I met a traveller from an antique land,
Who said—“Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. . . . Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;
And on the pedestal, these words appear:
My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings;
Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.”
— Percy Bysshe Shelley

colossus of ramses II, the statue that inspired ozymandias.

The Ramesseum, one of the smaller temples in the Nile Valley of Egypt, is fairly innocuous as far as Egyptian antiquities go. Don’t get me wrong; it would be considered remarkable in most other places in the world, but Egypt has such a wealth of ancient art and architecture that any of the smaller, less preserved sites generally get a pass from tourists.

I was intrigued by this temple after reading Shelley’s Ozymandias, which he wrote as a tourist himself, based on what he saw here. The now-toppled statue of Ramses II (which I am standing next to in the first photo to give scale) originally stood at an impressive height of over 57 feet. Once a pharaoh who was considered a god, the monument Ramses II built to celebrate his own glory is now lying in the dust, topped with a fine coating of desert sand. The pharaoh is dead and his temple in ruins, but the poem lives. For now.


ramesseum: temple of ramses II