Giant Ancient Egyptian Sun Temple Discovered in Cairo

Stefan Lovgren
for National Geographic News
March 1, 2006

Archaeologists announced Sunday that they have discovered an ancient sun temple containing large statues of the pharaoh Ramses II under an outdoor marketplace in Cairo, Egypt.

The temple was found in a suburb of Cairo called Ain Shams. The site was once part of the ancient city of Heliopolis, which served as the center of sun worship in ancient Egypt. The chief sun god, Re, was the patron sun god of Heliopolis.

Ramses II, who is believed to have ruled Egypt from around 1279 to 1213 B.C., is known for his military exploits and monumental building projects. To celebrate his victories, he erected statues and temples to himself all over Egypt.

"The area where we are excavating now is where Ramses II of the 19th dynasty [1320 to 1200 B.C.] built an enormous temple for Re, the largest temple of Ramses II ever found," said Zahi Hawass, head of Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities in Cairo.

Hawass is also a National Geographic Society explorer-in-residence.

An Egyptian team has been cooperating with a team from the German Archaeological Institute on the excavations in the Ain Shams and Matariya neighborhoods of Cairo.

Egyptologists not involved with the discovery said it confirms suspicions that much of ancient Egypt has been buried under modern cities and still remains to be found.

Pink Granite Statue

The temple was built of limestone, and the archaeologists have uncovered the remains of one pillar bearing inscriptions of Ramses II.

The researchers are currently excavating the entrance area and the west side of the temple site.

They have found chambers for the storage of wheat, a kiln for making amulets, part of a large statue—the head of which weighs 5 tons (4.5 metric tons) and would have stood almost 20 feet (6 meters) tall—and another head of granite, weighing 2 tons (1.8 metric tons).

"Perhaps the most exciting [find] is an unusual seated statue that shows Ramses II in the leopard skin of a priest, showing that he built this temple as the high priest of Re," Hawass said.

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