Sunday, April 25, 2010

Valley of the Kings

This day’s fun had only begun. After the hot air ballooning and donkeys, we still had much to do, starting with a visit to the Valley of the Kings!

What a surreal place. So many important pharaohs all buried here thousands of years ago in what was supposed to be a safe place to carry them to the afterlife. Entering the valley you get a feel for the scale of the place and you can see why they chose it to be the final safe resting place. First off, its remote, rugged and HOT! Its outside Luxor's fertile Nile plain which quickly turns to desert that doesn’t seem to end. Second, the mountains surrounding the valley resemble pyramids, which are the iconic, albeit impractical/obvious resting place for pharaohs.

So included in the entrance was admission for three of the many tombs at the site. Our guide chose the best open tombs on the day, which were tombs of Ramesses I, Ramesses III and Ramesses IX. Before entering the site we had to decide on the optional tombs. We could see Ramesses VI’s tomb, which supposedly had magnificent paintings inside, or King Tutankhamen’s infamous tomb. Now you might question our choice, but King Tut’s tomb is said to be small, plain and mainly empty except for one of the gold sarcophaguses and his mummy. We had already seen the big tamale, the death mask, in the Egyptian museum in Cairo. So we opted for the tomb of Ramesees VI’s to see the detailed decoration inside the tomb. It was mighty cool and so well preserved. The colors were still so vibrant. The long half cylinder ceiling was decorated wall to wall with an incredible painting of the sky goodess, Nut. Unfortunately photos are not allowed anywhere in the valley and you can be royally fined if you are caught. Afterwards, we were a little sad we couldn’t see both extra tombs…but that gives us a reason to go back someday!

Here is an article on Ramesees VI's tomb to get an idea of what the tombs were like.

All the tombs were fun to explore with some being in better shape than others depending on how the light and wind hit the entrance. They all had the same basic setup. Upon entering the tomb you would walk down a ramp or stairs corridor with hieroglyphics, some colorful, everywhere. This lead to various other chambers finally culminating with the burial chamber where you would find the sarcophagus and statues. Here there was normally a roped or gated off area with a guard “keeping people out”. Only not really. The guard would always smile and open the gate whispering, “backshesh” (“tip”)! Haha! This was a normal Egyptian tactic and came as no surprise. It was the same at temples and other sites…even the “Tourist Police” weren’t exempt. They would approach you offering to take your picture and then ask for backshesh.

One thing to know is that building the tombs was a huge honor but that honor came with a price. After signing up to work on the tombs you and your family were taken out of normal society to live in nearby camps due to security reasons. Tomb robbers were a big problem so to eliminate the location of the tombs being known you couldn’t ever go back. Ouch! Although it didn’t appear to work because the tombs were all robbed anyway.

Even though the tomb builders were the best of the best they did make mistakes. In one of the tombs, the tunnel made a sharp right then sharp left – apparently in digging they accidently broke through to someone else’s tombs and had to divert the tunnel! Oops!

One more thing not to miss is actually in the visitor’s center. There they have an excellent 3D model of the valley that shows the underground view allowing you to get a feel for the size and depth of all the tombs in the valley. Some were incredibly long and deep, while others, specifically Tut’s, were small and shallow.

Sorry no photos, we couldn't risk the big fine!

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