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Friday, November 11, 2016

10/24: More of Luxor's Incredible Tombs & Temples

Abdul and Khalid, our guide and driver respectively from Love Egypt Tours, picked us up at 7:30 as we had another long day planned seeing the temples on the West Bank of the Nile today. What absolute desolate territory we drove through en route to the Valley of the Kings, our first destination. Abdul assured us that all the tombs we’d be seeing today under the limestone mountains would be very different from each other.
The West Bank of Luxor had been the site of royal burials since around 2100 BC but it was the pharaohs of the New Kingdom period (1550-1069 BC) who chose the isolated valley dominated by the pyramid-shaped mountain peak of Al-Qurn known as The Horn. Once called the Place of Truth, the Valley of the Kings has 63 magnificent tombs.
The tombs have suffered greatly from treasure hunters, floods and, until recent years, from mass tourism. One of the travel guides I consulted mentioned the carbon dioxide, friction and humidity produced by the average of 2.8 grams of sweat (!) left by each visitor have affected the reliefs and the pigments of the wall paintings.
Egyptians spent their whole life planning and preparing for the afterlife and the tombs were built for the pharaohs as soon as they were crowned, Abdul told us. To see any of the tombs, we were required to board the ‘Disneyland-type’ of electrical train that shuttled us to the entrance for Ramses VI’s tomb a couple of kms away. The good quality of the limestone determined the location of the tombs in this area. Some of the tombs were 175 meters below ground!
The tomb was actually begun for Ramses V and was continued by Ramses VI (1143-1136 BC) with both pharaohs apparently buried there. Shortly after Ramses VI's burial, his tomb was penetrated and ransacked by grave robbers who hacked away at his hands and feet in order to gain access to his jewelry. The creation of his tomb, however, protected Tutankhamun's own intact tomb from grave robbers since debris from its formation was dumped over the tomb entrance to the boy king's tomb.

Extracts from the Book of Gates and the Book of Caverns covered the entrance corridor.

The walls of the chamber were filled with images of Ramses VI with various deities as well as scenes showing the sun god's progress through the night, the gods who helped him and the forces of darkness who tried to stop him reach the dawn.
I was amazed to learn that the walls were adorned with paint that was once poisonous to deter theft and to destroy the workers and their knowledge of these tombs. The vibrancy of the colors was just amazing. I know I have used that word a lot to describe so many other things we have seen and done but it is apt here too.
The stunning black and gold nocturnal landscape on the Book of the Night ceiling showed the sky goddess swallowing the sun each evening to give birth to it each morning in an endless cycle of new life designed to revive the souls of the dead pharaohs. 
Abdul had earlier expressed his belief that it was the best tomb to visit in the Valley of the Kings because all 741 gods were mentioned inside. After seeing it, I could certainly understand why he thought it was so fantastic. 
The guard inside the tomb said I could take photos if I paid him a tip. We said we had 20 Egyptian pounds – about $2.50 – which meant we could only take a few photos! 

Before 2011, we would have had to queue for 30 minutes just to enter the tomb but we had the entire tomb to ourselves. The guard took a lot of photos as he knew the ‘best ones’ to take and even took photos of us too. At that point of course, he wanted more money but we explained we didn’t have any more to give him. He told us we needed to keep it all hush hush as taking photos inside the tombs was certainly supposed to be a no-no.

Ramses VI's tomb was huge and contained many corridors and separate rooms. I so wished that Abdul had been by our side to explain to us what we were seeing because we could really only appreciate the immense size, the fabulous paintings but didn't know what stories they told.
We toured Tutankhamen’s Tomb next. It was the only one found intact with 5,300 items found in it! The tomb is famous for its fabulous treasures, most of which we had seen in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo but it was small and not very imposing. He ruled for only nine years and died young, with no great battles or buildings to his credit. As a result, there was little time to build a tomb. The ‘no camera’ policy was strictly enforced so I have no photos to share.

We were also able to see other tombs but agin the 'no camera' policy was enforced in those too. We then got back on the ‘Disneyland-style’ train to return to the entrance and the air conditioned van. It was 32 degrees out so it was hot wandering around in the mountainous terrain.

The home of Great Britain’s Howard Carter, the most famous Egyptologist:
We took another 'train' to Queen Hatsheput’s tomb. Her name meant 'Foremost of Noble Ladies'  and she was the fifth pharaoh of the 18th dynasty who lived from 1507–1458 BC. Hatsheut was the second historically confirmed female pharaoh. Officially, she ruled jointly with her son, Tutmosis III, who had ascended to the throne the previous year as a child of about two years old. You may recall seeing her face and the record of so many of her achievements had been destroyed by her son when we toured the temples on the East Bank yesterday.
This tree was from Punt, now an area in Somalia, which was the site of Queen Hatshepsut’s famous expedition in 1493 BC.
This exchange between Egypt and Punt brought back living trees to Egypt, marking the first known successful attempt at transplanting foreign fauna.
Hatsheput's Temple of Deir el-Bahri was magnificently situated at the foot of the sheer cliffs fringing the desert hills. The light-colored, almost white, sandstone of the temple stood out prominently against the light brown rocks behind. The temple complex was laid out on three terraces rising from the plain, linked by ramps, which divided it into a northern and a southern half. Along the west side of each terrace was a raised colonnade.

I was able to take photos inside but again was at a loss to figure out what we were seeing as Abdul, like all guides, had had to remain outside.

It was interesting that Queen Hatshepsut had herself represented with the attributes of a male pharaoh (beard and short apron) to demonstrate that she possessed all the authority of a king.

Nearby the immense tomb were the remains of a church constructed during the 2nd century AD. 

En route to our next stop we passed a huge number of alabaster shops. Many of them were closed and, those that were open, had no tourists that we noticed. 
The Mortuary Temple of Rames III at Medinet Habu was an important New Kingdom period structure. Ramses III began to build the temple during the 2nd century BC. The Greco-Roam style columns were added later. He was known as the warrior king so a fortress was found at the entrance to the temple. It was one of the most complete temples.
The king holding a scepter and killing all of Egypt’s enemies:

Rope was tied around the enemies’ necks and their heads were chiseled off.

The Romans and Christians later lived here so there were niches for Christian objects, Abdul explained to us.
The monumental facade:
The king wass again portrayed as killing his enemies:

At the bottom of that huge wall was the list of 124 names of the towns the king had under his control:
On the outside wall in the outer courtyard were hunting scenes:

The rooms belonging to all of Ramses III's mistresses were all lined up together, one directly after another.

The detail in some of the carvings was just exquisite.

The remains of the Christian homes around the walls of the fortress:
We climbed the stairs to the roof where there were over 500 battle scenes depicted. 

In the interior courtyard, the enemies were portrayed upside down.
The very deep inset carvings were only used by Ramses III:
There should be seven statues of Ramses III but one was missing.

Fantastically colored walls and roof in the passageway to the second courtyard:

In this scene, Ramses III was portrayed counting the hands of his enemies!
More detail of that disturbing image:
Abdul explained that the enemies' hands were raised in anticipation of being cut off!
The blue crown was used for war:
The blackened spots were the areas where Christians had lit candles:

The columns that had been here were removed so they could be used for a dam 35 kms away in 1835.
It appears that ancient Egyptians knew about Oscar of the Academy Awards!

What a difference it made that Abdul was able to show us around the immense temple as he was able to point out so many details we would surely have missed. I felt that he brought Ramses III's temple alive to us.
Most of the homes in the area had brightly colored murals on their exteriors.

After leaving the temple about 12:30, we stopped in a local gift shop but nothing caught our fancy.

I quite liked these but there were totally impractical to try and bring home.
Beside the road near Medinet Habu were the famous gigantic statues known as the Colossi of Memnon. Carved out of hard, yellowish-brown sandstone quarried in nearby hills, they represented Amenophis III seated on a cube-shaped throne, and who once stood guard at the entrance to the king's temple. This was all that remained after an earthquake occurred in 27 BC. 

The North Colossus was the famous ‘musical statue’ and brought flocks of visitors here during the Roman Imperial period. Visitors observed that the statue emitted a musical note at sunrise and this gave rise to the myth that Memnon was greeting his mother, Eos, with this soft, plaintive note. The sound ceased to be heard after Emperor Septimus Severus had the upper part of the statue restored in 192 AD.
It was amazing to see all the banana plantations so very close to the temples. We weren’t just touring ancient civilizations isolated from a living society.
Your smile for the day – the most memorable part of our buffet lunch was seeing the toilet paper holders at shoulder height on the wall outside the toilets!
As Khalid drove us next to the Tombs of the Nobles, Abdul explained that this whole area was covered by homes until 2001 when the entire village was relocated to allow for more excavations.
The Valley of the Nobles was less famous than the Valley of the Kings, but actually included much better preserved examples of tomb paintings. The site contained around 400 tombs of various dignitaries that date roughly from the 6th dynasty right up to the Ptolemaic era. We went first to the Tomb of Ramose who was the governor of Thebes aka Luxor during the 18th dynasty, from 1340 BC.
Abdul knew we might be interested in buying a small piece of alabaster and introduced us to Ahmed, an acclaimed artist before we entered the tomb. Ahmed did absolutely beautiful work in limestone but his pieces were much heavier and larger than what we had in mind so we reluctantly said no. 
As Abdul explained, we would have been buying the art and not the stone - quite the sales pitch! When Ahmed said there had been fewer than ten tourists there that day, I wondered how he could sometimes find the will to continue on with his amazing art knowing he likely had no one to sell it to. Too bad this photo is so washed out and doesn't reflect the beauty of his work.
Ramoses' tomb was the largest limestone tomb in the Valley of the Nobles and was the first one that was opened.
Abdul pointed out the very detailed hairstyles.

The tomb displayed scenes of a colorful journey to the afterlife.

The unfinished part of the tomb was painted but not carved.
32 stunning limestone columns supported the tomb's roof.
More exquisitely detailed carving:
Offerings for the gods:

Only five tourists, including us, had been here all day, the guard told Abdul as we entered another tomb. How very sad that more tourists aren’t seeing these fabulous works.
I was thrilled to find out there was no problem taking pictures here. Here are some photos you may enjoy. The first is of barbers!

A massage being given:

Yet another tomb in the Valley of the Kings:
All these tombs were used by Christians as kitchens, etc based on the ceilings being black from smoke, Abdul told us.
Sharing one throne showed the love this couple had for each other.
Our next sight was the Ramesseum, the great mortuary temple belonging to Ramses II. A temple was also added for his mother, Tuy, to use. Although only about half of the original structure survives, it was still a highly impressive monument. During the Roman Imperial period, it was known as the Tomb of Ozymandias mentioned by the historian Diodorus (1st century BC). It was later immortalized by the English poet Shelley in his poem 'Ozymandias.'
The statue of Ramses II was 21 meters high and weighed 1,000 tons, Abdul said, before an earthquake destroyed it. 

Since it was so unusual seeing any trees or vegetation near the temples, I asked Abdul what tree this was beside the massive statue and he said it was an acacia tree. When I was growing up in Ottawa, there had been a street of the same name but I had never known it was a type of tree until we saw this one near Luxor!
What remains of poor Ramses II!
Abdul mentioned that 1,760 names, i.e. graffiti, were carved in the limestone columns. Remember seeing this same fellow's graffiti at one of the other sites?! I wonder who had had the unenviable job counting all the graffiti!

In the Hypsostyle Hall, there were a dozen large columns and three dozen smaller ones representing the Egyptian zodiac that was depicted on the roof. Some of the columns were either stolen or damaged in the earthquake.
For the first time, the storerooms were dome shaped and mud bricked.

Just a few yards away from the complex, we could hear kids playing in the nearby homes - what a backyard to be growing up in!

The pink granite stone from 1258 BC showed signs of a peace treaty between Ramses II and the Hitites at Qadesh, Abdul told us. 
Scenes here portrayed Ramses in his chariot dashing against the Hittites, who were killed by his arrows or fled in wild confusion and fell into the River Orontes. 
As we left Ramesseum, we saw an armed guard by a tourist van and asked Abdul about it. He said the guard was with a group of French tourists as the French government had told their people that it wasn’t ‘safe’ to come to Egypt. I wonder what the rationale was for the travel advisory as we felt totally safe the whole time and had no concerns whatsoever even meandering the streets of Cairo by ourselves. He said that there had been no Russian tourists either since October of last year. In the past, there had been three million a year. Abdul said he and others in the tourist businesses were hoping that Russia would waive their travel ban in November. 

After the dry desert conditions of the tombs in the Valley of the Kings, seeing the lush vegetation here was a very welcome change of scene. Abdul explained that since we were pretty close to the Nile here, the land was irrigated.
It was about 3:45 as we drove next to the Valley of the Queens. On the way, Abdul told us that Egypt’s population is now at 90 million people. Steven told him that the man who had picked us up at the airport in Cairo and taken us to our hotel in Giza, had said he had two wives. We didn’t know whether he was joking or serious so he asked Abdul whether Egyptian men were polygamous. I could hardly believe it when he said that 45 percent of men have two wives! He said that his own father had two wives too. I guess no Egyptian women have two husbands!
Abdul explained that these workers’ homes have recently shut down because more tombs will be open to tourists soon here. 
Abdul shared that close to 100 tombs had been discovered in the Valley of the Queens, most of them excavated by an Italian expedition led by E. Schiaparelli between 1903 and 1905. Only three were now open to tourists: two for Ramses II’s sons and one for his wife. Many of the tombs are unfinished and aren't decorated, resembling mere caves in the rocks. They have few incised inscriptions or reliefs, with much of the decoration consisting of paintings on stucco. 

The tombs’ gates would be unopened, we were advised, if we offered money to the guards. I believe this was because we arrived so late and they were about to leave for the day so they reluctantly agreed to stay behind for us. 
Abdul recommended I wait til the last tomb to take photos rather than taking any in the first two tombs as they were not as special, he said. That way I would not incur a 'camera fee' in all three. I followed his advice since I figured he knew what he was talking about!

The first tomb was built for Ramses III’s son, Amen Khopshef who died when he was only six months of age. The second tomb we saw was the Tomb of Titi. Though archeologists aren’t positive what position Titi held within the Rames’ royal court, they believe that she may have been a wife of Ramesses III or she may have also been his daughter! One intriguing feature of the tomb is the way in which Titi was depicted. In some scenes, such as those on the front wall of one of the rear chambers, she was a young girl wearing the costume and braided hair style of a teenager. Then, in another, she was represented as a middle aged woman, dressed more conservatively and with a hint of makeup. These sorts of representations were not common in Egyptian art, and the contrast between the younger woman and the older one were striking.
The third one was known as the Tomb of Prince Khaemwaset and was considered one of the most beautiful tombs in the Valley. Khaemwaset was the fourth son of Ramesses II and the second son by his queen Isetnofret. He was by far the best known son of Ramesses II, and his contributions to Egyptian society were remembered for centuries after his death. Khaemweset has been described as ‘the first Egyptologist’ due to his efforts in identifying and restoring historic buildings, tombs and temples.

This was the first time we had seen the pale turquoise and yellow colors used in any of the tombs. We were so very happy that we had gotten there just in time to see the sheer beauty of that tomb.
The guard removed his headdress and placed it on my head and took my picture – what an honor!

The same guard who was so friendly in the last tomb and had taken my photo, offered me a ride down the hill on the back of his motorcycle as we were the last tourists of the day. Do you think I said no? Not a chance! Abdul was as surprised as I as he said he had never seen a guard offering a ride to any tourist in all his visits to these tombs. 
What a charge it was riding past the tombs down the hills! The only other time I was on a motorcycle in the last 50 years was last fall in Yangon, Myanmar. I wonder where I might be if and when I take another motorcycle ride.
To say we were 'templed out' at the end of the day was a bit of an understatement! We had started early and went at a pretty breakneck pace all day long to see all that we did. My takeaway for the day was the fabulous breadth and depth of tomb paintings and carvings and how very different each of the tombs we saw had been. I wish I felt this post better reflected the magic of the tombs on Luxor's West Bank.

Posted from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia on November 11th, 2016.


  1. I am so mad at you and dad😡😡😡😡😠😠😠😠😛😛😛😛😛😗😗😗😗 as why you decided to have me and the others grow in Littleton and not here!!


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