What is the Valley of the Kings?
The ancient Egyptians built massive and elaborate tombs for themselves. The Valley of the Kings is a long narrow defile on the River Nile’s west bank in Upper Egypt. It was once part of the ancient city of Thebes (modern town of Luxor). And acted as a burial site for almost all the Pharaohs between the 18th-20th dynasties (1539-1075 BCE). To date, there have been 62 tombs found in the hills behind Dayr al-Bahri. Since 1979, they have been a part of the World Heritage site of ancient Thebes. I can’t stress enough that a tour of the Valley of the Kings is worth it! It is out of this world, the valley’s design and architectural structure are incredibly unique.
Why choose a desert?
The kings sought this geographical location behind Dayr al-Bahri hills as they feared that their burial sites would get robbed. As a result, they developed a new way of concealing their tombs. They did this by building within the natural structure of the lonely valley. The valley, during Egypt’s New Kingdom (1539-1075 BC), became a royal burial ground not only for Pharaohs and their queens, priests and other high-ranking members of Egyptian society. As a result, I couldn’t help but feel that this site holds centuries of important, life-changing and impactful figures. This with the sacredness of the place rendered all visitors mute out of respect and possibly out of wonder. As a result, I could enjoy the visit, take in its splendour without the loud, excited chatter of the tourists.
The Valley of the Kings Design
The structure of the tombs varies according to which Pharaoh was buried there. But all comprise a descending corridor that has deep shafts, chambers, or vestibules jutting off on each side. All these were intended to confound potential robbers. At the farthest end of the corridor is the burial chamber that comprises a stone sarcophagus in which the Egyptians laid the royal mummy.
Preparation for the afterlife
Sadly, we weren’t allowed to take pictures whilst at the Valley of the Kings. All cameras had to be left at the entrance. The valley is often called ‘the gateway to the afterlife’. Whilst I think this is true – the Egyptians took a lot of care in preparing themselves for death – I think the valley would be more correctly termed as a window into the past. The decorative hieroglyphics and objects found in the tombs give a glimpse of the Pharaohs’ true lives, beliefs, experiences and characteristics which is overwhelming, extraordinary and exhilarating all at the same time.
The ‘next life’ was a driving concept in ancient Egypt, the commoners believed they would be rewarded with continuing life whilst Pharaohs expected to become equals with the gods. This belief and way of life are prominent in the Egyptians’ preparation for death. They filled each tomb with the object they believed they’d need in the next life and mummified their bodies as a way of preserving the bodies so that their eternal soul could resurrect in the afterlife. In Tutankhamen’s tomb, there were golden masks found that have become synonymous with King Tut’s facial appearance. However, these objects and mummified bodies are no longer in the tombs but can be found in the Cairo museum (also worth visiting).
The walls & paintings
However, I felt that the most impressive element of these tombs was the walls. In many cases, they were covered with painted scenes depicting the dead Pharaoh in the presence of deities and illustrated magical texts designed to help him on his journey to the next world. Considering these were painted thousands and thousands of years ago, the array of rich and vibrant gold, blue, red and yellow that survives is confounding – how such beauty has remained I will never know! There are areas that have faded or in King Tut’s tomb turned to mould but on the whole, it allows the imagination of the visitor to run wild as you walk deeper and deeper into the past.
What to expect at the Valley of the Kings?
During the summer, the Valley of the Kings experiences swarms of visitors. As a result, the order in which the tombs are visited varies according to the waiting time. Visitors also cannot just pop into a tomb as they are repeatedly opened and closed to help preserve the wall paintings. Despite this, it is a site worth visiting as a lot of the tombs are open to visitors, including some of the largest and wonderfully vibrant, detailed tombs of:
- The Ramses VII – (Tomb 1)
- Ramses IV – (2)
- The Ramses IX – (6)
- Ramses II – (7)
- Merneptah – (8)
- Ramses VI – (9)
- ‘The Ramses III – (11)
- Ramses I – (16)
- Tuthmosis III – (34)
- Amenophis II – (35)
- Tutankhamen – (62)
If you enjoyed reading, check out my other post about Luxor and Karnak Temples, Abu Simbel, or the Colossi of Memnon! And be sure to subscribe to my blog so you don’t miss out on another inspiring travel article!