Into the Valley of the Kings

Down in Ramesses’ tomb

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.

The site is located in the southern part of Egypt just a short distance from the Nile River
We took a little tram to get to the front entrance
Time to get off
Front entrance to the tombs
Heading into the site
Layout of the tombs in the Valley of the Kings

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 entrance to the tomb of Tutankhamen

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.

Very well restored inside
The burial chamber is ahead
The sarcophagus was one of the largest in the valley
Looking up at images of the goddess Nut stretched across the blue ceiling over the sarcophagus (the shadow at the bottom)
The images on the walls were scenes from important Egyptian texts such as Litany of Ra and the Book of the Dead

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.

Heading down
Note the ceiling with rows of stars painted to emulate the night sky. We noticed this was a common theme in the tombs in Egypt

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.

Going down to where the sarcophagus would be if it were there
Some areas were off limits as the tomb is only partially excavated

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.

Kim in the lead heading towards the tomb
Although it says “no photo” they really only banned SLR cameras from being used inside, likely because of flashes. Phone cameras were permitted everywhere inside
Heading down
So many details on the walls

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.

Outer sarcophagus lid
The outer sarcophagus box. Not much has survived from the original
This is the lid of the second sarcophagus. As large as it was, it would have fit inside the previous one
Hieroglyphs etched into the side of the sarcophagus lid

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.

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