Photo Essay

Sarcophagus of Ramses II, possible pharaoh of Exodus, unveiled in Paris

France gets rare access to the ornate coffin in thanks for its 1976 efforts to preserve the royal mummy, which itself remains in Egypt due to a law banning its transport abroad

The wooden coffin of Pharaoh Ramses II is on display Thursday, April 6, 2023 in Paris. An exhibition with 181 objects from the Kingdom of Pharaoh Ramses II opens Friday at La Grande Halle de La Villette in Paris.(AP Photo/Aurelien Morissard)
The wooden coffin of Pharaoh Ramses II is on display Thursday, April 6, 2023 in Paris. An exhibition with 181 objects from the Kingdom of Pharaoh Ramses II opens Friday at La Grande Halle de La Villette in Paris.(AP Photo/Aurelien Morissard)

PARIS — The sarcophagus of ancient Egyptian pharaoh Ramses II was unveiled to reporters in Paris on Thursday following its rare journey outside of Egypt.

The ornate coffin will be on show to the public in the French capital from April 7 to September 6.

Benedicte Lhoyer, the scientific advisor to the exhibition, told AFP the “exceptional” loan was thanks to “an unprecedented cooperation between France and Egypt.”

The Ramses II exhibition is on a tour that includes the United States and Australia this year, but only France is receiving the sarcophagus, in recognition of the assistance from French scientists who helped save the mummy from decay following a previous visit to Paris in 1976.

The mummy itself has stayed behind this time, since Egyptian law now forbids transporting royal mummies abroad.

Ramses II, also known as Ramses the Great, ruled for more than 60 years during the 13th century BC and oversaw major military conquests and monumental construction projects, while also finding time to father more than 100 children.

A journalist takes a photograph of a red granite head of a colossal statue of Pharaoh Ramses II, Thursday, April 6, 2023, in Paris. (AP Photo/Aurelien Morissard)

“In short, he was an extraordinary king,” said Lhoyer.

He also is commonly associated with the figure who was in power during the biblical Book of Exodus, which tells the story of the Israelites leaving Egypt after years of slavery, under the leadership of Moses.

Coincidentally, the exhibition was unveiled on the first day of the Passover festival, when Jews celebrate the Exodus from Egypt.

This picture shows the coffin of King Ramses II during an unveiling ceremony ahead of the opening of the exhibition ‘Ramses et l’or des pharaons’ at the Grande Halle de la Villette in Paris on April 3, 2023. (Photo by Christophe ARCHAMBAULT / AFP)

The yellow-painted cedar-wood sarcophagus, which depicts the recumbent king in bright colors with his arms crossed on his chest holding a scepter and whip, was not actually Ramses II’s original coffin.

Inscriptions on the sarcophagus’s sides detail how his body was moved three times from 1070 BC, after his tomb in Luxor’s Valley of the Kings was raided by grave robbers.

Its final resting place was discovered almost three millennia later in 1881, just as it too was being pillaged.

Employees install the Gilded Wooden Mask from the coffin of Amenemope on April 2, 2023 prior to the opening of Ramses II exhibition at the Grande Halle de La Villette in Paris. (Photo by STEPHANE DE SAKUTIN / AFP)

The immersive exhibition in Paris also features an abundance of statues, masks and jewelry from the period — more than 180 objects in total — as well as a 3D recreation of one of the king’s battles against the Hittite empire.

Egyptian relics have proved a hit in the past — some 1.4 million people came to see an exhibition about Tutankhamun in Paris four years ago.

“Ramses II defeated time. Like Tutankhamun, he has become immortal,” said Lhoyer.

Workers unveil the coffin of King Ramses II during a ceremony ahead of the opening of the exhibition ‘Ramses et l’or des pharaons’ at the Grande Halle de la Villette in Paris on April 3, 2023. (Photo by Christophe ARCHAMBAULT / AFP)
A statue of Pharaoh Ramses II kneeling is presented Thursday, April 6, 2023 in Paris. An exhibition with 181 objects from the Kingdom of Pharaoh Ramses II opens Friday at La Grande Halle de La Villette in Paris and runs until Sept. 6, 2023. The collection is one of the most impressive displays of ancient Egyptian culture ever exhibited in France. (AP Photo/Aurelien Morissard)
The upper part of a Colossus of Pharaoh Ramses II is on display, Thursday, April 6, 2023 in Paris. An exhibition with 181 objects from the Kingdom of Pharaoh Ramses II opens Friday at La Grande Halle de La Villette in Paris. The collection is one of the most impressive displays of ancient Egyptian culture ever exhibited in France. (AP Photo/Aurelien Morissard)

Times of Israel Staff contributed to this report

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