During our trip to Egypt we did a side trip with our guide to the Valley of the Kings, located a short distance from Luxor. A tourist site since ancient Roman times, it was the main site of the tombs of the pharaohs for a period of nearly 500 years.
When I was a kid, my father took me to see a special exhibition at the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO). It was an exhibit of the treasures of Tutankhamen’s tomb including his golden mask. At the time I also read about the experiences of Howard Carter and Lord Carnarvon finding Tutankhamen’s tomb, so the actual site of his tomb was a place I wanted to visit for a long time. Oddly enough I didn’t end up going inside Tutankhamen’s tomb, but the trip was very worthwhile.
In the Valley of the Kings, all of the tombs are numbered along with the letters “KV”for King’s Valley. So we visited Ramesses IV (KV2), Ramesses III (KV11) and Merenptah (KV8). In 1827 a British Egyptologist named John Gardner Wilkinson painted numbers over each one while doing research on them. The numbering system stuck and continued long after his death as new tombs were discovered. There are over 60 tombs in the valley with the last one being discovered in 2012; however, only a small number of them are open to the public.
We passed by the tomb of the most famous of pharaohs, the one built for Tutankhamen. We didn’t visit it as it was very crowded, cost extra, and according to our guide it was far less interesting inside compared with the other tombs. Although his treasures were great, his tomb was a small and relatively simple one.
The first tomb we visited was the one dedicated to Ramesses IV. He was a pharaoh during the New Kingdom period and had a short but ambitious reign. His tomb was one of the first to be found and has been a tourist attraction since antiquity.
Apparently this tomb had the second highest quantity of graffiti found inside with over 600 examples coming from ancient Greek and Roman times. There is even strong evidence that Coptic monks lived inside at one point.
The next pharaoh we did was closely related to the first one. Ramesses III was the father of Ramesses IV and ruled for over 30 years during a time when Egypt was constantly under attack by various groups. He was called the “warrior Pharaoh” because of his military strategies and was likely assassinated by one of his wives in a palace plot to take the throne. Sometimes called the last great pharaoh of Egypt, the country’s finances were exhausted by the end of his reign and contributed to the decline of the Egyptian empire.
Although the tomb was well decorated, there was no sarcophagus in this one as the lid is in Cambridge and the sarcophagus itself is in the Louvre! The mummy, however, is in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo and was rumoured to be the visual inspiration for Boris Karloff’s character in the original The Mummy.
The third tomb we visited belong to Merenptah, a pharaoh who ruled from 1213-1203 BC. His father was Ramesses II, considered the greatest of the New Kingdom pharaohs.
One of the unique things about Merenptah’s tomb is that he had the largest sarcophagus of all of the pharaohs. This was because there were four of them, each smaller than the last one–very similar to Russian nesting dolls.
The Valley of the Kings was an incredible place. It brought tourists to the area thousands of years ago and is still a great draw for tourists today. It was busy and crowded but with a little patience it was quite navigable. We found the history fascinating along with the chance to see some impressive engineering achievements from a very long time ago.