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Ramesses the Great, Father & Son, and the last great Ramessid

The start of the 19th dynasty was a period that was about re-establishing the traditions of the Egyptian empire – and you can see that in the art of that period. Especially Seti I’s monuments, those at Abydos, Karnak, and his mortuary temple near the village of Gurna on Luxor’s West Bank all show the delicate raised reliefs and elegant style that this pharaoh was rightly famous for. So we start this tour at Seti’s mortuary temple, where the stunning reliefs will certainly have you in awe. And with some luck, the guardians will let us climb up on the roof to revel in the amazing panoramic view from there.

Next, we move on to Ramesses II’s mortuary temple, the Ramesseum. This impressive monument holds the famous fallen colossus that inspired Shelley’s poem Ozymandias, and inspires many fabulous pictures today. It was, once upon a time, the biggest freestanding statue in Egypt – and if you’ve seen the still-standing Colossi of Memnon, you know that is saying something! Ramesses’s temple has some magnificent reliefs, not because of the elegance of them like his father’s, but because of the subject matter: his battles against the Hittites at Kadesh and the siege of the fortress of Dapur are fascinating to puzzle out, even if they may not be completely truthful! But what pharaoh said happened, became history through the magical nature of the depictions, so… Other delights of this site include the surrounding temple buildings, which survive intact enough to give us a remarkable insight into what a hive of activity a temple such as this must have been.

Then, finally, as we move on to Ramesses’s son Merenptah’s mortuary temple, we see how decline is starting to set in. Merenptah already ruled in everything but name for the latter part of Ramesses’s 67-year reign, but in his own right, his rule was not that long. This period marked the steady decline that eventually led to Egypt being ruled by outsiders in the Third Intermediate Period – the Great Empire of Egypt had definitely seen its last glory days. Having said that, the scant remains of Merenptah’s temple hold some amazing relief work (a lot of which he pinched from Amenhotep III’s temple, just around the corner where those Colossi of Memnon stand as testimony to how great that temple must have been) as well as the famous Israel stela, the first historical reference to the land of Israel. There is also a museum with some magnificent exhibits.

After a lovely lunch at one of our favourite West Bank restaurants, we move on to the truly awe-inspiring temple of Medinet Habu, one of the best-preserved temples in all Egypt. This is the place where the last great Ramessid, Ramesses III made his mark (there were 11 Ramessesses (wow, what a word) in total, spread out over the 19th and 20th dynasty). Totally impressive, this awe-inspiring temple is set in a place that was considered holy from times immemorial as the site of the burial of the Ogdoad, the eight abstract gods who were the powers before the universe was created, and who helped the wise god Thoth to actually create it, at least in one of the many creation myths that the Ancient Egyptians considered a possible explanation of the existence of our world and our universe (they were very open-minded about these things, and allowed for several explanations for creation). This ancient holiness may be one of the reasons why this amazing temple site was so well-preserved and why earlier and later mortal powers-that-be kept on building on this site, right up to Roman times.

Ramesses III’s temple still has amazingly coloured and handsomely carved reliefs, and they make you develop a crick in your neck from staring at the magnificent vultures and other marvels depicted on the veiling and high on the walls. On the other side of the spectrum, the depictions of the heaps of severed hands, tongues and penises that were placed in front of the pharaoh after one of his victories in order to count the number of the enemy dead are famous but also a bit gruesome in their practicality. It really is a fascinating site, ranging from the heights of religiousness to the base acts of war against the Hittites and the Sea Peoples (the depictions of which also have deeper symbolic significance beyond just the obvious, but we’ll tell you more about that when we get there). We’ve even found scenes of ancient Egyptian fencing and wrestling there!

Price: 95 euros per person

Includes: set-up, transport, explanation, tickets, lunch, tea and soft drinks


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