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the valley of the kings

Valley of the Kings: Tomb of the Pharaohs of Egypt

As much history converges on the banks of the ancient Nile as perhaps anywhere else on the planet. The enigmatic legacy of the ancient Egyptians lingers, with many riddles yet to be unraveled, some of which remain within the depths of the Valley of the Kings.

For centuries, these tombs have captivated the attention of both archaeologists and tourists, serving as a mystical testament to the grandeur of Egyptian civilization and drawing visitors from around the globe.

Burials within the Valley of the Kings spanned from approximately the 16th to the 11th century BC, a period during which the Egyptians established what could be described as a veritable City of the Dead.

Situated on the left bank of the Nile River, the sprawling necropolis known as the City of the Dead harbors the funerary temples of pharaohs. The Valley of the Pharaohs denotes the resting place of these Egyptian rulers. Remarkably, ongoing archaeological excavations persist in this valley.

Scientists continue to unearth new tombs, and the extent of what remains to be discovered remains uncertain. To date, over 50 tombs have been meticulously excavated and explored.

Luxor’s Valley of the Kings held an unfortunate attraction for thieves and looters. Entire settlements were dedicated to pilfering valuable artifacts from the tombs, creating a lucrative trade in historical treasures that spanned generations.

History of the Valley of the Kings in Egypt

The narrative traces back to the ancient era of the New Kingdom, spanning from 1539 to 1055 BC, situated on the banks of the Nile River, in what is now known as Luxor, once the flourishing city of Thebes. This particular location was deliberately selected as the burial ground for esteemed figures such as pharaohs, priests, and members of Egypt’s elite during the reigns of the 18th, 19th, and 20th dynasties.

This mountainous terrain was designated as an expansive cemetery, where the deceased were interred in mummified form, accompanied by possessions deemed valuable for their journey into the assumed afterlife. Readers familiar with our article on the Pyramids of Giza might recall that pharaohs were entombed within pyramids; however, the burial practices in the Valley of the Kings differed significantly.

the valley of the kings

The Idea of Establishing the Valley of the Kings in Luxor

Once, Pharaoh Thutmose I made a surprising decision—to eschew the traditional temple tombs and instead opt for a secluded, secret location to safeguard his burial place from plundering. To further confound potential robbers, the tombs for the deceased were discreetly positioned away from the main thoroughfares. This unconventional burial strategy persisted for five centuries.

Today, the tombs within the Valley of the Kings stand as magnificent exemplars of global artistry and hold esteemed status as UNESCO World Heritage treasures.

In 1922, Howard Carter’s discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb in the Valley of the Kings marked a historic moment. The burial chamber contained around two hundred kilograms of gold and precious stones, along with an assortment of the pharaoh’s personal effects—jewelry, chariots, utensils, weapons, and more. While Carter and his team were undoubtedly thrilled by this find, they were equally astonished by another detail.

Adjacent to the mummy rested a small bouquet of dried flowers, an unexpected addition amidst the opulent decorations of the grave. Scientists speculate that these flowers might have been left by Tutankhamun’s widow.

A short distance from the Valley of the Pharaohs lies the Valley of the Queens, serving as the final resting place for the family members of Egyptian rulers. It’s noteworthy that the tombs belonging to the pharaohs’ wives, daughters, and sons were notably simpler and less lavish compared to those of the kings.

Why did the pharaohs choose the Valley of the Kings?

  1. The Valley of the Kings boasts a distinctive soil composition comprising multiple layers of limestone, sedimentary rocks, and soft clay.
  2. Its hills have a distinctive topographical shape, resembling a stepped or tiered structure, and were historically used to construct pyramids to serve as royal tombs during the old Kingdom.
  3. Strategically isolated from residential areas, the primary objective of the Valley of the Kings was to safeguard the royal tombs from potential grave robbers.
  4. Due to the valley’s limited precipitation and minimal rainfall throughout the year, any flooding leaves only a small residue of moisture at the cemetery entrances, as evidenced in the case of King Tutankhamun’s tomb.
  5. There’s a marked geological contrast between the distinct layers within the valley—the smooth and thin layers, the coarse rock formations, and the surface layers—each contributing to the unique geological makeup of the region.

What to See in The Valley of the Kings

The Valley of the Kings is divided into Eastern and Western sections, with the majority of the tombs concentrated in the East Valley. Luxor houses 64 tombs, nearly all of which belonged to royalty. These tombs share a similar layout: a lengthy corridor sloping down to a depth of around 100 meters, leading to three or four chambers at the corridor’s end.

Adorned with vibrant and enduring colored depictions, the ceilings and walls of these corridors and chambers narrate the life and achievements of the entombed ruler. Among the numerous discovered tombs, those of Thutmose III, Amenhotep II, Tutankhamun, and the Ramses stand out as particularly notable.

Today, the Valley of the Kings is no longer secluded, welcoming thousands of tourists to Luxor annually. Its surge in popularity began with the sensational discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb in 1922.

Following the discovery of Tutankhamun’s immensely opulent tomb, deemed the richest to this day, a mysterious aura emerged—the deaths of all the archaeologists involved led to talks of the “curse of the pharaohs.”

Tutankhamun’s coffin stands almost two meters tall and weighs 200 kilograms, embellished with lapis lazuli, turquoise, and carnelian.

Noteworthy tombs not to be missed include the elaborate tomb of Thutmose III, Seti I’s intricate tomb featuring numerous stairs and galleries, and Ramesses II’s tomb boasting a stunningly painted ceiling portraying celestial hemispheres and star gods marching alongside solar boats on the heavenly Nile.

Undoubtedly, the tombs of the Valley of the Kings represent the pinnacle of world artistry and are esteemed as UNESCO World Heritage treasures. However, these tombs no longer house mummies; instead, the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, specifically in the Hall of Mummies, preserves them. Tutankhamun’s mummy has remained undisturbed in its burial site for approximately three and a half millennia.

the valley of the kings

Facts about the tombs of the Valley of the Kings:

  • The tomb thieves of ancient pharaohs plundered treasures from the royal tombs within the Valley of the Kings.
  • All the tombs feature intricate drawings of pharaohs and inscriptions intended for use in the afterlife.
  • A total of 65 burials have been unearthed thus far, with ongoing discoveries continuing to be made, maintaining the Valley of the Kings in Luxor as a globally renowned site for Egyptology and archaeological research.
  • King Seth Nekhet accessed Queen Tauessert’s Tomb No. 14, encountering challenges like cracks between rock layers and intrusion into King Amendment’s tomb.
  • Aware of the issue, King Ramses III renovated his father King Seth Nekhet’s tomb (Tomb 11).
  • Due to rock collapses in the Valley after the Nile flood, King Ramses II’s tomb was designed with a vaulted architecture, as it was hewn into sedimentary rocks.
  • At the close of the 18th Dynasty, the Valley of the Kings faced a significant flood that submerged all royal family tombs under the Nile’s sediment.
  • Seven drainage paths pose formidable challenges, draining into the valley’s depths from the hills of the Valley of the Kings.
  • All the royal tombs in Luxor’s Valley of the Kings are entirely carved from rock, boasting over 2,100 pharaoh inscriptions on their walls.
  • King Ramses V and King Ramses VI’s Tomb 9, constructed in 278 BC, contained around 100 inscriptions.
  • The first authorized map of the Valley of the Kings was created in 1799 by French archaeologist Dominique Vivant and his accompanying French Mission.
  • Numerous documentaries, particularly films focused on King Tutankhamun’s tomb, have been produced by directors worldwide.
  • Most royal tombs are relatively small, featuring a burial chamber accessed via a staircase, a pathway leading underground, or a series of interconnected corridors leading to the king’s coffin chamber.
  • Animal remains have been discovered buried within the cemetery, and numerous tombs remained unused.

Which Tombs are open to the public?

Certainly, the number of open tombs within the Valley of the Kings can vary due to periodic restoration efforts and the need for preservation, considering the substantial influx of daily tourists.

Each tomb is designated by the letter KV (King’s Valley), followed by its respective number. The accessibility of these tombs can fluctuate over time. Here is a list of tombs that were open for visitation during a recent visit, although this list is subject to change:

  1. KV2: Tomb of Ramesses IV
  2. KV6: Tomb of Ramesses IX
  3. KV9: Tomb of Ramesses V and Ramesses VI
  4. KV11: Tomb of Ramesses III
  5. KV14: Tomb of Twosret and Setnakhte
  6. KV15: Tomb of Seti II
  7. KV16: Tomb of Ramesses I
  8. KV17: Tomb of Seti I
  9. KV34: Tomb of Thutmose III
  10. KV43: Tomb of Thutmose IV
  11. KV47: Tomb of Siptah
  12. KV57: Tomb of Horemheb
  13. KV62: Tomb of Tutankhamun
  14. KV64: Tomb of an Unknown Queen

Description of the essential graves worth seeing (with a grave identification number, “KV” stands for “King’s Valley”):

  • Ramses IV’s (KV 2) grave is a clear example of architecture from the 20th Dynasty. Length as a whole: 66 m. On the axis is a broad, very straight corridor. Images from the Solar Litany, the Book of the Dead, the Cave Book, the Amduat Book, and the Port Book.
  • (KV 5): Sons of Ramses II: Even though this grave is not open to the public, it should be mentioned because of how shocking it was found. It is a vast and complicated grave complex with many passages, chambers, corridors, and chapels for Osiris’s sacrifices. Both the grave and the decoration on it are in bad shape.
  • Ramses IX’s (20th Dynasty) tomb (KV 6) has pictures from the litany of the sun, the book of the dead, the cave book, and the amduat, as well as the book of the day and the book of the night, on the vault of the burial chamber. Distance: 86 m.
  • Ramses II (KV 7): Tourists are not allowed to visit Ramses II’s grave, which has a lot of rooms and is very big. Both the grave and the decoration on it are broken. Length: 100 m or so.
  • Merenptah (KV 8) is a large tomb from the 19th dynasty that has pictures from the Amduat, Book of Portals, Book of the Dead, and Litany of the Sun. The stone sarcophagus is still in the burial chamber and in good shape. Distance: 115 m.
  • Ramses V/VI (KV 9): An exciting tomb from the 20th Dynasty with a straight axis and interesting pictures from the Book of the Earth, the Cave Book, and beautiful photos of the Sky Books (night and day) on the ceilings, especially in the burial chamber. Length: 104 m.
  • Ramses III (KV 11): A large, complicated, and beautifully decorated tomb from the 20th Dynasty with pictures of the Book of the Dead, the Amduat, the Book of the Portals, the Litany of the Sun, and the Book of the Earth. There are also pictures of gods walking, cult acts (like opening the mouth), and well-known pictures of two blind harpers. Distance: 125 m.
  • Tausret and Sethnacht (KV 14): Two in one: At first, the tomb was meant for Pharaoh Tausret, but his successor, Sethnacht, added to it to fit his needs. The Book of the Dead and the Book of Gates are used to show these things. 110 m in length.
  • Ramses I (KV 16): A small grave from the early 19th Dynasty (around 1290 BC) with pictures from the port book. Length: 29 m. Belzoni made the discovery (1817).
  • The grave of Seti I. (KV 17) is from the 19th dynasty. With a length of about 100 m, it is one of the longest and most beautiful graves in the valley. Because it could fall, it had to be closed. Representations of the amduat, the port book, the litany of the sun, and astronomical and ritual expressions of the sky with star constellations. Discoverer: Belzoni (1817).
  • Thutmose III’s tomb (KV 34) is among the 18th Dynasty’s most interesting. In a secret place, and only stairs lead to it. The floor plan of the King’s Chamber is oval. Representations of the Amduat book, in which the order of the night hours is not strictly followed, but the four cardinal points put the different parts in order. Victor Loret found it (1898). Distance: 55 m.
  • Amenophis II’s grave (KV 35) is from the beginning of the 18th Dynasty and has pictures of the Amduat. I am putting the twelve night hours in the correct order by number. A rectangle-shaped tomb with pillars. Discoverer: Loret (1898), length: 60 m.
  • Siptah (KV 47) is a tomb from the end of the 19th dynasty with pictures from the Amduat book and the sun litany. Discoverer: Ayrton (1905). Distance: 90 m.
  • Haremhab (KV 57): Lovely tomb from the end of the 18th Dynasty (around 1300 BC). The first pictures of the gate book and the blue background give it a unique personality. Ayrton found it in 1908, and it is 114 m long.
  • Tutankhamun (KV 62): This is the most famous grave in the Valley of the Kings because of the incredible treasure found in its original state. But compared to the other graves, it was tiny (40 m long) and had only a few decorations. Tourists love to visit the grave, even though it costs extra to get in. Discoverer: Howard Carter (1922).

The ancient history of the kings of the pharaohs buried in Luxor’s Valley of the Kings will leave you speechless. Luxor is a must-see with its open museums and rare artifacts, and it is known as the world’s largest open-air museum. A round-trip or amazing Nile cruise on the Nile ship is a great way to see Luxor, historical sites, and much more.