Archaeologists from Egypt and Germany have found a massive 26ft (8 metre) statue submerged in ground water in a Cairo slum.
Researchers say it probably depicts revered Pharaoh Ramses II, who ruled Egypt more than 3,000 years ago.
The discovery, hailed by the Antiquities Ministry as one of the most important ever, was made near the ruins of Ramses II’s temple in the ancient city of Heliopolis, located in the eastern part of modern-day Cairo.
‘Last Tuesday they called me to announce the big discovery of a colossus of a king, most probably Ramses II, made out of quartzite,’ Antiquities Minister Khaled al-Anani told Reuters on Thursday at the site of the statue’s unveiling.
Ramses the Great was the most powerful and celebrated ruler of ancient Egypt.
Known by his successors as the ‘Great Ancestor’, he led several military expeditions and expanded the Egyptian Empire to stretch from Syria in the east to Nubia in the south.
He was the third pharaoh of the Nineteenth Dynasty of Egypt and ruled from 1279 to 1213 BCE.
‘We found the bust of the statue and the lower part of the head and now we removed the head and we found the crown and the right ear and a fragment of the right eye,’ Anani said.
Yesterday, archaeologists, officials, local residents, and members of the news media looked on as a massive forklift pulled the statue’s head out of the water
The joint Egyptian-German expedition, which included the University of Leipzig, also found the upper part of a life-sized limestone statue of Pharaoh Seti II, Ramses II’s grandson, which is 80 centimetres long.
WHO WAS RAMSES II?
The fame of Rameses II, the third king of the 19th dynasty of Ancient Egypt, is put down to his flair for self-publicity.
He is remembered principally for the colossal statues he commissioned and for his massive building programme.
Dubbed Rameses the Great by the Egyptologists of the 19th century, his reign from 1279 to 1213BC marked the last peak of Egypt’s imperial power. He ascended the throne as the third king of the Nineteenth Dynasty at the age of twenty-five.
It’s thought that during his 67-year reign, he built more temples and fathered more children than any other pharaoh.
Rameses, born around 1303BC, was appointed regent at 14 by his father Seti I. He had been made a captain of the army aged just ten. Becoming king in his early 20s, he expanded his empire, leading an army north to recover the lost provinces his father had failed permanently to conquer in modern-day Syria and Israel.
In Kadesh, Syria, he was fed false information by two captured enemy spies, which saw Rameses II and his small corps of household troops surrounded by 2,500 enemy Hittite chariots.
He was saved by reinforcements and although he had failed to take Kadesh, the pharaoh had a long poem about his proud last stand carved on temple walls in Egypt.
In Nubia, part of which is now in northern Sudan, Rameses II built six temples, including Abu Simbel, whose image of his face cut into the rocky sides of the Nile Valley may have inspired the vast depictions of American presidents at Mount Rushmore.
The king, who kept a harem of 100 women and had more than 100 children, dedicated Abu Simbel’s smaller temple to his favourite queen, Nefertari. His building projects included the Great Hypostyle Hall, with its roof supported by columns, at Thebes – part of modern-day Luxor – and his own funerary temple, known as the Ramesseum, across the Nile from Luxor. He also built a city – Per Ramessu, also known as Pi-Ramesses – north-east of Cairo where he lived surrounded by gardens and orchards.
Experts say he understood that visibility was central to the success of his reign, and built bombastic structures to project his strength as a leader.
He founded a new capital, Piramesse and built temples throughout Egypt and Nubia. The most famous of these buildings is the Abu Simbel, cut into rock, and ‘the Ramesseum’ – his mortuary temple at Thebes.
The tomb of his principal wife, Nefertari, is one of the best preserved royal tombs and the resting place of some of his sons has recently been uncovered in the Valley of the Kings.
Rameses II was lived to about 90. He was originally buried in the Valley of the Kings but his mummy, which has the face of an old man with a long, narrow face, striking nose and large jaw, was moved to the nearby Deir el-Bahari to thwart looters. Still with its hair, some skin and teeth It was rediscovered in 1881 and is kept in Cairo’s Egyptian Museum.
Nine subsequent pharaohs took the name Rameses, as it was seen as an honour to be descended from him.
The sun temple in Heliopolis was founded by Ramses II, which increases the likelihood the statue is of him, archaeologists say.
It was one of the largest temples in Egypt, almost double the size of Luxor’s Karnak, but was destroyed in Greco-Roman times.
Many of its obelisks were moved to Alexandria or to Europe and stones from the site were looted and used for building as Cairo developed.
Experts will now attempt to extract the remaining pieces of both statues before restoring them.
If they are successful and the colossus is proven to depict Ramses II, it will be moved to the entrance of the Grand Egyptian Museum, set to open in 2018.
The discovery was made in the working class area of Matariya, among unfinished buildings and mud roads.
Dietrich Raue, head of the expedition’s German team, told Reuters that ancient Egyptians believed Heliopolis was the place where the sun god lives, meaning it was off-limits for any royal residences.
‘The sun god created the world in Heliopolis, in Matariya. That’s what I always tell the people here when they say is there anything important. According to the pharaonic belief, the world was created in Matariya,’ Raue said.
‘That means everything had to be built here. Statues, temples, obelisks, everything. But … the king never lived in Matariya, because it was the sun god living here.’
The find could be a boon for Egypt’s tourism industry, which has suffered many setbacks since the uprising that toppled autocrat Hosni Mubarak in 2011 but remains a vital source of foreign currency.
The number of tourists visiting Egypt slumped to 9.8 million in 2011 from more than 14.7 million in 2010.
A bomb attack that brought down a Russian plane carrying 224 people from a Red Sea resort in October 2015 further hit arrivals, which dropped to 1.2 million in the first quarter of 2016 from 2.2 million a year earlier.