We’ve been in Egypt 2 weeks now and everything we own is covered in a powdery layer of Sahara sand. It’s a beautiful country filled with fascinating history, generous people and amazing fresh food.
We’ve got another week to enjoy the people and the food but our tours of Ancient Egyptian sites ended today with some good ones on the West Bank of the Nile.
We were again joined by our wonderful guide Yolanda who gave us great insights and local advice. Our first stop was the famous Valley of the Kings – home of 92 documented and 64 discovered tombs of Egyptian Pharaohs.
By Egyptian Standards it’s a bit new – active from 16th – 11th Century BC. It is truly a valley – curved back into the only hillside for miles around Luxor. This is the famous site of King Tutankhamen’s final resting spot, discovered underneath another tomb and the only one that wasn’t robbed of its treasures. Those 240 lbs of gold and other valuables aren’t in Luxor anymore – they are in Cairo. Many of them we saw last week at the Egyptian Museum. This is why Tut is such a famous King of Egypt, not because he was a long tenured or impactful Pharaoh, but because nobody stole his stuff.
We were impressed with the model of the Valley in the visitors center. The top showed the location of the tomb entrances in the mountain and underneath showed the 3D view of the structure of the tombs carved underneath. It gave us a great perspective later as we (ad)ventured into the tombs themselves.
From the visitor’s center we took a golf cart transport to the heart of the valley – thankfully ahead of the cruise ship crowd. We went in three tombs Yolanda thought would be most interesting. We didn’t go in King Tut’s tomb. It’s small, not very decorated and an expensive extra ticket.
Instead we started with a tomb for the Pharaoh Merenptah, Rameses II’s son. It was a steep walk down 475 feet to the burial chamber using a wooden walkway constructed as part of restorations.
Part of the walkway crosses over a ‘trap’ or a deep hole across the whole tunnel. This was sometimes lined with stakes intended to impale tomb raiders before they got the good stuff. Not as cinematic as the traps in the opening of Raiders of the Lost Ark – but still interesting to see. CreeperPuppy leaned over the side to take a look and made another donation to Egypt.
On Sunday it was a sneaker lost in the Nile and today it was sunglasses dropped into Merenptah’s tomb raider trap. Ugh. You could just barely see them 15 feet down. We joked sadly that the plastic might still be here in another 4000 years and Suaram said she hopes to show her kids our contribution when she brings them to Egypt someday.
This is the second largest tomb in the Valley. It features a huge sarcophagus base in the center of the cavernous burial chamber and a well preserved cover for one of the other three smaller sarcophagus he was buried in.
The second tomb was for Rameses III and the carvings and colors were magnificent. We’d been told we’d see beautiful colors in Luxor and here they were still vibrant after over 3000 years.
The final tomb of the Valley was for Rameses I who was only king for 3.5 years. Since tombs are built starting at the beginning of a Pharaoh’s reign and work stops upon their death, a short reign means a small tomb. Luckily the king decided to have his burial scenes painted on the walls instead of carved so it is much more complete than it might have been. And here again, the colors were stunning with a deep blue we had not seen anywhere else.
Our next stop was an Alabaster factory. Like the papyrus making and the essential oil factories, it’s a bit of a demonstration and then lots of opportunity to make purchases. But knowing that’s the deal, we enjoyed seeing how they handcraft alabaster and basalt into beautiful pieces. Suaram even volunteered to help – her tool is used the carve out the inside of a bowl before the outside is chipped/filed/sanded smooth around it.
Suaram bought a couple of souvenirs. Brian and Tiffany were interested in a couple more but what we were willing to pay was very different than what was on offer so those items stayed behind.
We did get some small items as gifts as we left. Traveling with kids is a great way to get trinkets – everybody loves to give them stuff.
Next stop was the Mortuary temple of Queen Hatshepsut. This wasn’t used for festivals like the East Bank temples, here on the West it was host to the mummification process. Famous for its unusual design, it was built into the mountain not far from the Valley of the Kings.
Not much of the decoration and detail has survived but walking around the large structure reinforces how advanced the capabilities of the Ancient Egyptians were.
It remains an active archeological site with pieces sitting in the desert sun waiting to be restored to their rightful location.
One last stop for a quick photo op – this one was all about size. Known as the Colossi of Memnon these two large statues have been well known since they were built in 1350 BC. Originally at the entrance of the Mortuary temple of King Amenhotep III and of his likeness, they were renamed by the Greeks who thought they resembled the Mythical Greek King Memnon.
At 60 feet tall they are massive as you can see by the dwarfed Adventurers at the foot of the left statue.
The temple itself was destroyed by floods over thousands of years. Excavation work continues and some items were being wrapped in white linen for transport to the museum in Cairo.
Our last adventure of the day was to visit a Nubian restaurant a short walk from our hotel. It had been recommended by our Aswan guide for its authenticity and quality of food. Although we walked around a Nubian village on our felucca day, we didn’t get to try any of their cooking.
The Nubians are the indigenous peoples of the central Nile Valley, what is currently northern Sudan and southern Egypt. They are thought to be one of the earliest peoples in civilization. Even today they retain many traditions and the Nubian language.
With tables set up in the front yard of their mud brick house, they prepared a wonderful traditional meal – including fried whole fish.
It was a great meal and a wonderful way to end our stay in Luxor.