Cenotaph Temple of Ramesses II at Abydos

The Cenotaph Temple of Ramesses II at Abydos

by Jimmy Dunn writing as Peter Rome

An overview of Ramesses II's Temple at Abydos from the side

About one third of a kilometer to the northwest of Seti I's well known temple at Abydos, on the western edge of the village of Beni Mansur, Rameses II built a temple for himself, which while not completely preserved, retains the details of its plan and many of its brightly painted reliefs that are possibly the finest in any monument ever built by Ramesses II. Indeed, this temple, with its pink and black granite door frames, sandstone pillars and a sanctuary of alabaster, must have been the most beautiful and richest among the temples that Ramesses II built. Judging from the quality of the scenes in low relief comparable to the quality of those found in the temple of Seti I, it seem unquestionable that the artists must have come from this earlier generation.

The ground plan of Ramesses II's Temple at Abydos

This temple was also dedicated mainly to Osiris though, while built when Ramesses II was still co-ruler with Seti I, it retained a more conventional design patterned after contemporary mortuary temples at Thebes. The walls of the temple, made of limestone, are very reduced, now standing only about two meters (6 feet 6 inches) high.

The first pylon and court are now ruined and the pink granite portal leads straight into a second peristyle 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 others. Also on the north wall there are some interesting graffiti. Some ancient amateur artist inserted 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'.

Offering Bearers at the Ramesses II's Temple at Abydos

Offering Bearers at the Ramesses II's Temple at Abydos

At the back of the court on the southwestern 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 Ramesses 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.

heading up the stairs to the raised portico at the Ramesses II Temple at Abydos

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

The first hypostyle hall, known as the Hall of Appearance, was decorated while the young Ramesses was still his father's co-ruler though his cartouches were later altered to contain his own royal titles. Eight rectangular pillars supported the roof which is now missing. The decoration of this hall is similar to that in the court and portico, but it has a brightly colored dado on its lower walls depicting the Nile gods. These are painted in different colors; red represents the Nile at inundation, blue represents winter and green, summer. Other depictions portray scenes of the pharaoh making his offering to Osiris, heading a procession, carrying the Abydos cult symbol into the temple, and being crowned. 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.

Hekat in her human form

Anubis in his human form

Left: Hekat in her human form; Right: Anubis in his human form

The second hypostyle hall contains eight sandstone pillars with three chapels each leading off from the left and right walls. The chapels on the left side were probably dedicated to the gods of Thebes, while those on the Right to the Gods of Abydos. In one of the latter shrines on the north wall there is a colorful 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 rear of the second hypostyle hall are three sanctuaries. The central shrine is the 'alabaster' sanctuary of Osiris where we can see a restored statue group in gray granite which was brought from another location in the temple and depicts (probably) Osiris, Isis, Horus, Seti I and Rameses II. This room also featured a double false door on its rear wall. The northern of these sanctuary may have been dedicated to Isis, while the southern of the three was most likely dedicated to Horus.

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 colorful reliefs. Each of these contain nine decorated niches and the southern chamber has a beautiful relief of Ramesses offering to Osiris who is being protected by an unusual winged, humanoid, djed pillar. This is thought to be one of the earliest representations of a symbol which became popular in later dynasties.

A chariot scene from the Battle of Kadesh

Only the lower parts of the exterior walls still exist and the northern and western walls bear a version of Ramesses II's Battle of Kadesh in beautiful incised relief, though not as complete as in some of his later monuments such as the renditions at the Temple of Luxor, Abu Simble and the Ramesseum. However, the quality of these reliefs far exceed the others, made possible by the fine limestone used in this temple. 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 Ramesses II describes his temple, along with its building and endowment, which seems to be accurate in what remains today. He describes a pylon of white limestone, granite doorways and a sanctuary of pure alabaster which must have been very beautiful in its time.

Title Author Date Publisher Reference Number
Atlas of Ancient Egypt Baines, John; Malek, Jaromir 1980 Les Livres De France None Stated
Complete Temples of Ancient Egypt, The Wilkinson, Richard H. 2000 Thames and Hudson, Ltd ISBN 0-500-05100-3
History of Egyptian Architecture, A (The Empire (the New Kingdom) From the Eighteenth Dynasty to the End of the Twentieth Dynasty 1580-1085 B.C. Badawy, Alexander 1968 University of California Press LCCC A5-4746
Monuments of Civilization Egypt Barcocas, Claudio 1972 Madison Square Press; Grosset & Dunlap ISBN 0-448-02018-1