The Valley of the Kings, Egypt

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(Last Updated On: March 14, 2019)

What a desolate place! It is dramatic and beautiful in a way, but also stark and bleak, without a speck of green.

For ancient Egyptians, preservation of the body was essential for eternal life and the west side of the Nile has many, many tombs created to preserve the mortal remains of the elite – the hillsides littered with tombs. All were once hidden from sight, but today the location of many of the major tombs is marked by carefully constructed entrances and directional signage.

It feels isolated and lonely.

The first tomb we visit was the burial place of Ramses IV. Outside, Romani tells us this tomb is notable for it’s large sarcophagus. Actually, he tells us a lot more, but most of that information floats away in the hot dry air. All I can think about is what it might be like inside the tomb. I want to see it!

Then we enter.

It is amazing.

Clearly I haven’t read enough about ancient Egypt, as I now realize that I had absolutely no idea what to expect. Of course I’ve seen pictures of tombs with brightly colored paintings, but I guess I never thought that the tombs actually looked like those pictures! How could they? How could something so amazing not only be real, life-size?

We enter this tomb through a very high, broad hallway of sorts. The walls are painted bright white and reflect the small amount of light coming in from outside. I am completely surrounded by brightly painted walls that all but leap to life. The energetic graphics are both beautiful and lively.

Star pattern; names and epithets of Rameses IV; Book of Caverns; Book of the Earth
All photos of tomb interiors by Francis Dzikowski of the Theban Mapping Project

King’s names and titles protected by falcons

Of course, this tomb, like many others, has been open since ancient times and occasionally I find signs of those past visitors, including Coptic Christians who sometimes hid here to worship.

Hieroglyphic text with beginning of Rameses IV’s Horus name, surrounded by Coptic graffiti

The giant sarcophagus is located at the far end of the tomb. It stands in a small chamber that has a beautiful painted ceiling featuring the goddess Nut wrapped around the universe and golden walls with detailed images from the Book of Gates (one of the books of the dead).

The elevated walkway that circles the small room is crowded and cramped. The air is suffocating. Time to leave the underworld.

Outside again, the hot dry air feels wonderful.

The second tomb we visit is that of Ramses IX.

This tomb is a little more complex than that of Ramses IV. However, while some sections are gorgeously detailed, others seem simplistic. It is an intriguing mix.

Nut preparing to swallow the sun disk

Burial chamber

rear wall of burial chamber

Our final visit is to the tomb of yet another Ramses, in this case, that of Egypt’s last great pharaoh, Ramses III.

Once inside, it is immediately apparent that this is by far the most complex and beautifully decorated of the tombs we have visited.

I love the details here. The designs are so crisp and fresh that I feel as if I have actually entered into some other world.

Every surface is covered – the walls a treasury of images of the king and the gods, lessons for the afterlife, scenes of great sea battles, musicians, household furnishings, and other items both common (jars, weapons, chairs) and exotic (elephant tusks and leopard skins).

Nile god and goddesses representing Heliopolis and Memphis carrying food offerings.

Star pattern; bundles of wood, stone beads, Mycenaean stirrup jars, stone vessel, and amphorae

Amphorae

However, my very favorite area is the small chamber where I discover a row of cobras fully dressed in Egyptian garb and carrying the symbols of gods and goddesses.

Hu as a cobra wearing a robe and crown

It is where I linger the longest before exiting the tomb and, rather reluctantly, re-entering the world in which I live.

Out in the warm sunshine, I realize I have developed a fondness for these bleak mountains – now that I have been given a glimpse of the splendid world that hides within their barren slopes.

 

All photos of tomb interiors by Francis Dzikowski of the Theban Mapping Project

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