We got up relatively early today to be ready for our tour of the Luxor West Bank where the tombs are including the Valley of the Kings (where King Tutankhamen lies) Our guide, Mariel, and our driver picked us up around 8 am.
We could tell right away we had a good guide as Mariel gave us some background while we drove down towards the bridge that spans the Nile. There is no bridge directly across to the West Bank (though it is less than 1 km away). Instead you have to drive North along the side of the river for about 5 km to the bridge and then head back up the other side.
Our first stop was the Collosi of Memnon, two huge 18 meter tall statues which are virtually all that is left of a temple built by Amenhotep III. The temple must have been truly impressive, if these statues are anything to go on. Unfortunately, because of its location it was affected by the flooding of the Nile until little was left, though they are doing some excavations just up from where the statues are. It is said that these statues used to give out an
eerie bird like sound early in the morning until whole within the statues were “fixed” during the time of Alexander the Great. After that, the sound was never heard again.
Our next stop was the Funeral Temple of Hatchepsut. Hatchepsut was the only female Pharaoh of Egypt, but had to marry her younger half brother in order to rule. Her temple was partially desecrated and vandalized by her half brother and successor, Thuthmosis III, but it is still and incredibly impressive structure.
What struck me when we first approached the temple from a distance is how completely modern it looks. It has a simple, unornamented design and very horizontal orientation which makes it look like something Frank Loyd Wright could have designed. Truthfully, when our guide pointed out the temple I thought it must be some government building in front of the temple that she was pointing to as it seemed inconceivable something thousands of years old could look so contemporary. Hatchepsut's face has been scratched off many of the carvings and paintings, but they are still remarkably preserved and it is hard to believe that they are thousands of years old. The colours are still strong, especially
in areas like the ceiling that get very little direct light.
Our final stop was the Valley of the Kings. Near the ticket booth, there is a small train of carts that stops to take you the final distance to the tombs. The driver let Joshua drive the train, which made him happy.
The tomb entrances are rather understated affairs, as you might expect for people who did not want their final burial places to be discovered and vandalized. So paranoid where the Pharaohs about the robbing of their tombs that the tomb diggers and artists that made them were never allowed to leave this area (the city of death) but instead lived, generation after generation, working on the tombs.
Each Pharaoh's tomb was begun when they ascended to the throne and needed to be completed upon their death. For this reason, some of the tombs of long living Pharaohs were quite extensive, while others, like that of King Tutankhamen, had fewer room and were less elaborate.
Our ticket entitled us to visit 3 tombs and we had also bought a special additional ticket to see the tomb of Tutankhamen. The first tomb we visited was
that of Ramses IV. This was quite a large and elaborate tomb, with detailed carvings on the walls along the long hallway to the main tomb. Scenes from the book of the dead depicted the Pharaoh in scenes from the time of darkness and acted as a guide book to navigating the afterlife. The colours here were even more vivid than those at the temple.
Our guide had somewhat played down the tomb of Tutankhamen, saying that it really wasn't that impressive or worth the extra price of admission. Having visited the Tutankhamen part of the Egyptian Museum though, we really wanted to see where all these treasures had resided.
As King Tut did not have a long reign, his tomb is not all that big. I found the colours in it much more vivid than the other tombs, likely because it had not been opened until the 1920's. Within the tomb, there was meticulous cleaning work going on one of the chamber sides. Images on this wall depicted baboons, one of the symbols of the afterlife.
On the other side of this large room was mummified body of King Tutankhamen, removed from the many layers of
coffins and resting in a glass case. The whole thing looks very clinical and sterile relative colourful images and hieroglyphics that decorate the walls.
At the entrance, there are a series of photographs of Howard Carter uncovering the tomb. It seems incredible to think that we are standing I the same spot and to imagine what it must have been like to finally find the tomb after so many years of searching.
Outside the tombs, there is some excavation going on. According to our guide, Egyptologist say that there are two tombs whose location has never been found. Last year, scientists using ultrasound found two likely areas to explore. It was interesting to watch the excavations going on and to know that the entire story of the Valley of the Kings has not yet been told, keeping the dream of new discoveries alive.
Our final tomb was Ramses VII. This tomb was quite large and the images and hieroglyphics on the walls are protected by plexi-glass, unlike many of the other tombs. This tomb was discovered in antiquity and there is Coptic graffiti on the walls as well as some more recent graffiti from 1858.
the cart train back to the entrance and ended our visit. The road to Luxor reminds me of the road from Siem Reap to Angkor Wat in Cambodia in that it is sort of a facade, carefully manicured from the hotels to the site but not really representative of Egypt.
We had the car drop us off for lunch and afterwards, walked back towards the winter palace. Here Evy and Joshua bought tickets for a morning balloon ride over the valley of the Kings. Next we went to an INTERNET cafe and booked a hotel for Dahab. To complete our plans we bought our bus ticket for the 15 hour ride to Dahab.
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