Along with the astonishing knowledge used to build such wonders as the pyramids at Giza, ancient Egypt possessed a mystical culture – a culture that valued the passage of the soul to an afterlife. In order to reach this afterlife, the physical body had to be protected and preserved, and lavish tombs were constructed for those who could afford the privilege to help guide the spirit to the underworld. Most people recognize the pyramids as royal tombs, but many kings ofancient Egypt were not buried in such noticeable structures. Tomb raiding is always an issue for cultures determined to load their tombs with gold and riches as the Egyptians did. Most kings and queens were buried in the more discreet Valley of the Kings Egypt temples.
Located on the west bank of the Nile river across from Luxor, the Valley of the Kings was used as a royal burial ground for 500 years, approximately from the sixteenth century BC to the eleventh. At least sixty-three tombs of pharaohs, nobles, and queens dot the Valley of the Kings. Tombs here are cut into rock, often proceeding back into the rock for a long distance, but barely visible at the surface. The interiors are excellent examples of ancient Egypt architecture using a pyramid-like shape as the rooms get progressively smaller. The paintings and bas reliefs decorating the walls of the tombs further illustrate ancient Egypt architecture.
Tutankhamun’s (King Tut) tomb is in the Valley of the Kings, but although the tomb is probably the most well-known in all of Egypt, the actual location is not as impressive as visitors might expect. The contents of the tomb have been relocated to the Egyptian Museum inCairo, and the relatively small tomb is not as impressive as most of its neighbors. It’s impossible to visit all the tombs, so doing some research ahead of time can pay off. The tomb of Seti I is the longest in the valley and contains remarkably preserved wall art, and the tombs of Amenophis II and Tuthmosis IV are also great bets for an interesting visit. Still, tombs are frequently closed for maintenance so expect changes to your plans.
Aside from the culture of ancient Egypt, the Valley of the Kings also touches on other cultures of the ancient world. Tourists have been visiting this location for over a thousand years and often left their mark – over 2,100 instances of graffiti were left behind, most in the tomb of Ramses VI.
A taxi from Luxor is the easiest way to get to the tombs. While the people of ancient Egypt toiled away in the sun to build the tombs, for most modern visitors the Valley of the Kings is quite hot. This is not a religious site so there is no need to worry about covering shoulders or your head, but don’t leave too much skin exposed either. The sun is intense; bring water or money to buy it and wear sunscreen. Inside the tombs can also be hot. Visiting the valley during the fall, spring, or winter, and as early in the day as possible, is best.
Whether you are interested in ancient Egypt architecture, tombs, or
artwork, you can find all these things in the Valley of the Kings.
Egypt: Valley of the Kings Plans – Tombs of the Kings
The Valley of the Kings, is situated about two miles inland from the edge of the valley. A tarmac road makes the distance seem short. Before its construction a visitor had a sense of the arid remoteness of the site chosen
by the Pharaohs of the 18th, 19th and 20th Dynasties for their tombs. There are over sixty in the valley of the Kings.
The Pharaohs of the New Kingdom, as already explained, chose to separate their tombs from their mortuary temples as a safeguard against pillage, and to burrow through solid rock in an effort to ensure eternal seclusion. The actual tomb design was relatively uniform, differing only in length and in the number of chambers. There were usually three corridors, one following the other, leading to the inner chambers. High up on the walls of the second corridor were sometimes oblong recesses for the reception of the furniture and effects of the deceased. Alternatively other recesses or chambers were provided at the end of the third corridor for the same purpose. At the end of the third corridor was a door leading to an ante-chamber; the main hall or tomb chamber lay beyond. The roof of the tomb chamber was often supported by pillars and
small chambers led off it. In the center or to the rear was a crypt containing the sarcophagus, usually of red sandstone.
A shaft, sometimes dropping to a depth of over six meters, was a feature of several tombs. Whether this was designed to discourage possible grave-robbers from proceeding further is not sure, though there are positive indications that this was their purpose; for example, the representations on the upper walls of the pit shaft were usually left unfinished with the outer frame of decoration missing, where as the chambers beyond the shaft were fully decorated. Another theory is that the shaft was for the drainage of rain-water; though rain is not common in Egypt the tomb designers may well have taken precautions against the possibility of seepage.
The concern of the Pharaoh was not with his death, which was inevitable, but that his journey to the hereafter should be as smooth as possible. There was no apprehension, no fear. Man continued lite after death in much the same manner as he had lived on earth, so long as the necessities for his existence were provided, safe-guards were taken to prevent his body from decay, and the religious formulas were scrupulously followed.
In the Middle Kingdom the religious formulas by which the dead were to triumph had been recorded both inside and outside the sarcophagus. Gradually the texts were elaborated and scrolls of papyrus were placed in the coffin as well. Enlarged over the years these gradually became uniform and the nucleus of what has
become known as the Book of the Dead.
The rock-hewn passages and chambers represent stages in the journey to the underworld, which was supposedly divided into twelve hours or caverns. The deceased sailed through them at night in the boat of the Sun God – in fact actually absorbed by him- and representations on the first corridors of the tombs often show the ram-headed Sun God surrounded by his retinue who are standing in a boat and temporarily bringing light to the places he -traverses. As they pass from one leg of the journey to another they have to go through massive gates, each guarded by huge serpents. These chapters of the formula are known as the Book of the Gates.
The forward corridors were generally devoted to Praises of Ra – hymns to be sung and illustrations of the ceremonies to be performed before the statue of the deceased Pharaoh to imbue it with eternal life. And finally the deceased reached the judgement seat of Osiris, King of the Underworld.
Osiris, the creator of law and agriculture, had once ruled on earth. With his wife and sister Isis at his side he had been a just and much loved ruler who was slain by his jealous brother Set. Set, as the myth goes, conspired against Osiris and at a banquet persuaded him to enter a chest which was then scaled and thrown into the Nile. It was carried down to the sea. The broken-hearted Isis wandered far and wide in tortured misery seeking the body of her loved one. Accompanied on her sad mission by the goddess Nephthys she eventually found the body entangled in a tamarisk bush in the marshes of the delta . She hid the body, but Set, out boar-hunting, found it and cut it into fourteen pieces, scattering it in all directions. Isis continued her mission, collected the pieces (at each spot a monument was erected, which accounts for the widespread myth) and sought the help of the jackal-god Anubis, who became god of embalmment , to prepare it for the netherworld. While he carried out her orders Isis wept and prayed and drew near her dead lord “making a shadow with her pinions and causing a wind with her wings… raising the weary limbs of the silent-hearted (dead), receiving his seed,and bringing forth an heir”
Isis, the myth continues, raised her son Horus in the marshes until he was strong enough to avenge his father’s death by slaying Set. He then set out to seek his father and raise him from the dead. The risen Osiris, however, could no longer reign in the kingdom on earth and now became king of the underworld where, with Isis still at his side, he ruled below with the same justice as he had exercised above. Horus took over the throne of his father on earth.
On the walls of the tomb chamber, or in the rear corridors,are dramatic representations of the dangers carefully guarded against: enemies withdrawing the breath from the nostrils of the deceased; water bursting into flame as he drinks; foes robbing him of his throne, his organs and, worst of all, his very name, which would thus deprive him forever of his identity.
The tombs in the Valley of the Kings, which are guidebooks to the hereafter, give us an insight into the hopes, expectations and fears of the living Pharaoh. Very soon after his coronation he must have ordered the construction of these usually vast complexes. His artists made initial sketches on the walls. His artisans began to turn out the 403 Shawabti (little statues bearing the implements of labor and usually put in big wooden boxes in the tomb to save the Pharaoh from tedious work in the hereafter). Funerary furniture was designed and made. And since secrecy was vital, only the workers from the city at Deir el Medina toiled on the tombs and only the Pharaoh himself and the high priests knew the actual site.
It is probable that the priests actually possessed an architectural plan or blue print for the construction of tombs in the valley. Though none has ever been found , one cannot believe that a people capable of placing an obelisk of solid granite upright on a small rectangular base, of planning irrigation canals, and, with their obsession for accuracy, of dividing the year nearly 4000 years B.C. into 365 days and thus forming the basis of the calendar we use today, that such a people would hazard a guess about that most vital decision : where to dig a Pharaoh’s tomb. Admittedly the first corridor of the tomb of Ramses III actually breaks through into
another tomb-that of Amen-mesis, one of the pretenders to the throne at the end of the 19th Dynasty – and is consequently diverted and continued to the right. While this might indicate the absence of any blueprint it may equally be the exception that proves the rule.
What a sad tum of fate that, despite the remoteness of the site, enforced secrecy, complexity of structure and diversion shafts, the tombs were robbed from earliest times! In fact they were probably penetrated soon after they were sealed. Lust for gold, though the main, was not the only reason for their violation. The sacred corridors were also penetrated by enemies of the Pharaoh who wanted to prevent him from continuing his rule in the hereafter. There has been vicious mutilation of some of the mummies. Ramses VI, for example, when unwrapped after having been found hidden in the tomb of Amenhotep II, was discovered to have been
literally hacked to pieces.
On the sarcophagi of Seti I and Ramses II are records of a century and a half of persistent effort by the priests to safeguard the royal mummies. Ramses II was first taken from his own tomb to that of his father Seti I. Later he was hidden in the tomb of Queen Inhapi . And finally he was placed in the shaft at Deir el Bahri. In
their haste to re-wrap and hide the mummies, the priests sometimes failed to take the necessary precautions; in the wrappings of Ramses I the body of an old lady was found! This was no isolated instance.
As we pass along the corridors of the violated tombs we wonder to what happy stroke of fortune we owe the preservation of one single tomb left intact. We wonder why the first robbers of Tutankhamun‘s tomb- and there are indications that it had been opened and re-sealed, never went hack to complete the job. When
Ramses VI had his tomb constructed above that of Tutankhamun the rubble undoubtedly fell and obliterated the latter’s, but that was over a century later. Whatever the reason, it is thanks to the preservation of the tomb of Tutankhamun that we know the story of the lavish splendor, the artistic merit and the able craftsmanship of the 18th Dynasty. And if this was the tomb of Egypt’s youngest, and one of its least significant monarchs, what unimaginable treasures must have been stolen from the tombs of Amenhotep the Magnificent , Ramses II who loved size and splendor, Seti I who encouraged an artistic revival, and Ramses III who was known as
the ‘Wealthiest of Pharaohs’.