It's the opposite of a secret that the ancient Egyptians built massive monuments to their supreme godlike pharaohs. At the same time, not only are there mega structures above the surface like the Pyramids but there are also hidden underground mausoleums. Like the catacombs of Paris and the ritual Mayan Caves of Central America, there is often much more than meets the eye just under the surface. The most famous of these impressive tombs are in the Valley of the Kings up the Nile from Giza near Luxor. While the Pyramids are incredible on the outside they can a little underwhelming within, here the opposite holds sway once inside these ancient tombs.
History Of The Valley Of The Kings
Back in the Egyptian New Kingdom (from 1539-1075 BC) this valley was a hive of royal burials for the divine pharaohs. One of the least important to history but most important archaeologically to our modern world is the Pharaoh Tutankhamun. Other pharaohs included Seti I and Ramses II. Other non-divine Pharaohs entombed here include queens, high priests, other important individuals spanning the 18th, 19th, and 20th Egyptian dynasties.
- Most Famous Tomb: Pharaoh Tutankhamun
As everyone knew in ancient Egypt, the pharaohs would pass onto the afterlife after death. Accordingly, they would need elaborate preparations. The pharaohs would become one with the gods and so their bodies were mummified so that the eternal soul would reanimate in the afterlife.
Slaves, gold, and other necessities were also buried with the pharaohs for the afterlife. Treasures would include statues, food, jewels, and boats - (you know, the things one needs in the afterlife:). One of the motivations for having burials in the valley was to hide from the robbers that plagued the pyramid tombs (and the robbers never found Tutankhamun's tomb). Treasures would include everything from the dazzling golden Tutankhamun's mask to underwear. Apparently, even gods need such apparel. It would also seem that gods like to party as there was also beer and wine for the heavenly festivities. Gods, it would seem like pets, and so mascots were buried with them and included dogs, baboons, and even gazelles.
- Goods For The Afterlife: Everything From Underwear To Gold To Baboons
The valley of the Kings is understandably a World Heritage Site and it can be regarded as one of the most or perhaps the most magnificent burial grounds of anywhere in the world. The tombs are hewn into limestone and the walls were sculptured and painted with stunning murals that depicted the daily scenes of life and of the land of the gods.
The tombs are also located in the ancient necropolis of Thebes that once served as the capital of the New Kingdom of Egypt.
Archeology Of The Valley
- Number Of Pharaoh Tombs: 63
These tombs and chambers vary massively. Some are just simple pits, while others are large complex tombs with over 120 chambers.
The site was rediscovered by Howards Carter in an excavation expedition almost exactly a hundred years ago in 1922. It was he who discovered the untouched tomb of Pharaoh Tutankhamun with all of its afterlife treasures and riches. The discoveries have since spawned innumerable stories, myths, and absurd (and screamy) Hollywood movies like the 1999 movie The Mummy. Today excavations continue to progress around the Valley of the Kings and the tombs are also periodically restored.
The Valley of The Kings is continuing to surrender its secrets. One of the latest was in 2005 in a team led by archeologist Otto Schaden that discovered yet another tomb only 50 feet from Tutankhamun's tomb that yielded pottery, linen, flowers, sarcophagi, and other stuff. Another was found in 2008. Who knows what other discoveries are yet to be found?
Currently, Pharaoh Ramses VIII's tomb is unaccounted for... so who knows if it's hiding away somewhere.
Visiting The Valley
Today it is very easy to visit this historical site and the entry fees are modest. Most of the tombs are not open to the public. The West Valley is much less visited and only has one open tomb. If the tourist takes a tour guide to the tombs, one will have to chitchat about the tombs before and after entering the tombs as guides are no longer permitted to lecture inside the tombs. One must move quietly in a single file through the tombs.
- Number Of Tombs Open To The Public: 18 (But Normally Not All At Once)
The Great Pyramid may be a mind-boggling marvel to behold from the outside, but the tombs are mind-boggling on the inside. The Valley of the Kings is a great place to marvel at the ancient civilizations of the past and to romanticize about Egyptian sands of time.