NEW THRONE FOR A STONE KING. RAMESSES II. GREAT EGYPTIAN RULER GETS A ROYAL WELCOME IN BOSTON
Boston — There he stands, a tall, regal figure, with one plumpish leg slightly forward, holding what looks like a ``heavy hands'' weight, and apparently oblivious to the chip out of his nose. King Tut was a stripling compared with this guy. This is the Colossus of Ramesses II, the great Egyptian leader, and he's had quite a journey getting to the Museum of Science in Boston for the opening of the exhibit tomorrow. He lay on his side for 3,000 years, in mud. But in the last few years, newly spiffed up, he's been seen in Memphis, Tenn., and Denver by record-breaking crowds, some of which have been assigned a specific time by a computer to view him.
Now, nearing the end of his tour, this giant statue has his own temple to dwell in.
A little background on our hero. Ramesses ruled an area as far south as modern Sudan to northern Syria from 1279 to 1213 BC. He was a fierce warrior and Egypt's last great pharaoh. Some scholars think he is the pharaoh of the biblical Exodus. He had 100 wives (including one of his daughters) and sired about 90 children. Called the greatest builder of his time, he erected monuments, temples, and statues during his 66-year reign. This 25-foot-tall statue, called the Colossus of Memphis, was carved from granite.
The Colossus was found in 1962 by workman in Memphis, Egypt, who were digging a foundation for a restaurant. But lack of funds prevented restoration until 1985, when the city of Memphis, Tenn., and the Egyptian Antiquities Organization, with funding from the Coca-Cola Bottling Company, joined in a cooperative venture to restore the massive statue for exhibition in the United States.
The Colossus was not in great shape when it was found. So 30 conservators worked 16 hours a day for eight months filling in missing parts with powdered granite, poured concrete, and steel rods. Steel pins were added for stability and strength. Then they disassembled the statue into three parts for easier moving, which were packed into three padded crates and placed in a steel case to cross the Atlantic. Since 1987, the Colossus has been on the road.
Throughout Ramesses' visit to North America, he has received careful treatment, traveling in the middle of the night in a convoy of flatbed trucks and unmarked cars. Security is tight: Egyptian government officials accompany the exhibit. Lloyd's of London insured it for a top-secret sum. Boston brought out a SWAT team and bomb dogs for the first day of the installation.
Everywhere this 57-ton statue goes, major adjustments have to be made. In Memphis, tiles had to be removed from the Memphis Convention Center's ceiling.
``We came within inches of not being able to show it,'' says Rita Freed, director of the Institute of Egyptian Art and Archaeology at Memphis State University and curator of the exhibition. In Boston, the Museum of Science had to build a separate temple with its own concrete foundation because the museum, built on landfill, couldn't support the weight. The three sections of the Colossus were hoisted from their flatbed trucks high into the air by a telescopic, hydraulic crane, then lowered through an opening in the roof of the temple.
An eager cluster of museum employees, workmen, and reporters waited for two days for the uncrating and assembling to be completed. Rain drowned out any action the first day. Early the next day, the crane lifted the heaviest section, the base of the statue and the feet. Then came the midsection, which had to be lifted a bit, turned into position, then installed precisely on top of the first piece.
Finally, as the last and tallest section soared over a now-clear Boston sky and was slowly inched into place, the crowd broke into applause. It was an astonishing feat of technology.
``This is state-of-the-art equipment, but it uses the same principles of applied physics that the Egyptians used: levers, weights and pulleys, fulcrums, the wheel,'' says Jack Shaughnessy, a vice-president of Shaughnessy & Ahearn, a local crane company in charge of installing the Colossus.
The Egyptians required thousands of men to do what this computer-operated equipment can do with two. And with much more finesse: The equipment is so precise that it can lower a hook 1/16th of an inch - ``enough to pin a fly to a wall without crushing it,'' says Mr. Shaughnessy.
Now that the Colossus is in place, one can imagine him looking right into the Museum of Science, where the rest of the exhibit is installed. He's traveling in glorious company: an exhibition of 70 artifacts from the Golden Age of Egypt, including a 19-pound golden collar that could only be worn by a king, god, or war hero; the intricately carved coffin lid from Ramesses II; a miniature chest for jewelry, cosmetics, and edibles; and a gold and silver vessel with a goat hanging off the side as a handle.
These artifacts had their own tour - Paris; Montreal; Vancouver, British Columbia; Provo, Utah; Jacksonville, Fla. - before hooking up with the Colossus in Memphis.
``This exhibit is not only about the King,'' says Dr. Freed. ``It sheds light on daily life, international affairs, administration, religion, and includes some of the finest art ever produced at the time.''
In addition to viewing the treasures, the museum is also providing educational aids: a mummy doll that can be taken apart; a project that shows visitors how to decipher hieroglyphics; a play called ``Grotto of Purity,'' spun from the scant knowledge about the private lives of Ramesses and his family; and a recorded audio tour for children, narrated by Shari Lewis.
This world-renowned master statesman has managed to pull together many diverse people for his tour: Egyptian curators, a French exhibition crew, and Irish riggers from South Boston all worked together to pull it off. He's drawing a varied crowd of oglers, too. In Denver, ``bikers rubbed shoulders with BMW owners,'' says Dana Wilson, the museum's marketing director.
Note: The exhibit opens tomorrow and runs through Aug. 30. Visitors should purchase tickets well in advance of their visit.