Egypt 5: The Valley of the Kings
We (most of us) got up early so we could get to the Valley of the Kings by dawn. The hot-air balloons go up early in the day so the air isn't too warm. We were picked up at the boat by the balloon team and driven to a ferry so we could cross the Nile, since the boat was tied up on the east bank and the Valley is on the west.
I'd never seen balloons being inflated before. The whole experience was cool, and then we got into our balloon and it became magical.
Here comes the sun!
The videographer from the boat.
Green of the Nile valley, brown of the desert
Balloons drifting toward the river
The Mortuary Temple of Hatshepsut at Deir el Bahari, where we would go later in the day.
Chickens on a rooftop
Work continues on excavations. Here, workers pass rubble down the line.
Parking lot for the excavation crew.
They waved at us as we drifted over. Everyone was happy to see tourists.
A sign to the balloonists!
The balloon starting area
Karnak in the distance.
Mist on the Nile
A tomb entrance, one of a noble
The house where Howard Carter lived.
The Valley ... you can see how tomb entrances could be easily lost.
The abrupt edge between Nile valley and desert.
Balloon down, and recovery truck
A balloon landing
Our balloon being deflated
We met up with those of the group who hadn't ballooned with us and went to Hatshepsut's Temple complex.
This is an astonishingly beautiful building. One of the group was reminded of Petra, in Jordan.
This is the entrance to a priest's burial chamber
A sphinx, one of a lost avenue
A tiny lion head
Hatshepsut is always depicted with all the trappings of kingship, including the beard.
A gate with Horus
Driving back to the Valley proper we stopped briefly to look at the Colossi of Memnon.
Then we went into the Valley of the Kings.
Our tickets were for any three tombs, and our guide picked out three for us so we could see the evolution of the artwork: Rameses IV (buried 1161 BC), Rameses IX (buried 1123 BC), and Merenpth (buried in 1215 BC). Guides aren't allowed to talk inside the tombs, so Yasser told us what to look for before we went in and then answered questions after we came out. No pictures allowed inside! Both of these policies are intended to keep people moving through the tombs so that more people can see them.
Rameses IV's tomb was discovered early - Champolion stayed there in 1828. The walls have Christian graffiti from its brief use as a church, but are wonderfully and vibrantly painted. Rameses IX's tomb has splendid ceiling paintings of baboons and the solar disk, and of the caverns from the Book of the Dead. Merenpth's tomb has his sarcophagus (though not mummy) - a figure of the king in pink granite is on the lid. The walls show many painted carvings of the king interacting with Osiris, Ptah, Ra, Horakhty, and Anubis.
Tut's tomb is extra, and we went there, too, of course.
Of course, all the stuff from Tut's tomb is in the museum in Cairo (soon the new one in Giza), but the walls in the burial chamber are still fabulous. One shows Hathor giving him the Key of Life while Anubis watches; another shows the hours of the night as baboons while the sun barque, with Osiris, sails towards five standing gods, including Isis, Nut, and Horus. Tut's tomb is actually quite small and mostly undecorated, and is thought to have been meant for someone else, probably a noble, given his unexpected death at such a young age. In this connection, many of the golden objects, including his mask, apparently were made for for Neferneferuaten (Nefertiti), a female king who had a very short reign at the end of the Amarna period of the Eighteenth Dynasty (the heretical reign of Ankhenaten that ended with Tut's ascension to the throne) and used for his sudden burial, while her body was buried in a queen's tomb or somewhere still unlocated. Our guide says that there is a current suggestion from a European archaelogist that Nefertiti's tomb is behind a wall in Tut's - but nobody wants to break down one of those beautiful walls on an off-chance.
Some interesting facts about these tombs: they were constructed for the kings of the Seventeenth through Twentieth Dynasties, 16th to 11th centuries BC. Influential nobles are also buried here, despite its current name. The largest tomb yet found is for the sons of Rameses II (he had at least 52, not all of whom are buried here). Tombs were begun when the king took the throne and work basically stopped when he died, thus several of the tombs are quite small (such as that of Mentuherkhepeshef) and others not completely decorated (such as Rameses IX). When the king died and the priests began the mummification process, there were 70 days before he was buried; anything that couldn't be done in that time frame just wasn't. Hastily painted walls might take the place of carvings, as the king would need the images to guide him to the next world and sloppy was better than missing. Once a king was buried, the entrance to the tomb was covered in rubble and the location would be lost in the red rocks of the desert. Several of the tombs discovered by archaeologists actually broke the walls of an older one; sometimes this meant they abandoned that tomb and sometimes they bent the tunnel of the new one.
Driving out of the Valley we stopped briefly at the Colossi of Memnon. We passed an active dig on the way - very cool to see them working.
A Russian tour bus in the Colossi parking lot.
On the way back we stopped at an alabaster "factory" - everything is made by hand. We got a demonstration and then wandered around the factory spending money. I bought three little statues: two of Bast in malachite and lapis lazuli and a scarab in alabaster. They had a lot of wonderful jars and statues, but I'm running out of room at home!
The boat left Luxor that evening and headed up the river to Edfu.