The great temple of Ramesses II at Abu Simbel was discovered in 1813 by the Swiss Orientalist and traveler Johann Ludwig Burckhardt. An enormous pile of sand almost completely covered the facade and its colossal statues, blocking the entrance for four more years. The Paduan Explorer Giovanni Battista Belzoni reached the interior on 4 August 1817.
The tomb of the most important consort of Ramesses was discovered by Ernesto Schiaparelli in 1904. Although it had been looted in ancient times, the tomb of Nefertari is extremely important, because its magnificent wall painting decoration is regarded as one of the greatest achievements of ancient Egyptian art. A FLIGHT of steps cut out of the rock gives access to the antechamber, which is decorated with paintings based on chapter 17 of the Book of the Dead. This astronomical ceiling represents the heavens and is painted in dark blue, with a myriad of golden five-pointed stars. The east wall of the antechamber is interrupted by a large opening flanked by representation of Osiris at left and Anubis at right; this in turn leads to the side chamber, decorated with offering scenes, preceded by a vestibule in which the paintings portray Nefertari presented to the deities, who welcome her. On the north wall of the antechamber is the stairway down to the burial chamber, a vast quadrangular room covering a surface area of about 90 square metres (970 sq ft), its astronomical ceiling supported by four pillars entirely decorated. Originally, the queen's red granite sarcophagus lay in the middle of this chamber. According to religious doctrines of the time, it was in this chamber, which the ancient Egyptians called the golden hall, that the regeneration of the deceased took place. This decorative pictogram of the walls in the burial chamber drew inspirations from chapters 144 and 146 of the Book of the Dead: in the left half of the chamber, there are passages from chapter 144 concerning the gates and doors of the kingdom of Osiris, their guardians, and the magic formulas that had to be uttered by the deceased in order to go past the doors.
Sed festivals traditionally were held again every three years after the 30th year; Ramasses II, who sometimes held them after two years, eventually celebrated an unprecedented 13 or 14.
In entertainment and media, Ramesses II is one of the more popular candidates for the Pharaoh of the Exodus. He is cast in this role in the 1944 novella The Tables of the Law by Thomas Mann. Although not a major character, Ramesses appears in Joan Grant's So Moses Was Born, a first person account from Nebunefer, the brother of Ramoses, which paints a picture of the life of Ramoses from the death of Seti, replete with the power play, intrigue, and assassination plots of the historical record, and depicting the relationships with Bintanath, Tuya, Nefertari, and Moses. In The Kane Chronicles Ramesses is an ancestor of the main characters Sadie and Carter Kane.
The colossal statue of Ramesses II dates back 3,200 years, and was originally discovered in six pieces in a temple near Memphis. Weighing some 83-tonne (82-long-ton; 91-short-ton), it was transported, reconstructed, and erected in Ramesses Square in Cairo in 1955. In August 2006, contractors relocated it to save it from exhaust fumes that were causing it to deteriorate. The new site is near the Future Grand Egyptian Museum.
In film, Ramesses was played by Yul Brynner in Cecil B. DeMille's classic The Ten Commandments (1956). Here Ramesses was portrayed as a vengeful tyrant as well as the main antagonist of the film, ever scornful of his father's preference for Moses over "the son of [his] body". The animated film The Prince of Egypt (1998) also featured a depiction of Ramesses (voiced by Ralph Fiennes), portrayed as Moses' adoptive brother, and ultimately as the film's villain. More recently, Joel Edgerton played Ramesses in the 2014 film Exodus: Gods and Kings.
Ramesses II also campaigned south of the first cataract of the Nile into Nubia. When Ramesses was about 22, two of his own sons, including Amun-her-khepeshef, accompanied him in at least one of those campaigns. By the time of Ramesses, Nubia had been a colony for 200 years, but its conquest was recalled in decoration from the temples Ramesses II built at Beit el-Wali (which was the subject of epigraphic work by the Oriental Institute during the Nubian salvage campaign of the 1960s), Gerf Hussein and Kalabsha in northern Nubia. On the south wall of the Beit el-Wali temple, Ramesses II is depicted charging into battle against the Nubians in a war chariot, while his two young sons, Amun-her-khepsef and Khaemwaset, are shown behind him, also in war chariots. A wall in one of Ramesses's temples says he had to fight one battle with the Nubians without help from his Soldiers.
In 1974 Egyptologists visiting his tomb noticed that the mummy's condition was rapidly deteriorating and flew it to Paris for examination. Ramesses II was issued an Egyptian passport that listed his occupation as "King (deceased)". The mummy was received at Le Bourget airport, just outside Paris, with the full military honours befitting a king.
The life of Ramesses II has inspired many fictional representations, including the historical novels of the French Writer Christian Jacq, the Ramsès series; the graphic novel Watchmen, in which the character of Adrian Veidt uses Ramesses II to form part of the inspiration for his alter-ego known as 'Ozymandias'; Norman Mailer's novel Ancient Evenings, which is largely concerned with the life of Ramesses II, though from the perspective of Egyptians living during the reign of Ramesses IX; and the Anne Rice book The Mummy, or Ramses the Damned (1989), in which Ramesses was the main character.
In 1995, Professor Kent Weeks, head of the Theban Mapping Project, rediscovered Tomb KV5. It has proven to be the largest tomb in the Valley of the Kings, and originally contained the mummified remains of some of this king's estimated 52 sons. Approximately 150 corridors and tomb chambers have been located in this tomb as of 2006 and the tomb may contain as many as 200 corridors and chambers. It is believed that at least four of Ramesses's sons, including Meryatum, Sety, Amun-her-khepeshef (Ramesses's first-born son) and "the King's Principal Son of His Body, the Generalissimo Ramesses, justified" (i.e., deceased) were buried there from inscriptions, ostracas or canopic jars discovered in the tomb. Joyce Tyldesley writes that thus far
Ramesses II moved the capital of his kingdom from Thebes in the Nile valley to a new site in the eastern Delta. His motives are uncertain, although he possibly wished to be closer to his territories in Canaan and Syria. The new city of Pi-Ramesses (or to give the full name, Pi-Ramesses Aa-nakhtu, meaning "Domain of Ramesses, Great in Victory") was dominated by huge temples and his vast residential palace, complete with its own zoo. In the 10th century AD the Bible exegete Rabbi Saadia Gaon, believed that the biblical site of Ramesses had to be identified with Ain Shams. For a time, during the early 20th century, the site was misidentified as that of Tanis, due to the amount of statuary and other material from Pi-Ramesses found there, but it now is recognised that the Ramesside remains at Tanis were brought there from elsewhere, and the real Pi-Ramesses lies about 30 km south, near modern Qantir. The colossal feet of the statue of Ramesses are almost all that remains above ground today. The rest is buried in the fields.
Ramesses built extensively throughout Egypt and Nubia, and his cartouches are prominently displayed even in buildings that he did not construct. There are accounts of his honor hewn on stone, statues, and the remains of palaces and temples—most notably the Ramesseum in western Thebes and the rock temples of Abu Simbel. He covered the land from the Delta to Nubia with buildings in a way no monarch before him had. He also founded a new capital city in the Delta during his reign, called Pi-Ramesses. It previously had served as a summer palace during Seti I's reign.
The temple complex built by Ramesses II between Qurna and the desert has been known as the Ramesseum since the 19th century. The Greek Historian Diodorus Siculus marveled at the gigantic temple, now no more than a few ruins.