Archaeologists from Egypt and Germany have found parts of a massive eight-metre statue submerged in water in a Cairo slum that they say probably depicts Pharaoh Ramses II, who ruled Egypt more than 3000 years ago.
The discovery, hailed by the Antiquities Ministry as one of the most important ever, was made near the ruins of Ramses II’s temple in the ancient city of Heliopolis, located in the eastern part of modern-day Cairo.
Egyptian workers lift parts of the statue with an excavator.
“Last Tuesday they called me to announce the big discovery of a colossus of a king, most probably Ramses II, made out of quartzite,” Antiquities Minister Khaled al-Anani said at the site of the statue’s unveiling on Thursday.
The most powerful and celebrated ruler of ancient Egypt, the pharaoh also known as Ramses the Great was the third of the 19th dynasty of Egypt and ruled from 1279 to 1213 BC.
“We found the bust of the statue and the lower part of the head and now we removed the head and we found the crown and the right ear and a fragment of the right eye,” Anani said.
On Thursday, archaeologists, officials, local residents, and members of the news media looked on as a massive forklift pulled the statue’s head out of the water
The joint Egyptian-German expedition also found the upper part of a life-sized limestone statue of Pharaoh Seti II, Ramses II’s grandson, that is 80 centimetres long.
The sun temple in Heliopolis was founded by Ramses II, lending weight to the likelihood the statue is of him, archaeologists say.
It was one of the largest temples in Egypt, almost double the size of Luxor’s Karnak, but was destroyed in Greco-Roman times. Many of its obelisks were moved to Alexandria or to Europe and stones from the site were looted and used for building as Cairo developed.
Experts will now attempt to extract the remaining pieces of both statues before restoring them. If they are successful and the colossus is proven to depict Ramses II, it will be moved to the entrance of the Grand Egyptian Museum, set to open in 2018.
The discovery was made in the working class area of Matariya, among unfinished buildings and mud roads.
Dietrich Raue, head of the expedition’s German team, said that ancient Egyptians believed Heliopolis was where the sun god lives, meaning it was off-limits for any royal residences.
“The sun god created the world in Heliopolis, in Matariya. That’s what I always tell the people here when they say, ‘Is there anything important?’
“According to the pharaonic belief, the world was created in Matariya,” Raue said.
“That means everything had to be built here. Statues, temples, obelisks, everything. But … the king never lived in Matariya, because it was the sun god living here.”
The find could be a boon for Egypt’s tourism industry, which has suffered many setbacks since the uprising that toppled Hosni Mubarak in 2011 but remains a vital source of foreign currency.