THE TRAVELLING HISTORIAN -- RAMSES I

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RAMSES I

EGYPT
Fabled Land of the Pharaohs


As improbable as it seems, an Egyptian pharaoh lay entombed for a lengthy period within earshot of the great cataract, whose thundering roar has resounded over the area for longer than the oldest of the pharaohs. Ramses lay in a glass case in a museum, one of a number of what locals called 'tourist traps' on Clifton Hill in Niagara Falls. For years, wide-eyed tourists stared in fascination and fear at these weird, wrapped relics, shrilly ballyhooed by the museum as ancient corpses from a fabled land. Skeptics, of course, said they were just woebegone, wizened, make-believe mummies.



RAMSES I
1292-1290 BC

Ramses's Cartouche


The tomb of Ramses was discovered in 1817. He was one of a number of mummies uncovered at that time. Egyptian authorities are uncertain when Ramses was spirited out of the country,[*] but somehow this Egyptian pharaoh and several lesser mummies ended up as part of the Eqyptian collection in the Niagara Falls Daredevil Museum, along with decorated blocks taken from the tomb of Seti I, Ramses's son. For a hundred years or more, thousands of tourists and school children have stopped to stare in wonder at these mysterious mummies from ancient Egypt. Despite their popularity with the people, they received little national publicity and no Egyptian experts ever made the mummies their business.

In 1994 that all changed, when one of the mummies was mis-identified by a German Egyptologist as Queen Nefertiti. Not surprisingly, this startling announcement was immediately noticed by a number of important people, including a second German Egyptologist. His subsequent examination of the mummies disclosed that while Nefertiti was not in Niagara, one of her bedmates was a mummy of some magnitude.

As it turned out, this embalmed body was, in fact, not a minor mummy, but Ramses I, an Egyptian pharaoh considered by Egyptologists to be the first king of the Nineteenth Dynasty and founder of the glorious lineage of the Ramessids.

For a considerable sum, the museum owner doubtless reluctantly released Ramses to an American Egyptologist, who took him off to Atlanta. Dr. Azhi Hawass, Secretary General of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, learned of the lost king's existence in the new world and promptly set off for Atlanta where he hoped to persuade the authorities that Ramses belonged back in Egypt. They agreed and Ramses was readied for his trip home..

On his flight through the very heavens to which he had hoped to ascend when he died, Ramses would have seen this view of the Nile, the mighty river that gave life to his land..

The Nile meandering through Egypt.

The Nile alight at night, the great glow Cairo.

Egyptians worshiped many gods and goddesses, but the most important was Re, the sun god.

Re setting as the Pharohs never saw it - from Space

Ramses arrived back in Cairo to a tumultuous reception and joined his son Seti I, his grandson Ramses II and his great-grandson, Merneptah in the Cairo Museum.

Ramses reigned for little less than two years, but his contribution of his country was immeasurable. His grandson was Ramses II, the greatest of all Egypt's pharaohs, whose life and legacy left monuments and artifacts that continue to astound the world after some three thousand years.

The Cairo Museum,
the world's greatest treasure-house of pharaonic culture.
photo by
G.Wilson

Ramses's Triumphal Return To Egypt

Ramses had served as a general and vizier under Pharaoh Horemheb, "prince of the entire earth." Since Horemheb (1340-1314) had no son to succeed him, Egyptologists believe Horemheb designated his faithful general as the next pharaoh of the throne of Egypt. Ramses had been a worthy and reliable official and most importantly, he had a very capable son to succeed him and perpetuate the dynasty. He did this shortly thereafter and ruled under the name of Seti I. Seti's son, Ramses II, succeeded him in 1279 BC

Each pharaoh's primary preoccupation was his tomb and determining its location and devising its plan took precedence over all other concerns. Ramses ran true to form and much of his nearly two-year reign was devoted to the construction of his beautiful, but relatively small tomb in the Valley of the Kings.

After the site of the tomb and its architectural details had been decided upon, the paintings, the texts represented on the walls and the decorations were determined. Immediately thereafter the implementation stage began involving labourers using only the most basic of tools. Colour was an important aspect of the embellishment of the work on the walls. The colours used and their sources were: white made from the pigment Gypsum - huntite; blue from cuprorivaite or Egyptian blue; yellow from yellow ocre; black from coal; red from red ochre and green from copper wollastonite.

Wooden Hammer, Metal Chisel, Brush, Wooden Sticks & Fine Cords used to draw straight lines.

The work was entrusted to the architect and the craftsmen who lived in the village of Deir el-Mdeina. The working day started at dawn and lasted eight hours with a break after four hours for lunch. The work week was ten days during which there were two days of rest. The work was done by teams, the head of which had originally been chosen by the pharaoh himself or by his vizier/prime minister. Each team of craftsmen worked in two groups: the right and the left, each under orders of a foreman.

Paint Palettes

The head of each team was directly responsible for the work and he dealt with the vizier through a scribe, the latter an important and prestigious individual charged with the administration of justice, the settling of quarrels among the workers and the withdrawal from the pharaoh's warehouses of food which comprised the wages of the workmen. Each group's numbers ranged from thirty to sixty depending on the size of the project. Workers included: quarrymen, stone cutters, plasterers, sculptors, draftsmen and decorators who worked side by side in assembly line fashion.

Statue of a Squatting Scribe

photo by
G.Wilson

The short length of Ramses's reign forced the craftsmen to complete his eternal dwelling as quickly as possible and this accounted for the unusually small size of his tomb's corridor and burial chamber. It had only one corridor between two sets of descending stairs, the second set opening directly into the burial chamber. Ramses's reign lasted 16 months and since his tomb was 29 metres long, it was inferred that the workmen worked at preparing the tomb at the incredble speed of 1.80 metres per month.

Sketch of Ramses's Tomb

The burial chamber, which was taken up largely with a great, granite sarcophagus, contained pictures in which Ramses I was depicted being welcomed into the Afterlife by Anubis, the jackal-headed human, and Harsiesis.

Burial Chamber & Sarcophagus

Ramses Reception

While Ramses's tomb was small, it was beautifully decorated with scenes showing him in the company of various gods and goddesses. Included as well were scenes from the Book of the Dead. In addition to his tomb, Ramses oversaw the building of a hall in the state temple at Karnak. His military duties were not neglected for a stela in the second pylon of his temple records that he undertook a campaign in Nubia. He also established a new capital at the eastern delta in the area known as Qantir and Tell el-Daba. This city became known as Pi-ramses and appears in the Bible as Ramses.

On Ramses I's death, his son, Seti I, ascended the throne of Egypt. Even before he commenced planning for his own eternity tomb, he first oversaw his father's burial. Ramses was interred in the tomb now numbered 16 in the Valley of Kings, that daunting dwelling place of Egypt's pharaohs, apart from life on earth and burnt by the desert sun. It was considered a safe and difficult location to easily access and one that could be closely supervised by the Medjay, the special police corps entrusted with guarding the necropolises. However, the great treasures entombed with the pharaohs proved too taunting a temptation for nearby neerdowells, who despite the certainty of terrible torture and horrendous deaths if caught, raided and robbed the tombs with gay abandon, destroying in the process priceless historic artifacts from a time of endless enthrallment. Although the precious furnishings the tombs contained were carried off, the decorations on the walls that remain are treasures in themselves that we admire and marvel at the skill and dedication of the devoted artists who created them so long ago.

Map of Valley of the Kings

[*] "The king's body is believed to have been stolen from his tomb shortly after his death more than 3,000 years ago. But Egyptologists at the Michael C Carlos Museum in Atlanta, Georgia, are increasingly convinced he is among nine mummies it bought two years ago for 1.5m from the Niagara Falls Daredevil Museum. The nine had been brought to Canada in 1861 by an American who had apparently acquired them from grave robbers." [Sunday Times. Co. UK]

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