The Valley of Kings

A short ride outside of Luxor got us to the Valley of the kings.  Unassuming, and only marked by some caves high in the cliffs as we approached, it was not what I expected.  The pharaohs of the fourth dynasty (~2600 bce) built massive pyramids in ancient Memphis (present day Cairo).  Those are the pyramids everyone sees and thinks of when they think of Egypt.  The valley of the kings housed the burials sites of kings and queens from around the 18th, 19th, and 20th dynasties (1600 bce – 900 bce).  In other words, about 1000 years AFTER the pyramids at Giza were built, the Egyptians were burying their pharaohs  in this valley.

There are over 60 tombs in this valley that is crisscrossed with boardwalks and markers.  Many tombs remain closed, some will close periodically for restoration.  So we showed up to see which tombs we would get to see.  The standard ticket allowed us to enter three of the 10 or so that were open. Some required extra fees to enter.

I remembered studying Eypt in high school.  It was my favorite subject.  Later in college I took an Egyptology course and worked in the museum preparing exhibits.  Despite my better than average training, nothing prepared me for what I saw when I entered.  Every hieroglyphs I had seen in a book and at the museum was etched in sandstone or rock and colorless.  Yet upon entering the tomb, the walls were alive with color.

KV8 Tomb of Merenptah: A starry night sky decorates the ceiling

Yellows, Browns, Reds, and blues jumped off the walls. The blues were especially interesting to me, because making blue was extremely difficult to make as the materials to make it were rare and expensive. Very few bits of wall were unused.

KV8: Heiroglyphs in the Tomb of Merenptah


KV20: Tomb of Queen Hatshepsut

Queen Hatshepsut’s tomb (KV20), was markedly different than the other tombs.  It could be seen at a great distance away as it appeared as a carved palace into the side of the mountain.   It was more grand and prominent.  Like Karnak, or they Pyramids at Giza, it was hard not to be taken by its enormity.    Like some of the other tombs in the valley, there is limited access into the recesses of the tomb.  The hieroglyphics were amazing!

KV20 Tomb of Queen Hatshepsut

Although you certainly can’t take it with you, (even though ancient Egyptians believed you could), the Egyptians made the final resting places colorful, and full of stories. They made it abundantly clear that the pharaoh in this chamber had left their mark on the known world. Most mausoleums and grave sites I’ve been to leave a plaque with a quote.  Even though I was unable to read many of the hieroglyphs I could not help but marvel of this person’s amazing contributions.

I left wondering about what mark we will make on the world we leave behind.  Clearly wealth and influence can facilitate constructions that will make one’s mark more lasting.  Were the contributions of these pharaohs any less grand than those without the power and influence to erect physical testaments that they existed? What of value do any of us leave behind that is worthy of being remembered posthumously?

Later in history, books captured ideas of great thinkers, and works by great artists are protected, and monuments are erected to commemorate events and people.   We are impressed with the writings of certain books and convince ourselves that those are surviving the the test of time.   But time crushes all into dust.  Even in Egypt tombs are looted, great structures erected by one set of rulers were dismantled and used to erect something else later.  All over the world, newer construction is built on hills of antiquity.  In our modern society,  lasting contributions are ephemeral at best.  The record of one’s life is reduced in weeks to an obituary and photos salvaged by the next generation, only to be lost or tossed within two or three generations.  Ask yourself what you knew of the life of your great grandparent and their parents?

Early Civilization timeline

The Valley of the Kings is part of the Karnack and Luxor UNESCO world heritage designation.

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