Ramesses II temple at Abydos

Ramesses II temple at Abydos

The adjacent temple of Ramesses II was much smaller and more straightforward in the plan. Still, it had an excellent historical series of scenes around the outside that lauded his achievements, of which the lower parts remain. The temple’s exterior was decorated with scenes of the Battle of Kadesh. His list of pharaohs, similar to that of Seti I, formerly stood here; the fragments were removed by the French consul and sold to the British Museum.

Location of Ramesses II temple

Abydos is in upper Egypt about three hundred miles south of Cairo and seven miles west of the Nile River in the eighth nome. The site of Ramesses II temple is northwest of Seti I temple embedded in modern-day Qesm Al Wahat Al Khargah in New Valley Governorate.


Ramesses started the construction of his cult temple during the 19th Dynasty at Abydos, after the completion of his father’s Seti I. Built nearby his father’s temple, Ramesses II Temple is made of beautiful pink and black granite with painted limestone walls. The temple is dedicated primarily to Osiris and Seti I as the earthy form of Osiris, Isis, and Horus. The site, mainly in ruins, was first excavated by W.J. Bankes, who found a kings list in the temple. Auguste Mariette did further excavations, excavated the site in 1869 and completed the site report in 1880. Flinders Petrie continued excavations on the site from 1902 to 1903, referring to the temple as “The Portal of Ramesses II.” The most detailed report of the site to this day was done by David O’Connor in 1967, where a complete, correct floor plan was made, along with detailed descriptions of the walls, images and text. Presently, most projects at the site are working on conserving the site’s decrepit ruins.


The first pylon and Forecourt that were once the entrance to the site are no longer standing, but the evidence remaining shows there were once red-granite statues and red granite door frames. In the Forecourt, there are also remains of stairs leading to a Heb-Seb Chapel off the Southeast wall of the court.

The entrance used by tourists today is the second pylon. A badly damaged facing stone bears a few figures and inscriptions and two flagstaff grooves on either pylon. The Open Court through the second pylon contains eighteen sandstone Osiride statues of Ramses along the Southeast, Northeast, and northwest walls. The southeast wall has carvings of a chariot; offerings; sacrificial animals; Egyptian, Asiatic, and Libyan soldiers; priests and officials. There are also inscriptions on the lower portion of the wall from later periods. Opposite that, on the northwest wall is a depiction of an offering procession of crowds of people, animals, etc., moving towards the southwest portico. The upper portion of this wall also shows evidence of speeches made by Ramses II. On the southwest wall across from the second pylon, there are scenes of offering bearers with bulls, oryxes, gazelles, a chariot, courtiers, soldiers, foreigners, and three stairways leading to an elevated portico.

The portico contains sixteen pillars facing the Open court, a row of eight squared, and eight Osiride columns that once supported a roof. The southeast and northwest walls have images of Nubian prisoners of war and Asiatic captives. The southwest wall of the portico is broken up by an entrance to the First Octostyle Court and two doorways on either side of the entrance leading to shrine chambers. The height of the temple’s original walls can be estimated by the stone walls between these doorways bearing images of Ramesses II making offerings. Above those images at the top of the damaged walls are also images of Ramesses II’s feet. Using the full images of Ramesses II below, the height has been estimated to be over eight meters (twenty-four feet). The four shrine chambers were dedicated to different deities. The chamber on the far southeast side of the back wall was primarily devoted to Seti I with Osiris, Hathor, and Ramesses II and also contained part of a king’s list, which is now in the British Museum well as Seti I barque (royal boat). The chamber right contains Rameses II and Seti I with Osiris and Horus. The far northwest chamber is dedicated to Osiris, Isis, and Horus. A chamber dedicated to Ramses II with Osiris, Thoth, and Horus is to the left, with Rameses barque.

Through the entrance in the centre of the southwest wall of the portico is the First Ocostyle Court, bordered by black granite door frames. The court contains eight sandstone pillars to support the roof once there. The images on the walls of the court show evidence that the temple began being built during the reign of Seti I and was completed during Ramesses II’s reign. Off the west corner of the court is a shrine bearing images of Ramesses II making offerings to Osiris, Isis, and Horus. Opposite that, a stairway leading to the roof is off the south corner.

Southwest of the First Octostyle court is the entrance to the Second Octostyle Court, which also contains eight supporting pillars. Off the Second Octostyle Court are nine rooms. Three rooms off the southeast wall are dedicated to Osiris, Horus, Amen and Amenti, Isis, Ptah, Sekhet, and Khem. Opposite those rooms off the northwest wall, the three rooms are dedicated to Thoth, Osiris, Horus, Haket, Isis, Harsaiset, and Aperu. Through the southwest rooms on either side of the court are two additional rooms with nine decorated niches and two pillars each. The three rooms off the southwest wall of the court are three cult shrines. The shrine on the far left was dedicated to Horus, the shrine to the far right to Isis, and the central shrine was dedicated to Osiris and is often referred to as the “Alabaster Shrine,” although it is made from white limestone. The Alabaster Shrine once held a statue of five figures, of which only two have been officially identified, Osiris and Horus.


In 1837 the Kings List from the left shrine chamber off the Portico was brought to the British Museum. The list was excavated by W.J. Bankes, who was the first to suggest that the cartouches, such as the ones on the kings’ list, were kings’ names. The kings’ list from the Temple of Ramesses II at Abydos is incomplete, but the words present highly resemble those on the kings list found at the Temple of Seti I.

Auguste Mariette conducted the first excavation and clearance of the site in 1869. A report was published in 1880, where the site was correctly dated to the 19th Dynasty, c. 1279-1213 BCE. A brief description of the area was included with a small site plan that was incorrect, along with a few translations of the temple’s text.

Flinders Petrie conducted a small scale clearance in 1902-1903. He created a better site plan, though it was still false. He named the temple the “Portal of Ramesses II” after concluding that the site was a ceremonial gateway to the cemetery.

David O’Connor conducted a more detailed excavation and larger clearance of the site during the Pennsylvania-Yale Expedition in 1967. This expedition mapped a correct, detailed plan of the temple. The inscriptions remaining were translated more thoroughly, and the remains statues were further identified. He concluded that the site was a temple rather than a ceremonial gateway. The idea of stone robbers using the temple ruins for further construction was also developed.

Recently New York University started a conservation project at the site from 2008-to 2011. Directed by Sameh Iskander and Ogden Goelet, they have completed an architectural and photographic site record. Work on the epigraphic record is also being done. Their main focus of the project is to form a condition report of the site and map damages to form a conservation plan.


Although the site is severely damaged, Ramesses II Temple at Abydos contains beautiful architecture, images, and texts. With conservation and further excavation, the site could reveal much more information, especially about the cult of Osiris. The temple shows how prominent Osiris was to the present and past kings. How political scenes, such as war and captives, are displayed with religious scenes illustrate religion’s importance in all parts of life. The purpose of many of the rooms has yet to be discovered and is thought to be storage rooms or additional rooms of worship. There is a minimal record of artefacts in the temple other than a few statues in poor shape, which hinders the research at the site. The partial kings’ list is one of the most prominent findings of the site. It not only serves to document prior kings, but the similarities in the list to Seti I list may reveal the coherence of Seti I and Ramesses II’s reign and their relationship. The extreme damage to the site inferred to be the result of stone robbers using the material for other areas also raises questions. It is still unknown when or why the site was destroyed or by whom, but some evidence suggests it was demolished before Napoleon’s invasion. With further research on this site and other sites of Ramesses II, some of these questions may be answered, but due to the current condition of the area, it is hard to come to sweeping conclusions.