Ramses II is described as the greatest warrior king in ancient Egypt.
After years of controversy and logistical headaches, the 100-tonne pink granite statue will be transferred in one piece during through the streets of the capital.
The monumental statue of the most prolific builder in pharaonic history has all but vanished behind a sarcophagus of protective plastic and scaffolding, and citizens have been visiting Ramses square to pay their last respects to the landmark.
The transfer was practised last month with a fake statue.
The pharaonic convoy was to begin moving at a snail’s pace at 1am on Friday (2200 GMT Thursday) on a 35km journey to its new home at the Grand Egyptian Museum, which is to open soon near the Giza pyramids.
The transfer will be broadcast live on Egyptian public television but a planned ceremony was cancelled because of the situation in Lebanon, the authorities announced recently.
Alleged US pressure
“Ramses will be happy now,” said Zahi Hawass, the head of Egypt’s antiquities.
“He would have been unhappy in his tomb knowing that the statue was staying in such a mess where nobody can see him any more.”
Hawass dismissed the view that
Some Egyptian archaeologists, politicians and intellectuals have opposed the transfer. They said it was decided under US pressure because Ramses – believed to be the pharaoh who oppressed the Jews in the time of Moses and was perceived as an anti-Israeli symbol.
In an interview with AFP, Hawass dismissed that view – relayed by one of his predecessors in the Egyptian press – as “totally stupid, cheap demagogy”.
Discovered in 1883 near Memphis, the ancient pharaonic capital, the 11-metre statue was moved to Cairo in 1954.
Two years earlier, a group of young officers led by Gamal Abdel Nasser had overthrown British-backed King Farouk and abolished a monarchy which had become too closely associated with foreign powers.
Nasser wanted to use Ramses to symbolise the authentically Egyptian roots of the new republic.
“It was chopped up in eight pieces and reassembled. Not a single archaeologist was present. It was the decision of a military dictatorship,” Hawass said.
In its early days, the statue and the fountain at its feet were visible from afar, but they were gradually hemmed in by a mass of overpasses and pedestrian bridges that were meant to ease the flow of people and motor traffic around and across the square but which in fact aggravated it.
The square, which lies outside the city’s main train station, is reputed to be the most polluted spot in Egypt.
Ramses II, from the 19th dynasty of pharaohs, reigned over Egypt for 68 years, from 1304 to 1236 BC, and is believed to have lived to the age of 90.
He covered the country with monuments to his exploits and his mummy, on display in the National Museum in Cairo, is one of the country’s biggest tourist attractions.