We woke up at 5:00 to have breakfast (again – the yummy buffet!) and to meet Mostafa at 6:00AM. Everything here opens early and closes late, but usually closes for a few hours in the afternoon during the worst of the heat and this includes the tourist sites. We drove across the Nile to get to the West Bank and by the time we got to our first site, it was already teeming with tour buses.
The difference between the East Bank and the West Bank is this: the East Bank is close to the rising sun, and thus means life. Therefore, the temples for the living were built on the East Bank and this is what we saw yesterday in the Luxor Temple and the Temple of Karnak. The West Bank is the location of the setting sun which symbolizes death. This is where the ancient Egyptians buried their dead and erected temples to honor the rulers who passed away. So today we visited the tombs in the Valley of the Kings, The Temple of Hatshepsut, and the Valley of the Queens.
Valley of the Kings
I could try to explain the brilliance and significance of these tombs in my own words, but I think that Lonely Planet gives a better summary and I want to save it for future reference: “Once called the ‘Gates of the Kings’ or the ‘Place of Truth’, the canyon now known as the Valley of the Kings is at once a place of death – for nothing grows on its steep, scorching cliffs – and a majestic domain befitting the mighty kings who once lay there in great stone sarcophagi, awaiting immortality.
The isolated valley, behind Deir al-Bahri, is dominated by the natural pyramid-shaped mountain peak of Al-Qurn (the Horn). It consists of two branches, the east and west valleys with the former containing most of the royal burial sites.
All of the tombs (except the newly discovered Tomb of the Sons of Ramses II) followed a similar design, deviating only because of structural difficulties or the length of time spent on their construction. The longer the reign of the pharaoh, the larger and more magnificent his tomb. Two groups of workers and artisans would live, in alternating shifts, in the valley itself for the duration of work, which usually took many years.
The tombs were designed to resemble the underworld, with a long, inclined rock-hewn corridor descending into either an antechamber or a series of sometimes pillared halls, and ending in the burial chamber. Once the tomb was cut its decoration was started; this dealt almost exclusively with the afterlife and the pharaoh’s existence in it.
The colorful paintings and reliefs are extracts from ancient theological compositions, or ‘books’, and were incorporated in the tomb to assist the pharaoh into the next life. Texts were taken from the Book of Amduat – ‘the book of him who is in the netherworld’; the Book of Gates, which charted the king’s course through the underworld; and the Book of the Litany of Ra, believed to be the words spoken by Ra, the sun-god, on his own journey through the caverns of death.”
So first we went into the tomb of Ramses IV which was beautiful! The walls and the ceilings were covered with artistry from the Book of the Dead and pictures of Ramses IV with various gods. It’s amazing that every line that was drawn had a significant meaning. Even more amazing was that Mostafa knew absolutely every detail of the tomb. Jon was in heaven because Mostafa could answer every obscure question Jon could come up with! This tomb was never really ‘hidden’, and its whereabouts were known even to the Ptolemies and the Coptic Christians. This is obvious because of the graffiti on the tomb dating to 278 BC and there is early Christian drawings such as crosses and pictures of Christ drawn in red in random places.
Beautiful Walls in Tomb of Ramses IV
After Ramses IV, Mostafa took us to Ramses IX, which was a smaller tomb and partially unfinished because of Ramses’ early death. A pharaoh began the design and work on his tomb as soon as he came into power. If he died before the tomb was completed, the workers had 72 days to finish the tomb – which is the amount of time the mummification process took. In the case of Ramses IX, the tomb was clearly a JIT project, and the burial chamber was very rough looking and the pictures were haphazardly drawn.
Finally, we went into the tomb of Ramses III, which was a large tomb with a long corridor and many storage rooms. The storage rooms were filled with things that the pharaoh used in life in addition to the things his priests thought he would need in death. (I, for example, will need to be buried with my Palm Pilot). Anyway, the interesting thing about this tomb is that the corridor suddenly cuts to the right and around a corner which is unusual. During the construction of the tomb the workers ran into another unknown tomb and had to make a detour to the right. I suppose that this made it harder for Ramses III to find his way to the netherworld. But this is notable because they took such pains to hide the tombs from thieves, future pharaohs and workers had no idea where the older tombs were.
We saw the entrance to King Tutankhamun’s tomb, but it costs extra to go into it. This is kind of silly, because it is not nearly as large or as brilliant as the other tombs we saw. It’s just that it’s the most recently discovered and least plundered of all the tombs. Mostafa told us that Tutankhamun’s tomb is considered the richest, the poorest, and the smallest of the great tombs; the richest because all of it’s treasure was discovered intact, the poorest because it has so little decoration (the King died at a relatively young age), and the smallest because it is, well, small!
Temple of Queen Hatshepsut
Queen Hatshepsut ruled for 30 years during a time of peace. She was one of the few female pharaohs and liked to portray herself as a man to prove that she could do just as well. Therefore, she had her temple built in the Valley of the Kings. The temple is very large and beautiful, with ornate drawings on the wall depicting her trip to Somalia.
At the Temple of Hatshepsut
From Lonely Planet: “The partly rock-cut, partly freestanding structure is one of the finest monuments of ancient Egypt, although its original appearance, surrounded by myrrh trees, garden beds, and approached by a grand sphinx-lined causeway, must have been even more spectacular”.
For those of you who are fans of current events, this is where the terrorist bomb exploded in November of 1997. But, as Jon pointed out, probably the safest place you can be is a place where a terrorist has already hit. No self-respecting terrorist is going to blow up a bomb in a place that another terrorist has already used. It’s considered unoriginal and lacking in creativity in terrorist social circles.
Valley of the Queens
The Valley of the Queens is where the Queens and their children (less than 18 yrs old) were buried. Young children were buried near their mother’s tombs because it was believed that they needed their mother’s assistance to find the netherworld. While the tombs are not as spectacular as the Valley of the Kings, they are interesting because their artistry takes on a different flavor.
The Tomb of Amunherkhepshep is the tomb of a son of Ramses III – Amun – who was nine years old when he died. “The scenes on the tomb walls show his father grooming him to be pharaoh by introducing him to various gods. Amun’s mother was pregnant at the time of his death and in her grief she lost the child and entombed it with Amun. A five-month-old mummified fetus was discovered there. Wall paintings also show Ramses leading his son to Anubis, the jackal-headed god of the dead, who then takes the young Prince Amun down to the entrance of the Passage of the Dead.”
Colossi of Memnon
Before we left the West Bank, we stopped for pictures of the statues of Memnon. There’s an interesting legend about the statues that I think is worth saving:
“The massive pair of statues are all that remain of the temple of the hedonistic Amenophis III. Rising about 18m from the plain, the enthroned, faceless statues of Amenophis have kept a lonely vigil on the changing landscapes around them, surviving the annual flooding of the Nile which gradually destroyed the temple buildings behind them.
The colossi were among the great tourist attractions of Egypt during Graeco-Roman times because the Greeks believed they were actually statues of the legendary Memnon, a king of Ethiopia and son of the dawn-goddess Eos, who was slain by Achilles during the Trojan War.
Colossi of Memnon
It was the northern statue that attracted most of the attention because at sunrise it would emit a haunting, musical sound that the Greeks believed was the voice of Memnon greeting his mother each day. Eos in turn would weep tears of dew for the untimely death of her beautiful son.
Actually, the phenomenon of the famous vocal statue was probably produced by a combined effect of a simple change in temperature and the fact that the upper part of the colossus was severely damaged by an earthquake in about 30 BC.. As the heat of the morning sun baked the dew-soaked stone, sand particles would break off and resonate inside the cracks in the structure. Certainly, after a well-meanting Roman governor repaired the statue some time in the 2nd century AD, Memnon’s plaintive greeting to his mother was heard no more.”
Bad Hair Day?
We did all of the above and were back at the New Winter Palace Hotel by 11:00AM. So we went to grab a bite to eat and relaxed and napped for the rest of the day because – of course – the heat was horrid and everything is closed in the afternoon anyway. In the evening, we walked around town and looked for another Internet Cafe because the one we went to last night has no power (bummer). On the way to another Internet Cafe, we passed a clean-looking barber shop.
I knew it would have to happen…. it’s been 7 weeks since I last cut my hair and it’s starting to drive me nuts. So we knew that I would need to get it cut and we figured we’d wait until Egypt or India to do it. Now looked like the best chance, seeing as the barber shop looked clean and friendly. So we walked in and said hello, then said, “Do you speak English?”. The answer was yes. “Will you cut my hair?” They found this a bit funny, but agreed. Understand that in a traditional Muslim country like Egypt, women wear their hair long and natural. So a western woman with short blond hair is a bit of an anomaly.
I was very nervous and quite concerned that he would muck it up. I sat in the chair very tense and was sweating like crazy. Jon found it all quite amusing. But all in all it turned out all right. It’s a little too short on the sides and a bit short on the top, but it’ll do. My roots have really really grown in and the haircut got rid of a majority of the blond, so the color is a little wacky. So I was slightly traumatized by the whole experience, but it will grow out quickly.
Guest appearance from Jon: The haircut looks fine!
We had dinner at a place called “The Kings Head Pub” which is a crazy British pub just outside of Luxor. It was a nice little place and it was great to dine among tourists again (we’ve been hanging with the locals for quite some time). Afterwards, we went back to the hotel to pack up our stuff for our flight to Sharm El Sheikh tomorrow. I’m so sad to leave this spectacular hotel, but we can’t wait for the diving on the Red Sea!