Our visit to the west bank of the Nile was drenched in sunshine and the highest temperatures yet, but what we saw will be with us forever!
The Valley of the Kings sits in the heart of the Theban necropolis on the west bank of the Nile. This ancient site contains tombs from the 16th to the 11yh centuries BC. The Valley was constructed to provide holy burial sites for the kings, pharaohs, and other powerful nobles to ensure that their final resting places would be safe from the grave robbers. The Valley spans across two valleys, east and west, with the majority of the royal tombs situated in the east. The Valley contains at least 63 tombs in varying degrees of ongoing excavation. The more prominent tombs are open for viewing on a rotating basis. We were able to enter three, most notably that of King Tut.
This area has been the focus of archaeological and Egyptological exploration since the end of the 18th century. In 1922, the Valley captured the world’s attention with the discovery of King Tutankhamen’s tomb. A new chamber was discovered in 2006, and two additional tomb entrances were identified in 2008. The tombs range in size from a simple pit to a complex tomb with more than 120 chambers. Today the Valley of the Kings is one of the most important sites for archaeological research and restoration.
The Tomb of Merenptah is the second largest in the Valley. Discovered by Howard Carter in 1903, its main decorations come from the Book of Gates. Merenptah was a pharaoh during Ancient Egypt’s 19th dynasty and the son of King Ramses II.
The Tomb of Ramses I was discovered in 1817 by Giovanni Belzoni. It is one of the smallest in size, presumably due to his advanced age and poor health when he took the throne. He reigned less than two years. His actual mummy was moved to a museum in Niagara Falls, Canada, then relocated to Emory University in 1999.
When King Tutankhamun died at age 19, an existing tomb was adapted for his burial. Only the burial chamber itself was painted, with scenes of his journey into the afterlife. Over 3,330 years old, the colors are still vibrant. It is considered the best preserved tomb ever found. Visitors are restricted to prevent further deterioration. The treasures have all been moved to Cairo museums, and some are in other places around the world. Today, only his mummy, the outermost of his three nested coffins, and its lid remain in the tomb. We were thrilled to be able to visit his tomb during the 100th anniversary of its discovery.
Curious to learn more about Howard Carter, the British archeologist and Egyptologist who discovered the intact tomb of the 18th century Dynasty Pharaoh Tutankhamun in November, 1922, we traveled over to the house he lived in while working in Egypt. Most of his belongings, including some tools, his camera and dark room, kitchen, office, and victrola remain intact. In fact, it looked as though he could walk through the door to catch us snooping through his things.
Following our visit to Carter’s home, it was time to visit the nearby Valley of the Queens. The queens and some of their children are buried here, although the reasons for its location is not clear.
The largest and most elaborate of the tombs is that of Queen Nefertari, first of Pharaoh Ramses II (Ramses the Great)’s eight wives. Married at age 13, Nefertari had at least six children during their 24 year marriage. He called her “beautiful companion” and “the one for whom the sun shines.” Her tomb was discovered in 1904 by Ernesto Schiaparelli. It has intense color, with a ceiling painted deep blue and lined with stars. The walls are covered with elaborate imagery. It was badly deteriorated over the years, and was closed for restoration from the 1950’s until 1995. It was closed again from 2003-2016, and now has only limited visitation. Cameras are not allowed, and only cell phone cameras with no video and no flash can be brought into the tomb. The vivid walls depict her journey through the underworld. It is truly magnificent!
The tomb of Prince Amen Khopshef, son of Ramses III, is well preserved and very colorful. It is believed he died young, as he is seen as the small boy with his father in many scenes.
Our next stop on this action-filled day was the Mortuary Temple of Queen Hatshepsut. The temple is one of the most beautiful and striking of all of Egypt’s mortuary temples. Dedicated to the sun God Amun, this architectural masterpiece was designed in the 15th century BC to memorialize Queen Hatshepsut’s legacy among her male predecessors. It is an incomparable monument of ancient Egypt and a magnificent tribute to the greatest of Egypt’s female pharaohs.
Egypt had many queens, but none had the full powers of a pharaoh before Hatshepsut. From 1479-1458 BC, her reign was characterized by peace, prosperity, and the establishment of profitable trade with Punt (Somalia.) After her death, her stepson Thutmose III created the largest empire Egypt had ever seen. He also went to extremes to obliterate all traces of Hatshepsut, including chiseling off any and all images and cartouches, and demolishing all of her statues. The queen literally disappeared from history until 1903 when archaeologist Howard Carter found her tomb and her story was illuminated for the first time in 3,500 years.
Our final stop was a brief photo stop at the Colossi of Memnon, the two massive stone statues of Pharaoh Amenhotep III. The Colossi have stood in front of the ruins of his temple, the largest in the Valley, since 1350 BC.
This was by far the longest and hottest day in our journey, but it was such a rich, rewarding experience. As we headed back to the east bank and our awaiting ship, we were a bit awe-struck (or sun-struck!) by everything we were privileged to see.