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Walk like an Egyptian: Ramesses has eyes on U of M

By Laura Fenton

Currently located outside The Pyramid in downtown Memphis, the Ramesses II statue will make its way to campus later this year. It will be a perfect complement to the U of M’s Institute of Egyptian Art and Archaeology and Egyptology program.
Currently located outside The Pyramid in downtown Memphis, the Ramesses II statue will make its way to campus later this year. It will be a perfect complement to the U of M’s Institute of Egyptian Art and Archaeology and Egyptology program.

Ramesses II is packing his cartouche and moving to the University of Memphis.

The 25-foot statue will soon relocate from outside The Pyramid in downtown Memphis to the U of M campus along Central Avenue. Although an exact date has not been determined, the move should be during the Spring 2012 semester.

Once officially erected, Ramesses II will bring attention to the Egyptology program, Egyptian artifacts in the campus museums and the Institute of Egyptian Art and Archeology, according to Dean Richard Ranta of the College of Communication and Fine Arts.

“It is a significant focal point, that shouts at you in a 5,000-pound way, that we have a major Egyptian study presence here,” Ranta said.

The statue will be located between Harris Hall and the Theatre Building, in front of the colonnades and facing Central Avenue.

Before the statue can relocate, the U of M must construct a base for which Ramesses II will rest.   

“We have to prepare the site because it’s heavy,” Ranta said. “You can’t just put it on top of that concrete sidewalk because it would crack it all to smithereens.”

The concrete base will not only support the weight of the statue, but it will ensure it stands upright. Support beams will be installed at the bottom portion of the legs will be that will help the statue withstand 90 mph winds.

After the site is ready, the statue will most likely move from downtown by crane and flatbed truck.

The local Ramesses II, a replica of the 50-ton one in Egypt, stood outside The Pyramid since 1991. It is modeled after a statue of Ramesses II near the visitor’s center at the site of ancient Memphis near Cairo.

An artist’s rendition shows where the Ramesses II statute will stand after being transported to the U of M campus later this year.
An artist’s rendition shows where the Ramesses II statute will stand after being transported to the U of M campus later this year.

The original statue in Egypt is actually 700 years older than the reign of Ramesses II during the 12th Dynasty. It was first a statue of King Sesostris, but Ramesses II chose to retouch the facial features, chest area and add a cartouche, or oblong nameplate with hieroglyphics, to resemble him. This was a common practice for successors.

“We might see it as stealing, but they (the Egyptians of the time) looked at it in a very positive way, in the sense that it underscores the idea of the continuity of leadership and divine kingship in ancient Egypt,” said Lorelei Corcoran, director of the IEAA.

It makes sense to have the statue at the U of M because the University has a direct link to Ramesses II.

Graduate students in the Egyptology department have the opportunity to conduct fieldwork at the Hypostyle Hall during their studies at the U of M. The fieldwork project has received three National Endowments for the Arts grant awards. Ramesses II helped to decorate a major part of the Hypostyle Hall where students and faculty conduct research.

The University also has the capabilities for the upkeep of the statue. Both the Art Museum personnel and the IEAA staff know the proper means to clean and care for weathering and any chipping of the statue.

Once the draft of the contract is approved, the City of Memphis will lease the statue to the University for $1 annually for 99 years.

Until then, the excitement of the statue’s relocation builds.

“It’s something that will be of interest to us, so it won’t be stuck in a corner and forgotten,” Ranta said.

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