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.
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.
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.
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 Romans and Christians later lived here so there were niches for Christian objects, Abdul explained to us.
The very deep inset carvings were only used by Ramses III:
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:
It appears that ancient Egyptians knew about Oscar of the Academy Awards!
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.
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.
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!
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!
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.
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.
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.