The ancient Egyptians built massive and elaborate tombs for themselves. The most famous site is the Valley of the Kings which is a long narrow defile situated on the River Nile’s west bank in Upper Egypt. It was once part of the ancient city of Thebes (modern town of Luxor) and acted as a burial site for almost all the Pharaohs (kings) between the 18th-20th dynasties (1539-1075 BCE). To date there have been 62 tombs found in the hills behind Dayr al-Bahri and since 1979 they have been a part of the World Heritage site of ancient Thebes.
This geographical location behind Dayr al-Bahri hills was sought by the kings as they feared that their burial sites would be robbed. As a result, they developed a new way of concealing their tombs by building within the natural structure of the lonely valley . The valley, during Egypt’s New Kingdom (1539-1075 BC), became a royal burial ground not only for Pharaohs such as Tutankhamen and Ramses II but also for queens, priests and other high-ranking members of Egyptian society. As a result, one gets a feeling or an awareness that this site holds centuries of and centuries of important, life-changing and impactful figures. This in conjunction with the sacredness of the place rendered all visitors mute out of respect and quite possibly out of wonder. This meant that you could enjoy your visit, take in its splendour, without the loud, excited chatter of the tourists.
Sadly we weren’t allowed to take pictures whilst at the Valley of the Kings – all cameras had to be left at the entrance. The valley is often called ‘the gateway to the afterlife’, whilst I think this is true – the Egyptians clearly took a lot of care in preparing themselves for death – I think the valley would be more correctly termed as a window into the past. The decorative hieroglyphics and objects found in the tombs give a glimpse of the Pharaohs’ true lives, beliefs, experiences and characteristics which is overwhelming, extraordinary and exhilarating all at the same time.
The structure of the tombs varies according to which Pharaoh was buried there but all consist of a descending corridor that has deep shafts, chambers or vestibules jutting off on each side with the intent to confound potential robbers. At the farthest end of the corridor is the burial chamber that consists of a stone sarcophagus in which the royal mummy was laid.
Each tomb is filled with elaborate preparations for the next life in which humans believed they would be rewarded with continuing life whilst Pharaohs expected to become equals with the gods. Within the tombs there were mummified bodies which ancient Egyptians believed would preserve the bodies so that their eternal soul would be able to resurrect in the afterlife, and materials and objects that the Pharaohs believed they would need in their next life. In Tutankhamen’s tomb there were golden masks found that have become synonymous with King Tut’s facial appearance. However, these objects and mummified bodies are no longer in the tombs but can be found in Cairo museum (also worth visiting).
However, I felt that the most impressive element of these tombs were the walls. In many cases they were covered with painted scenes depicting the dead Pharaoh in the presence of deities and illustrated magical texts designed to help him on his journey to the next world. Considering these were painted thousands and thousands of years ago, the array of rich and vibrant gold, blue, red and yellow that survives is confounding – how such beauty has remained I will never know! There are of course areas that have started to fade or in King Tut’s tomb mould but on the whole it allows the imagination of the visitor to run wild as you walk deeper and deeper into the past.
During the summer the Valley of the Kings experiences swarms of visitors. As a result, the order in which the tombs are visited varies according to the waiting time. Visitors also cannot just pop into a tomb as they are repeatedly opened and closed to try and help preserve the wall paintings. Despite this, it is a site worth visiting as a lot of the tombs are open to visitors, including some of the largest and wonderfully vibrant, detailed tombs:
– Tomb of Ramses VII (Tomb 1)
– Tomb of Ramses IV (2)
– Tomb of Ramses IX (6)
– Tomb of Ramses II (7)
– Tomb of Merneptah (8)
– Tomb of Ramses VI (9)
– Tomb of Ramses III (11)
– Tomb of Ramses I (16)
– Tomb of Tuthmosis III (34)
– Tomb of Amenophis II (35)
– Tomb of Tutankhamen (62)