The Bible mentions the cities of Pithom and Ramesses as the places where the Israelites made “storage cites” (Exod 1:11). Exod 12:37 and Num 33:3-5 point to Pi-Ramesses as the starting place of the exodus. So what do we know about the early history of the island city of Pi-Ramesses?
The only city of the ancient world with name “Ramesses” was Pi-Ramesses, the “house of Ramesses.” Labib Habachi identified Pi-Ramesses at the archaeological site of Qantir. Qantir is located 2 km east of Avaris, the former Hyksos capital.
Seti I (ca. 1303-1288 BC) founded Pi-Ramesses as a royal residence. Ramesses II (ca. 1288-1222 BC) expanded the city to become capital of Egypt. Papyrus Anastasi III (1:12) dating to Merneptah’s 3rd year spells Pi-Ramesses with the birth name of Ramesses II, “Ramesses Meriamun.”
The Egyptian kings built Pi-Ramesses to keep an eye on the large Semitic population at Avaris. The city also located in the region where the Ramessides had their power base. The two cities existed together until Avaris was abandoned during Dynasty 19.
Ground-penetrating radar and Caesium-Magnetometry surveys done in 1996, 2003, and 2008 revealed no earlier remains beneath the Dynasty 19 city. Moreover, the city of Pi-Ramesses was an island surrounded by water on all sides.
These facts show us two things. (1) The Israelites lived near but not in Pi-Ramesses itself. (2) The Exodus could not have occurred earlier than the reign of Ramesses II. Thus, the Israelites probably gathered for the exodus at a staging area between Avaris and Pi-Ramesses. Avaris afterwards ceased being a viable city when it was abandoned by the Israelites.