was also true of the tomb of Ramses VI and before him the tomb of Tutankhamun, which was prepared in a hurry owing to the early death of the king.

Our excavations revealed a large group of scenes depicted on the walls of the tomb. These represent important chapters from the funerary books of the afterlife, such as the Book of Gates and the Book of Imy-Duat, or “what is in the afterlife”.

The shaft of the tomb was also uncovered completely for the first time. It is the deepest of all the shafts of the royal tombs in the Valley of the Kings, reaching a depth of more than nine metres. Surprisingly, this tomb shaft, unlike all the other shafts of the royal tombs, is decorated. Each of the four side walls carries three registers of marvellous scenes and inscriptions that represent chapters never seen before from the books of the afterlife.

The Egyptian mission was also able to get a sense of the size of the funerary treasure of Ramses II by measuring the size of the inner chambers of the tomb. Our work showed that the huge funerary furniture of the king, such as the sarcophagus and the inner anthropoid coffins as well as the golden shrines and other large-sized furniture, were moved outside the tomb not by tomb robbers, but by the priests of the Egyptian god Amun in the Late Period.

The excavation indicated that the priests could not have taken the large objects outside the tomb in the same way that they had been brought inside. Therefore, they had to dig into the floors and ceilings of the rock-carved doors in order to expand them and thus remove the king’s treasures.

 Given the absence of physical evidence that such treasures were destroyed and looted by tomb robbers, there is still the possibility of discovering them and other treasures of the Pharaohs hidden in the tombs of the high priests of Amun, which have still not been discovered today.

A version of this article appears in print in the 18 May, 2023 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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