Day 5: Valley of the Queens & Valley of the Kings

First we visited the Valley of the Queens, on the Western bank of the Nile in Luxor, where the wives of pharaohs were buried along with many of their children and other nobles. We headed straight to our our guide’s favorite tomb in Egypt, notable for the excellent condition of the hieroglyphs inside: the tomb of Khaemwaset.  He was the son of Ramses III of the 20th dynasty (reigned 1186-1155 BC) and was the heir apparent until one of his stepmothers murdered him for the succession by stabbing him with a poison dagger.  According to our guide, the subsequent trial became the first recorded in history with a judge, a jury, and lengthy deliberations led by lawyers representing both sides.  Of course, the woman was convicted and sentenced to execution. The papyrus record is now in the Boston Museum of Fine Art.  Khaemwaset was nine years old when he died, which means his tomb is often referred to as “the tomb of the baby.” According to pharaonic tradition, royal boys were buried with or near their mothers in the Valley of the Queens if they died before the age of 16.  After 16 they would be interred in the Valley of the Kings as men of the royal household.  Khaemwaset’s tomb paintings depict his journey to the afterlife and his role as first son of the Pharaoh, fanning his father with a long ostrich feather fan.  None of the treasures with which Khaemwaset was buried remain in his tomb, as much of it was looted over the years.  The archaeologist who excavated the tomb in 1904, Ernesto Schiaparelli, apparently sold Khaemwaset’s mummy for 7 Egyptian pounds. You can imagine that many of the other pieces did not fare as well.  To preserve the color, we were not allowed to take pictures, so I had to do some snooping on the net.

As much as I would have loved to see the tombs of the Egyptian queens, we were running on a tight tour schedule, so we headed to the Valley of the Kings.  From the bus, we could see the tombs of Nubian nobles carved up on the hill.  They are a commanding sight, even if they are not nearly as much of a tourist attraction as the pharaonic tombs in the same area.  Over 550 individual Nubian tombs have been discovered on Luxor’s west bank.

First we saw the tomb of Ramses I.  The hieroglyphs inside are known as the Book of the Gates because they concern Ramses I’s journey into the afterlife and the many gates through which he had to pass.  In one fresco, 12 women represent the 12 hours in the day, above which are written the prayers which the king must recite each hour and below which is a poisonous snake, warning him of his fate should he take his duties lightly.

Next we saw the tomb of Ramses III, which started with a sloping corridor covered in hieroglyphs, from which eight store rooms branch off.  Inside each are depictions of the supplies the pharaoh would have taken into the afterlife. Imagine these rooms like massive suitcases which the pharaoh would stock with everything he might want or need for his future happiness and pleasure.  The first room on the right had boats with bright yellow hulls and red, blue, and white checkerboard sails.  Other rooms contained anything from perfumes, jars of beverages, a folding bed, chairs, fans, chariots, and even mummified bread.  Yup!  These geniuses of the ancient world figured out how to mummify the yeast itself.  Our guide said (I haven’t yet found documentation of this) that in 2009 scientists took some of that bread, added flour and water, and the yeast came back to life.  Pretty darn cool.

Unfortunately, the final few chambers of this tomb were severely damaged—so much so that they looked like an ancient parking garage, with only the faint head of Anubis painted on the left to remind us that this was once a splendid burial chamber.

Last we entered the tomb of Ramses IV, referred to by our guide as “the pharaonic Sistine Chapel.”  The colors were blindingly vivid throughout, from the hieroglyphs telling the story of Ramses IV’s life in painted and carved characters, to the massive ceiling piece of the goddesses of the heavens done in pristine yellowish gold and cobalt blue with black outlines, keeping watch over the massive sarcophagus still inside the tomb.     Like some of the temples we had visited, the final rooms of this tomb had Coptic graffiti, as this was one of the places where Copts practiced their religion under Roman persecution.

Next we went to Hatshepsut’s funeral temple, which I will detail in the next post.

at the entrance to the valley of the kings, trying to match the severity of the landscape

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