– SEPTEMBER 07, 2015
We are on the final day of our Nile cruise. We docked early this morning (at 5am) and after a beautiful breakfast we packed our bags and loaded everything up into a shuttle bus for the day’s journey. After our sights today we will get dropped off at our Luxor hotel for the next few days of further sight-seeing in Luxor. First up is the Valley of the Kings.
Nestled in the cliffs on the west bank of the Nile at Luxor, the isolated Valley of the Kings is home to the tombs of the great pharaohs of the New Kingdom (1550 – 1070 BC). They are hidden within a wadi (or valley) formed over millennia by rainfall and water runoff. The first known pharaoh known for certain to have built a tomb within the valley was Hatshepsut, although many Egyptologists believe that Thutmose I was the first to locate his tomb here.
The Valley of the Kings is divided into two main branches: the more famous East Valley and the West Valley. Steep cliffs define the latter’s topography, in which only 3 tombs have been found including the Tomb of Ay (KV 23). The eastern valley, covering 2 hectares, resembles a hand with splayed fingers. To the south, towering over the valley, is a peak shaped like a pyramid, known as el-Qurn (the horn). Archaeologists believe that this natural feature influenced the choice of this site for the royal tombs.
There are 63 known tombs in the valley, 26 carved for kings and the others granted to royal family members or the highest of the elite. Of these, fifteen have been open to the public on a rotating basis (we were only allowed to see four on this day): Ramesses I, Ramesses III, Ramesses IV, Ramesses V/VI, Ramesses VII, Ramesses IX, Seti II, Siptah, Merenptah, Thutmose III, Thutmose IV, Mentuherkhepshef, Tausret/Sethnakht, Ay, and Tutankhamun. They were carved out of the cliffs as long shafts, heading deep underground and terminating in elaborate burial chambers. The tombs are decorated from top to bottom with religious images and texts from the netherworld books, designed to aid the journey of the king to the afterlife.
Many famous adventurers and archaeologists have explored the valley, including engineer and circus strongman Giovanni Belzoni, and artist/Egyptologist Howard Carter, who is famous for finding the tomb of Tutankhamun in 1922.
KV2 – Ramesses IV
A hieratic ostracon has been discovered mentioning the founding of the tomb, its place selected by the local Governor and two of the pharaoh’s chief attendants in the second year of his reign. Ramesses IV ascended the throne late in life, and to ensure that he would have a sizable tomb (during what would be a relatively brief reign of about six years), he doubled the size of the existing work gangs at Deir-el-Medina to a total of 120 men. Though sizable, KV2 has been described as being “simplistic” in its design and decoration. The tomb was excavated at the base of a hill on the northwest side of the Valley of the Kings.
Like other tombs of the 20th Dynasty, KV2 is laid out along a straight axis. The successors of Ramesses III from this dynasty constructed tombs that follow this pattern and most were decorated in a similar manner to each other.
The tomb has a maximum length of 88.66 m and consists of three slowly descending corridors. This is followed by an enlarged chamber and then the burial chamber. Past the burial chamber lies a narrow corridor flanked by three side chambers.
KV 6 – Ramesses IX
Tomb KV6 was the final resting place of the20th dynasty Pharaoh Ramesses IX. However, the archaeological evidence and the quality of decoration it contains indicates that the tomb was not finished in time for Ramesses’s death but was hastily rushed through to completion, many corners being cut, following his demise.
It is located in the central part of the Valley. Its unusually wide entrance stands between, and slightly above, those of two other tombs. Running a total distance of 105 metres into the hillside, the tomb begins with a gate and a shallow descending ramp. Following on from the ramp come three successive stretches of corridor. The first of these has four side chambers – two on each side – but none of these are decorated or finished.
At the end of the corridors come three chambers. The first of these is decorated with the Opening of the Mouth ritual, and it is possible that a well shaft would have been dug here had the builders been afforded more time. The second chamber contains four large columns, but neither the stonecutting nor the decoration work were completed. At the far end of this chamber, a ramp slows down to the actual burial chamber, where the pharaoh’s sarcophagus was placed (the floor has a rectangular section carved out to accommodate it). The ceiling is vaulted, and is decorated with splendid pictures of the goddess Nut. The side walls show scenes from the Book of Caverns and the Book of the Earth. The far wall depicts Ramses on his barque, surrounded by a host of gods. The yellows, dark blues, and blacks used to decorate this chamber are visually striking and unusual among the tomb decorations in the Valley. While the sarcophagus itself has long since vanished, Ramesses IX’s mummy was one of those found elsewhere. KV6 has been open since antiquity, as can be seen by the graffiti left on its walls by Roman and Coptic visitors.
KV 8 – Merenptah
Tomb KV8 was used for the burial of Pharaoh Merenptah of Ancient Egypt’s 19th Dynasty. The burial chamber, located at the end of 160 metres of corridor, originally held a set of four nested sarcophagi. The outer one of these was so voluminous that parts of the corridor had to have their doorjambs demolished and rebuilt to allow it to be brought in. These jambs were then rebuilt with the help of inscribed sandstone blocks which were then fixed into their place with dovetail cramps. The pillars in Chamber F were removed to allow passage of the sacrophagus, only two were replaced. The other two pillars may have been stolen by Paneb, a worker in the craftsman’s village (Deir el Medina), for use in his own tomb.
KV 62 – Tut Ankh Amen (King Tut)
KV 62 is the standard Egyptological designation for the tomb of the young pharaoh Tutankhamon in the Valley of the Kings, now renowned for the wealth of treasure it contained. The tomb was discovered in 1922 by Howard Carter, underneath the remains of workmen’s huts built during the Ramesside Period; this explains why it was spared from the worst of the tomb depredations of that time. KV is an abbreviation for the Valley of the Kings, followed by a number to designate individual tombs in the Valley.
The tomb was densely packed with items in great disarray. Due to the state of the tomb, and to Carter’s meticulous recording technique, the tomb took eight years to empty, the contents all being transported to the Egyptian Museum in Cairo (more on these treasures in the Cairo Museum post to come).
Tutankhamun’s tomb had been entered at least twice, not long after he was buried and well before Carter’s discovery. The outermost doors of the shrines enclosing the king’s nested coffins were left opened, and unsealed.
The treasury was the burial chamber’s only side-room and was accessible by an unblocked doorway. It contained over 5,000 catalogued objects, most of them funerary and ritual in nature. Also found within the chamber were thirty six wine jars, containing the residue of vintage wines. The two largest objects found in this room were the king’s elaborate canopic chest and a large statue of Anubis. Other items included numerous shrines containing gilded statuettes of the king and deities, model boats and two more chariots. This room also held two mummies of fetuses that some consider to have been stillborn offspring of the king.
The Mortuary Temple of Queen Hatshepsut
The Mortuary Temple of Queen Hatshepsut, the Djeser-Djeseru (“Holy of Holies”), is located beneath the cliffs at Deir el Bahari on the west bank of theNile near the Valley of the Kings in Egypt. The mortuary temple is dedicated to the sun god Amon-Ra and is located next to the mortuary temple of Mentuhotep II, which served both as an inspiration, and later, a quarry. It is considered one of the “incomparable monuments of ancient Egypt.” The temple was the site of the massacre of 62 people, mostly tourists, by Islamist extremists that took place on 17 November 1997. Part of Egypt’s poor reputation of danger for tourists.
Hatshepsut’s chancellor, royal architect Senenmut oversaw construction. Although the adjacent, earlier mortuary temple of Mentuhotep was used as a model, the two structures are nevertheless significantly different in many ways. Hatshepsut’s temple employs a lengthy, colonnaded terrace that deviates from the centralised structure of Mentuhotep’s model – an anomaly that may be caused by the decentralized location of her burial chamber. There are three layered terraces reaching 97 feet tall. Each story is articulated by a double colonnade of square piers, with the exception of the northwest corner of the central terrace, which employs Proto Doric columns to house the chapel. These terraces are connected by long ramps which were once surrounded by gardens with foreign plants including frankincense and myrrh trees. The layering of Hatshepsut’s temple corresponds with the classical Theban form, employing pylons, courts, hypostyle hall, sun court, chapel and sanctuary.
The relief sculpture within Hatshepsut’s temple recites the tale of the divine birth of a female pharaoh – the first of its kind. The text and pictorial cycle also tell of an expedition to the Land of Punt, an exotic country on the Red Sea coast. While the statues and ornamentation have since been stolen or destroyed, the temple once was home to two statues of Osiris, a sphinx avenue as well as many sculptures of the Queen in different attitudes – standing, sitting, or kneeling. Many of these portraits were destroyed at the order of her stepson Thutmose III after her death.
The main and axis of the temple is set to an azimuth of about 116.5 degrees and is aligned to the winter solstice sunrise, which in our modern era occurs around the 21st or 22 December each year. The sunlight penetrates through to the rear wall of the chapel, before moving to the right to highlight one of the Osiris statutes that stand on either side of the doorway to the 2nd chamber. A further subtlety to this main alignment is created by a light-box, which shows a block of sunlight that slowly moves from the central axis of the temple to first illuminate the god Amen-Ra to then shining on the kneeling figure of Thutmose III before finally illuminating the Nile god Hapi. Additionally, because of the heightened angle of the sun, around 41 days on either side of the solstice, sunlight is able to penetrate via a secondary light-box through to the innermost chamber. This inner-most chapel was renewed and expanded in the Ptolemaic era and has cult references to Imhotep the builder of Djoser’s Step Pyramid and Amenhotep son of Hapu – the overseer of the works of Amenhotep III.
For fun, remember that Imhotep was the character used in the Hollywood movie “The Mummy“.
Colossi of Memnom
The Colossi of Memnom are two massive stone statues of Pharaoh Amenhotep III. For the past 3400 years (since 1350 BC) they have stood in the Theban necropolis, west of the Nile River from the modern city of Luxor.
The twin statues depict Amenhotep III in a seated position, his hands resting on his knees and his gaze facing eastwards towards the river. Two shorter figures are carved into the front throne alongside his legs: these are his wife Tiy and mother Mutemwiya. The side panels depict the Nile god Hapy.
The statues are made from blocks of quartzite sandstone which was quarried at el-Gabal el-Ahmar (near modern-day Cairo) and transported 675 km overland to Thebes (they are too heavy to have been transported upstream on the Nile). The blocks used by later Roman engineers to reconstruct the northern colossus may have come from Edfu (north of Aswan). Including the stone platforms on which they stand – themselves about 4m – the colossi reach a towering 18m in height and weigh an estimated 720 tons each. The two figures are about 15m apart.
Both statues are quite damaged, with the features above the waist virtually unrecognizable. The southern statue is a single piece of stone, but the northern figure has a large extentive crack in the lower half and above the waist consists of 5 tiers of stone. These upper levels consist of a different type of sandstone, and are the result of a later (Roman Empire) reconstruction attempt. It is believed that originally the two statues were identical to each other, although inscriptions and minor art may have varied.
The original function of the Colossi was to stand guard at the entrance to Amenhotep’s memorial temple (or mortuary temple): a massive construct built during the pharaoh’s lifetime, where he was worshipped as a god-on-earth both before and after his departure from this world. In its day, this temple complex was the largest and most opulent in Egypt. Covering a total of 35 hectares (86 acres), even the Temple of Karnak, as it stood in Amenhotep’s time, was smaller.
Next up is a ride upwards with some hot air!
For more photos of our adventure go to our flickr account here.