La Description de l'Égypte: Antiquités, Volume II - Thebes

La Description de l’Égypte: Antiquités, Volume II
Commission des sciences et arts d’
25°43′14″N 32°36′37″E

La Description de l’Egypte (The Description of Egypt), or Recueil des observations et des recherches qui ont été faites en Égypte pendant l’expédition de l’Armée française, publié par les ordres de Sa Majesté l’Empereur Napoléon le Grand is the first encyclopedia devoted exclusively to Egypt. It is a work from Bonaparte’s Egyptian campaign, recounting the discoveries made during this scientific voyage.

The second book of plates is La Description de l’Égypte: Antiquités, Volume II. It is the second of 5 volumes describing ancient Egypt. Either the major part of the final work. The plates of the second book are the first ones to present the archeological sites of Thebes (Luxor). However, the major sites such as Karnak or the Luxor Temple are detailed in the following book of plates, La Description de l’Égypte: Antiquités, Volume III.

Read the other volumes here.


Map of the archeological sites

The map shows the different places mentioned in this article. Click on the markers to get an overview of the archaeological sites.


Nile Valley Thebes Description de l'Egypte Egypt
Pl.1 - General plan of the portion of the Nile Valley which includes the ruins

Thebes 25°43′14″N, 32°36′37″E is the Greek name for the Ancient Egyptian city of Waset. Today its ruins are part of the modern city of Luxor. It is located in the middle of Upper Egypt, along the Nile, in its alluvial plain. With an area of 93 km2, it was the most important city in Egypt in terms of population during its time of prosperity. Moreover, Thebes was the Egyptian capital  in the 18th Dynasty (1550 BC – 1292 BC) until the advent of Akenathon, who saw Egypt reach the peak of its power. Many of the sovereigns of this dynasty were buried in the Valley of the Kings of Thebes. 

Its archaeological sites are generally divided into two parts. Depending on whether they are on the east or west bank of the Nile. The eastern sites, with renowned places such as Karnak, Luxor, the temple of Khonsu and the western sites: the Valley of the Kings, the Valley of the Queens, the tomb of Ramses III, the tomb of Akenathon… 
La Description de l’Égypte: Antiquités, Volume II presents some of the western archaeological sites.

Medinet Habu

Medynet-Abou Description de l'Egypte Egypt
Pl.2 - Topographic plan of the ruins and the surrounding area

Medinet Habu 25° 43′ 04″ 04″ N, 32° 36′ 07″ E is a site located on the west bank of the Nile, at the foot of the Theban Hills. It is mainly known for the Mortuary Temple of Ramesses III 25°43′10.92″N 32°36′2.52″E. The temple site is surrounded by a mud brick enclosure, which protects all the monuments on the site. It measures approximately 300m by 210m and contains more than 7000m² of decorated wall relief.  The temple, one hundred and fifty meters long, is of a common plan with the funerary temple of its predecessor, Ramesses II, located nearby. Indeed, Ramesses III sought to restore the greatness of Egypt of his illustrious ancestor. As soon as he acceded to the throne he began to build his temple, which will remain one of the largest in the necropolis of Thebes. However, it was not completely finished until after the death of the sovereign around 1154 BC.

The architecture and organization of this temple will be the prototype of the great temples of later periods. It is recognizable by its two large pylons separating two courtyards with peristyles, preceding the sanctuary area. The successors of the dynasty of Ramesses III appear on it.

This temple belongs to the classification of “Castle (or house) of millions of years”. These emerge during the 18th dynasty and until the 20th (Ramesses III is the second pharaoh of the 20th dynasty). They were built with the aim of having a place of worship of the deified king, most often during their lifetime. They are located on the west bank of the Nile, in Thebes.

Medinet Habu Description de l'Egypte Egypt
Pl.14 - Interior view of the peristyle of the palace
Plates and graphic documents of the Mortuary Temple of Ramesses III

Memnonium (Ramesseum)

Ramesseum Plan Description de l'Egypte Egypt
Pl. 19 - Topographic map of the tomb of Osymandyas, the two colossi of the plain and the surrounding ruins

Memnonium was the name given to the ruins of the Ramesseum of Thebes between 1750 and 1850 by travellers, explorers and other visitors. The geographer Strabo (1st century BC) described the sites of Thebes as Memnonium in his famous book Geographica. Three monuments and some ruins are mentioned under this name in this volume of La Description de l’Egypte: the Ramesseum, the Temple of Isis, the two colossuses, and some ruins.

Colossi of Memnon

Colosses Description de l'Egypte Egypt Thebes
Pl.20 - View of the two colossi

The two colossi of Memnon 25°43′14″N, 32°36′38″E are two stone statues, located in the necropolis of Thebes. They were located on the forecourt of the now destroyed temple of the millions of years of Amenothep III. This pharaoh was the eighth pharaoh of the 18th dynasty and the father of Akenathen. Both statues are made of quartzite and depict the pharaoh. They are 18m high, weigh nearly 1300 tons and are spaced about fifteen meters apart, which gives an idea of the gigantic scale of the temple. The temple, was the largest in Egypt and covered an area of about 35 hectares. Its construction was completed in 1350 BC, but its location was poorly chosen. Indeed, located in the flood plain of the Nile, its foundations weakened rapidly. As a result, an earthquake in 1200 BC destroyed the temple. The two giants standing guard are the only elements that resisted it, although they were weakened by another earthquake in 27 BC.

Plates of details of the two colossi

Ramesseum, the tomb of Osymandyas (Ramses II)

Pl. 24 - General view of the tomb of Osymandyas (User-Maat-Re) taken from the southwest

The Ramesseum 25°43′40″N, 32°36′38″E is a temple dedicated to Pharaoh Ramesses II (1304 BC – 1213 BC), the third pharaoh of the 19th Egyptian dynasty who reigned until he was 92 years old. The builder pharaoh was also called Osymandias. It is also under this name that the temple is described in La Description de l’Egypte. The Ramessesum is the Temple of the Millions of Years of Ramesses II, located in the Theban Necropolis. It is erected to the north of the Colossians of Memnon. 
Covering an area of about ten hectares, the site was surrounded by a high surrounding wall. In the center of the domain was the temple, surrounded by numerous buildings with various functions (workshops, administrative offices, priest’s houses, warehouses…). The entire constructon was 210m long and 178m wide. Within the temple, there was a statue of Ramesses II in pink granite, 18m high, recalling the adoration towards the pharaohs of the new empire. Today, the site is in ruins and the statue, broken, lies on the ground. It is one of the many temples that has not survived the test of time and the erosion of the Nile. Moreover, during the 29th dynasty, a large part of its stones were reused to consolidate or build other temples.
A major discovery was made during the commission’s expedition to Egypt. Champollion, exploring the ruins identified the hieroglyphs forming the name of Ramesses on the walls. Consequently, he named this place Rhamesseion, adapted as Ramesseum.
The plan that figures in La Description de l’Egypte is in fact a reproduction according to the description made by the Greek historian Diodorus of Sicily (1st century BC). He had based it on the exploration of the Greek Hecateus of Abdère, (3rd century BC) and described it as the most majestic of all Egypt.

Plan of Ramesseum Temple Egypt
Pl.33 - Plan and sections of the tomb of Osymandyas restored after Diodorus of Sicily
Section of Ramesseum Temple Egypt
Pl. 28 - Longitudinal section of the tomb of Osymandyas, taken from the west

Western Temple (Isis Temple)

Interior of Ramesseum Description de l'Egypte Egypt
Pl. 37 - Perspective view of the colored interior of the western temple

The plain is also marked by other monuments identified by the members of the commission. Among them is the Temple of Isis 25° 41′ 43″ N, 32° 34′ 43″ E, known as Dayr el Sheluit or Chelouit, but soberly named the Temple of the West in La Description de l’Egypte. It was built solely for the worship of Isis in the 1st century BC. It is located west of the temple of Amenhotep III which was already destroyed.

Other Memnonium monuments

Pl.38 - Topographic map of various monuments located north of the tomb of Osymandyas

The commission also made various observations of the (unnamed) Valley of the Nobles 25° 43′ 40″ N, 32° 35′ 42″ E. The necropolis Sheikh Abd el-Gournah 25° 43′ 20″ N, 32° 36′ 10″ E  is represented under the name of Le Grand Hypogée (the Great Hypogeum). It groups together the tombs of the important figures of the pharaoh’s entourage. Today there are more than four hundred tombs listed.

Pl. 39 - 1-4. Plan and sections of a large hypogeum or syringe 5. Carving detail of another hypogeum 6-8. Plan and sections of a building with a vaulted ceiling

Bîbân al-Mulûk

Map valley of the kings egypt Description de l'Egypte
Pl. 77 - Topographic map of the end of the Valley of the Kings

The last survey of the volume concerns the Valley of the Kings 25° 44′ 27″ N, 32° 36′ 08″ E. Little described until then, it is the subject of numerous surveys by the members of the expedition. It is located at the heart of the Theban Necropolis, north of the Valley of the Queens. The valley is formed by a fault in the Libyan chain which leads to the Nile valley.
It is also named Wādī Abwāb al Mulūk, meaning ‘Valley of the Two Gates of the Kings’, in reference to the gates that once closed the tombs. In fact the necropolis has been visited since antiquity, when it was largely looted, but was not really documented until the 18th century.
During Bonaparte’s Egyptian campaign, the scientific expedition (and in particular Vivant Denon) drew the maps and plans of the known tombs that are presented in this volume of La Description de l’Egypte. The western valley is explored for the first time and the subsequent deciphering of the hieroglyphs by Champollion will revive European exploration in Thebes.
The necropolis consists of hypogeums, an underground construction or more specifically a tomb dug into the ground. The various tombs come from pharaohs of the 18th, 19th and 20th dynasties (approximately from 1539 to 1075 BC). Each dynasty has a different type of hypogeum, either in their architecture or decoration. 

Plan Sections Valley of the kings
Pl. 79 - Plan of the 3rd, 4th, 2nd and 1st tombs of the kings to the east 3. Plan of the 3rd tomb to the west 5. Plan of the isolated western tomb 7-12. Plan, section and details of the entrance and sarcophagus of the 2nd tomb to the west; 13-14 Plan and section of the 1st and west tomb; 15-16 Plan and section of the 6th tomb to the west
Pl.78 - 1.2. Plan et coupe du quatrième tombeau des rois à l'ouest 3.4. Plan et coupe du cinquième tombeau à l'ouest 5.6. Plan et coupe du cinquième tombeau à l'est

The commission made numerous surveys of what was discovered in the hypogeums of the Valley of the Kings. Mainly, an architectural survey, distinguishing between the plans of the hypogeums of the 18th dynasty and those of the 20th dynasty. The usual typical plan of a tomb begins with a long corridor going into the ground. This may pass through one or more rooms and ends in the burial chamber.
The tombs of the 18th dynasty follow a plane with a perpendicular “Bent axis”, in this one, the corridor branches off at 90°. After burial, the upper corridors were filled with rubble and the entrance to the burial vault was buried. The next two dynasties followed a plane with a straight axis and a gentle slope.

Pl. 80 - Idol and fragments of antiquities in serpentine, alabaster and sandstone found in the isolated tomb of the west

The Tomb of Taousert and Sethnakht 25° 44′ 21″ N, 32° 35′ 58″ E, is the tomb then identified as an isolated tomb from the west.


The walls of the majority of royal tombs are engraved or painted with religious texts and images describing the journey of the soul to the afterlife. The bodies of the pharaohs are kept in the tomb, preserved by mummification with the statue of the pharaoh.  She was to be honoured and receive offerings in the funerary temple. 

The commission made numerous surveys concerning mummies of men and women, animal embalming, statues, inscriptions, decorations, idols, in tombs in the region. 


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