2 February 2024

The sarcophagus of Pharaoh Ramses II exhibited at the Grande Halle de La Villette, in Paris, on April 6, 2023.

A subtlety has slipped into the title of the exhibition “Ramses & the gold of the pharaohs”, which opens on Friday April 7, at the Grande Halle de La Villette, in Paris: why “Ramses” in short and not “Ramses II”, the royal figure who dominates the event? “Eternity has a name, it is called Ramses”, responds with a well-established formula Bénédicte Lhoyer, scientific advisor to the exhibition. In the New Kingdom, “Ramses IIshe continues, was the absolute reference for the following kings »many of whom have taken his name, since there are eleven Ramesses in the long list of rulers of ancient Egypt.

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Born around 1305 BC. AD and died around 1213 BC. J.-C., Ramses II is the pharaoh, the one of all records: the longest reign (sixty-seven years), a hundred children, a string of monuments built… Also the pharaoh of all fantasies: the Greeks made him a legendary king by superimposing his figure on those of Sesostris Ier and III, two great rulers of the Middle Kingdom. Hollywood in The ten Commandments (1956), saw in him the pharaoh of the Exodus. And, in 1976, France received his mummy with the honors due to a living Head of State… Do not throw any more, we have understood that the name of Ramses has taken on, over time, almost mythical connotations, that the character has become archetypal and can do without a number. Ramses very short, therefore, in all simplicity.

The discourse surrounding the exhibition is also deliberately minimalist. The route ticks all the boxes of what the public expects to see at an event of this kind: the warrior king first, with the re-enactment of the battle of Qadesh (circa 1274 BC .) against the Hittites, which ended in a kind of draw, but which Ramses II, as a gifted propagandist, transformed into a total success by the story he made of it; the intercessor king between gods and men, responsible for the balance of the world; the builder king, evoked through large photographic panels with, for example, the temple of Abu Simbel; finally, the king’s tomb, which symbolizes his passage to the afterlife.

Antithesis of Tutankhamun

The emphasis is therefore not placed on scholarly explanations, as if that were not necessary: ​​the works, all from Egypt – and some have never been seen in France – speak for themselves. . They don’t need to be majestic to capture the message that, across the millennia, they convey to us about Egyptian civilization.

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