Valley of the Kings

This day found us jumping into the back of a service truck (picture a Toyota pick-up with a camper shell and bench seats in the back) and heading out to the Valley of the Kings. This site is also on the west bank of Luxor. It has a very remote feel even though it was only a fifteen-minute ride from our flat. The slightest tilt of the road up from the ancient floodplain and you have once again entered the moonscape of the desert. Nothing grows back here, not a shrub. My guess is that there wouldn’t even be flies if it weren’t for the humans who frequent the area. And while the temperature was really quite comfortable, I couldn’t help but imagine what this place would feel like at 120° F in the summer. The steep limestone walls soar vertical at the extremes. On the Valley floor there are only rocks and sand. It is a place of death.

We hit the Valley in between tour busses and had very little crowding. One fee allows you to visit three tombs in the Valley. For an extra fee you can also see King Tut’s Tomb. Based on the map we had, we were a bit concerned that the tombs were really spread out over this canyon. It turns out that the canyon is not all that large. You can walk the length of the areas where there are excavations in less than ten minutes.

Our first tomb was at the back of the canyon and required us to climb a series of metal stairs to the tomb entrance. This was the tomb of Tuthmosis III, the great warrior pharaoh. He started his rule in the shadow of Hatshepsut and expanded Egypt’s dominion as far north as southern Turkey. Since we had already visited several tombs of nobles and one other pharaonic tomb in the western Valley of the Kings (Ay), we had a pretty good idea of what to expect, or so we thought. The entrance was much longer than any of the tombs visited so far, barring those of Khufu and Khafre in Giza. But it wasn’t the length that surprised us. It was the style of decoration inside this tomb that really makes it unique. I expected more color and grand statements as to the accomplishments of this pharaoh. Instead we found simple, almost delicate line drawings. The only color was the plain plaster background adhered to the walls to make them smooth and the red or black brush strokes of the ancient prayers and magic spells needed to make the journey into the afterlife. There were no large, life-size pictures of Tuthmosis or anyone else for that matter. Our guidebook suggested that the simplicity of the artwork was by design and intended to mimic writing on papyrus. That could be. I had also heard that in tomb painting, artists began their work in red, had it corrected in black, and then painted in the colors. I couldn’t help but think that this tomb looked unfinished in regards to color.

We next visited the tomb of Ramses III, the man behind most of the temple Medinat Habu. This was more of what I thought we should find. This too had a long winding entryway, but unlike Tuthmosis III the decoration began immediately and was in full color. Life size paintings of Ramses and the gods abounded here in vivid color. It was really quite beautiful. Our favorite painting was of a snake with a human head and four legs. The end of the tomb was pretty ruined and inaccessible. Wild!

We then visited the tomb of Merneptah, the 13th son of Ramses II. Because Ramses II lived into his 80s, his first twelve male children died before they could become pharaoh and so Merneptah gained the throne. Unlike the first two tombs we visited, his entrance was long and straight. In the center of the room at the end of what feels like a long hallway is the lid of one of four sarcophagi that his mummy was placed inside. It was here that we were hijacked by the guardian of the tomb who grabbed me by the arm and requested us all to sit underneath the lid of this granite sarcophagus. Underneath was a beautiful carving. He then requested to take a picture of our family and pressured us for a healthy amount of baksheesh. We were the only ones in the tomb at the time and he held my camera, so we were at his mercy. To top it off, the pictures were horrible. It is an unfortunate example of the difficult situation in which these guardians work. They are guarding some of the world’s most valuable antiquities yet are paid peanuts (the equivalent of about $60 per month). This reduces some of them to pursuing extra income by less than honorable means. It’s a drag for everyone.

I had no high expectations for the next tomb, but who can say they visited the Valley of the Kings and not visit King Tut’s tomb? Megan stayed out with Emma, but Sam and Sarah Jane were dancing with excitement. My expectations were low because I already knew that it was small, and we had already visited Ay’s tomb, almost identical to Tut’s in design (probably the same tomb designer/decorator for both). Yes it was small, and it did look a lot like Ay’s tomb, but we were still very awed by this special place. We were particularly lucky here; there was only one other person in the tomb. We practically had the place to ourselves for about fifteen minutes. Sam and Sarah Jane loved the simplicity of it. The other tombs had so much writing and were so large that it was almost too much for them to take in. This was something they could look at and understand. They also liked the fact that Tut’s mummy laid inside the sarcophagus. Unlike Ay’s tomb the tomb paintings are complete and not defaced, but did I detect mildew on the walls? These tombs are so overly visited that moisture from human breath is beginning to take its toll. It’s high time efforts are taken to preserve these sites from the very people that are lovingly visiting them. Access to the sites is hugely important and I believe should not be limited to the few who officially study them or can afford exorbitant prices (I’m sure that raising the prices on sites like Nefertari’s tomb in the Valley of the Queens and Tut’s tomb have motives to both make money as well as limit traffic). Rotation of tombs is already in practice and should be continued to give them a chance to clear the air between visitors. Aren’t there ways to control humidity within the tombs? Should tomb walls be protected with some sort of coating and or be cleaned? I would hate to see these sites closed almost as much as I would hate to see them disintegrate.

Valley of the Kings

4 comments:

linnie said...

I am so glad you put the video clips in too because you just can't get the feel for the tombs by a photograph. Your excellent videography makes me feel like I am there (well, without the clausterphobia part!) Thank you so much for doing this for us! Visiting the tombs must be somewhat like visiting the museums of the old masters in Europe. You almost get so saturated that you forget to see the details any more. Luckily here, however, you get to take photos, so you can go back and look at things more closely later. Utterly amazing......way more so than I ever dreamed. Until your posts, I never had much interest in visiting Egypt; now I can hardly sit still for wanting to go.

Julianna said...

I love alll of the paintings on the walls and the ceeling!

Julianna said...

I love alll of the paintings on the walls and the ceeling!

Ham said...

Hey Mr.Rob see you at school tomarrow!
-HannahB. or Ham