The tomb of Ramses II

Zahi Hawass , Tuesday 30 May 2023

Zahi Hawass describes work underway to excavate the tomb of King Ramses II in the Valley of the Kings and elucidate its pictorial programme




The tomb of Ramses II (KV7) is located in the Valley of the Kings and is considered one of the larger tombs. The writing of Ramses’ coronation name in the cartouches of the first corridor of the tomb as Ouser Maat Re and not Ouser Maat Re Setep n Re leaves no doubt that the construction of the tomb was begun before the end of his second year on the throne, as this way of writing the coronation name was only attested during the co-regency with his father Seti I in the second year of his sole rule.

Three sloping corridors running from east to west lead to a well chamber, which is followed by a pillared chamber. Four rectangular pillars divide the chamber into two equal sections with a descending passage in between, where a sloping ramp runs between a stone staircase.   

Two side chambers were cut in the northern wall of the pillared chamber. The first side chamber has four pillars, and an entrance in the middle of its northern wall leads to the second side chamber, which is smaller than the first with its ceiling cut on a lower level. A central descent passage of the chamber leads to two corridors that end in an antechamber. In this chamber, a change of the tomb’s axis occurs to the right (northeast), creating the second axis of the tomb and leading to the burial chamber and its six adjacent side chambers.

The design of KV7 adopted the bent axis plan, which was known in the early 18th Dynasty until the reign of Amenhotep III and his son Akhenaten. The reason for the reviving of the traditional plan of the royal tomb is still unknown. Some scholars believe that the antechamber was originally designed as the king’s burial chamber, but due to the bad quality of its stone the architect had to change the axis of the tomb in order to find better stone for cutting the burial chamber.

It is also important to mention that the tomb of the king’s sons, KV5, also adopted the bent axis plan, but on a larger and more complex scale. Some scholars believe that there is a connection between the tomb of Ramses II and that of his sons. Many scholars and adventurers have also raised a theory of the existence of a tunnel connecting the two tombs.

The entrance to KV7 is dug into the Theban limestone. The corridors descend for about 58 m (190 feet) into the bedrock at an angle of 12 to 22 degrees. They then continue approximately level for another 12 m (39 feet) and then turn to the right in order to terminate in the burial chamber. This has a sunken floor resembling that of Seti I’s burial chamber. The floor is carved in a layer of Esna shale.

Based on the size of the tomb and the size of its pictorial programme, it is suggested that the tomb of Ramses II took 10 to 12 years to complete.

PICTORIAL PROGRAMME: The wall decorations and the architecture of Ramses II’s tomb have been badly damaged by the multiple times the tomb was flooded with water and debris.

Add to that the factors of age and time, and the deliberate distortion of the tomb and its scenes by tomb robbers and reckless visitors who did not appreciate the value of the art and effort that adorns the walls of the tomb, and the result is the current appearance.

Its pictorial programme does not suggest that this tomb is one of the few royal tombs in the Valley of the Kings whose architecture and decoration were fully completed. Our excavation of the pillared chamber confirmed that the ancient sculptors and artisans who were in charge of the pictorial programme of the tomb faced a lot of problems with the bad quality of the limestone in many areas inside it.

During the work on the scenes of the walls, the artists had to frequently stop in order to cover the almost finished bas-reliefs with a thick layer of plaster in order to level the whole surface of the wall before they started again doing the same scenes on the plaster.  

Our new excavations revealed interesting scenes appearing under the thick layer of plaster, which has been partially destroyed. One of the most important observations we made was that the relatively newly applied scenes on the plaster were exactly over the original carved scenes on the wall. It is still an open question how the ancient Egyptian artists were able to carve the scenes on the plaster in exactly the same spot.

Despite the fact that much of the wall decoration is damaged and sometimes completely lost, most of the polychrome scenes can be easily reconstructed from fragments. It seems that Ramses II’s tomb followed the same pictorial programme as in his father’s tomb. It is most likely that the same artists who worked for Seti I also worked for his son Ramses II.