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Valley of the Kings

Valley of the Kings: Tomb of Pharaohs

Explore the Valley of the Kings’ history and know the tombs of the most famous ancient kings of the Pharaohs.

On the west bank of the Nile near Luxor, behind the rock wall of “Deir el-Bahari” and at the foot of the pyramid-shaped mountain massif, lies in a deep cut.

Valley of the Kings one of the most famous necropolises of the world.

It is the Valley of the Kings, the place with the tombs of the pharaohs of the New Kingdom (15th to 11th century B.C.), under whose rule Egypt experienced a heyday of high culture and international importance.

Hardly any other place in Egypt is surrounded by more myths and legends than this valley.

In contrast to the preceding pyramid era, during which the kings had created their funerary monument in structural connection with a mortuary temple and a valley temple.

Under the pharaohs of the New Kingdom, the actual tomb was spatially separated from the royal cult facilities, and instead of a pyramid, a rock tomb was cut into the wall of a natural pyramid, namely the pyramid-like mountain massif near Thebes.

Here the royal mummies rested hidden in their splendid and golden sparkling grave goods in colorfully decorated rock tombs.

64 tombs have been discovered so far, but except for the treasure-filled tomb of Tutankhamun, all had already been opened and found robbed.

Many fell victim to grave robbers in ancient times and stood open for centuries.

The walls in the burial chambers, corridors, and shafts of the royal necropolis are covered with texts and illustrations of the Underworld Books, a text genre of the literature of the dead.

However, they do not describe what the Egyptian people commonly imagined under the underworld, but secret codified knowledge, which was handed down among the initiated priests and deepened, expanded, and systematized according to theological considerations. And it was intended exclusively for royal use.

Pharaoh, as the supreme initiate, was introduced to the knowledge of the otherworld to participate in the maintenance of the cosmic order through his actions.

It was not until the 1st millennium BC that the secret texts and motifs of these underworld books were allowed to be used for the papyri and coffins of non-royal persons.

The classical form of these underworld books is the Amduat. The name means “that which is in the underworld.”

The word Dat/Duat stands for otherworld or underworld. This is also the generic term for all underworld books.

The Amduat itself was titled “Scripture of the Hidden Space.” Later, other underworld books were added: first the “Book of Gates”, then the “Book of Caves”, “Book of Night”, “Book of Day”, “Book of Heaven”, “Book of Earth”, to name the most important ones.

All these works struggle around a central main motive: The journey of the sun over the sky of the underworld.

Described is its descent into it every evening, its journey through it at night, and its ascent out of it in the morning.

Accompanying the natural spaces and beings of the underworld are described: on the one hand the demons of darkness, who want to interrupt the course of the sun and thus of time with their chaos-bringing actions, and on the other hand, the righteous deities, who accompany and actively support the sun’s course.

According to ancient Egyptian belief, the sun god Re descended into the underworld at his evening set on the western horizon to shine on the otherworldly and to rejuvenate himself on his twelve-hour subterranean return journey to the eastern horizon and finally to be reborn as a renewed sun star at dawn. This journey completes a cyclical cycle of time.

For the ancient Egyptians, becoming part of this cycle meant overcoming death.

The threshold of the Nile, seasons, times of day, phases of the moon, death and birth of living beings, rejuvenation of Pharaoh bypassing the throne from father to king’s son, all pointed to a cyclical process: Aging and rejuvenation, death and rebirth.

Thus, participation in the cycle of nature was seen as a chance to overcome death.

Therefore, the knowledge of the king of the underworld events and cosmic connections was important.

Pharaoh was at the same time son of the sun god Re and the god of the dead Osiris. In the afterlife, Re and Osiris merged into a super deity, if you will, for Osiris is described as the body of Re and Re as the ba (“soul”) of Osiris, or, as it says in an Egyptian tomb (Nefertari), “It is Osiris who rests in Re: that is Re who rests in Osiris.”

Re, the sun god, now travels through the underworld at night on his boat and with his sun disk.

Onboard his boat, he is accompanied by a crew that has to ensure the smooth running of the journey. Sometimes the sun boat is accompanied by other boats.

On their way through the twelve night hours, which are sometimes described as twelve caves (“Cave Book”) or other times as cosmic spaces separated by twelve gates or portals (“Gate Book”), they have to overcome all kinds of dangers.

They must defend themselves against the forces of chaos and darkness, against malevolent demons, and the monstrous serpent god Apophis, in order not to have the course of the sun interrupted.

They move through the realm of the underworld god Sokar, past lakes of fire, and overcome dangerous sandbanks.

A disturbance of the sun’s course would be catastrophic, because with the sun’s course also the time and thus all life would standstill.

Wherever the sun god appears, he is greeted by all the beings of the underworld.

The coffins of the dead spring open and the dead can lead their afterlife in the realms of Wernes (an afterlife region) or the fields of Jaru (also an afterlife region) for the moment of the sun’s presence until the onward-moving sun leaves them again.

One sees how in some underworld regions the sinful and damned suffer from the torments of hell and are exposed to a terrible slaughter.

These scenes are reminiscent of the ideas of hell in the occidental Middle Ages. Elsewhere, the deceased is judged by Osiris, the king of the realm of the dead, and assigned to their place.

The clearest and most suitable for an introduction to the world of afterlife descriptions are the representations of the Amduat in the tombs of the early 18th dynasty.

Here the structure of the twelve night hours is most easy to recognize and to understand for the visitor.

Always three registers are represented, whereby in the middle of it the sun bark with its company is on the way.

In the upper and lower registers, all those beings and scenes are described with which the sun is confronted on its night journey.

Typical companions in the sun’s boat entourage are, for example, the deities Sia (“knowledge”), Heka (“magic”), and Hu (“utterance”), divine personifications of the skills necessary to maneuver through the vagaries of the other world.

Sia recognizes the danger, Heka unleashes the magic power to banish the dangers, and Hu, through the word of power, gives the spell efficacy.

Other companions are the Upuaut, the “way opener” and in the double version the goddess Ma’at, who shows the direction to the boat entourage.

The tombs have undergone an architectural evolution from the early 18th Dynasty to the late 20th Dynasty.

The earlier tombs are smaller, have narrower passages and shafts, and an almost right-angled bend in their axis.

Sometimes, as with Thutmose III, the burial chambers have an oval floor plan.

In the early Ramesside period (19th dynasty) the tombs become larger, the passages and corridors wider and wider, and the axis becomes straighter but remains bipartite shifted.

In the late Ramesside period (20th Dynasty), a uniform axis is maintained unbroken from the entrance to the burial chamber.

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

  • Ramses IV. (KV 2): Architecturally clearly structured grave from the 20th dynasty. Total length: 66 m. Wide, very straight corridor oriented on the axis. Representations from the solar litany as well as the cave book, book of the dead, amduat book, and port book.
  • Sons of Ramses II. (KV 5): Although this grave is not accessible to visitors, it should be mentioned because of the sensational discovery. It is an extremely large and complex grave complex with numerous passages, chambers, and corridors as well as sacrificial chapels for Osiris. The grave and decoration are badly damaged.
  • Ramses IX. (KV 6): grave from the 20th dynasty with representations 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 burial chamber vault. Length: 86 m.
  • Ramses II. (KV 7): The architecturally complex and, with its many chambers, extremely large grave is closed to tourists. The grave is damaged and the decoration badly damaged. Length: approx. 100 m.
  • Merenptah (KV 8): Large grave of the 19th dynasty with depictions from the Amduat, Book of Portals, Book of the Dead, and the Litany of the Sun. The well-preserved stone sarcophagus is still in the burial chamber. Length: 115 m.
  • Ramses V / VI. (KV 9): Interesting grave from the 20th dynasty with a straight axis and interesting representations from the Book of the Earth, the Cave Book, and beautiful representations of the Sky Books (night and day) on the ceilings, especially in the burial chamber. Length: 104 m.
  • Ramses III. (KV 11): Large, complex, and richly decorated grave from the 20th dynasty with depictions 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 depictions of processions of gods, cult acts (mouth opening), and the famous depictions of two blind harpers. Length: 125 m.
  • Tausret and Sethnacht (KV 14): Two in one: At first the grave was intended for Pharaoh Tausret, then the successor Sethnacht expanded it for his purposes. Representations from the Book of the Dead and the Book of Gates. Length: 110 m.
  • Ramses I (KV 16): Small grave from the early 19th dynasty (around 1290 BC) with images from the port book. Length: 29 m. Discovered by: Belzoni (1817).
  • Seti I . (KV 17): grave from the 19th dynasty. One of the most magnificent and with a length of around 100 m one of the larger graves in the valley. Unfortunately closed due to the risk of collapse. Representations of the amduat, the port book, the litany of the sun, astronomical representations of the sky with star constellations, ritual representations. Discoverer: Belzoni (1817).
  • Thutmose III. (KV 34): One of the most fascinating tombs of the 18th dynasty. In a hidden location. Accessible only by stairs. King’s Chamber with an oval floor plan. Representations of the Amduat book, whereby the order of the night hours is not strictly adhered to, but the individual sections are arranged according to the cardinal points. Discoverer: Victor Loret (1898). Length: 55 m.
  • Amenophis II. (KV 35): Also a grave of the early 18th dynasty with depictions of the Amduat. Arrangement of the twelve night hours in correct numerical order. Rectangular burial chamber with pillars. Discoverer: Loret (1898), length: 60 m.
  • Siptah (KV 47): the grave of the late 19th dynasty with representations from the Amduat book and the sun litany. Discoverer: Ayrton (1905). Length: 90 m.
  • Haremhab (KV 57): Beautiful grave from the late 18th dynasty (around 1300 BC). First representations of the gate book. Idiosyncratic character due to blue background color. Discovered by: Ayrton (1908), length: 114 m.
  • Tutankhamun (KV 62): Because of the sensational discovery of the pristine grave treasure, the most famous grave in the Valley of the Kings. Compared to the other graves, however, very small (length: 40 m) and simply decorated. The grave costs extra entry and is very popular with tourists. Discoverer: Howard Carter (1922).

The Valley of the Kings in Luxor will leave you speechless, given the ancient history of the kings of the pharaohs buried there. Luxor, known as the largest open-air museum in the world, is a must, with its open museums and rare relics. Discover Luxor, historical sites, and much more with a round-trip or amazing Nile cruise on board the Nile cruise ship.

About the author

Magdy Fattouh (Migo) is a creative content marketer and expert in search engines for over 5 years. He manifests his passion in his role as a Creative Content Writer especially in travel where he strives to evoke a strong sense of place in his write-ups.
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