Luxor’s West Bank
In ancient Egyptian culture life followed the course of 2 constants: the sun and the River Nile. It makes sense therefore that the West side of the Nile (where the sun was seen to “die” each day) was equated with death; while the East side (where the sun was reborn every morning) was the abode of the living. Nowhere is this more apparent than here in Luxor, where temples abound on the East side of the river and tombs pepper the hillsides on the West side. The most majestic of these tombs cluster together in a deep cleft now known as the Valley of the Kings.
We finished our Nile cruise today and disembarked in Luxor – our last stop in Egypt. We were off the boat by 7:00am and heading across to the West Bank of the Nile to start our sight-seeing nice and early (while it was still cool enough to function!). First site of the day: the Valley of the Kings. This enormous network of tombs served as the principal burial ground for the pharaohs of the Egyptian New Kingdom. Built across the river from the then capital of Thebes (known today as Luxor), this valley was one of the most sacred sites in Egypt from about 1600BC to 1000BC. The valley is known to contain 63 tombs and chambers (ranging in size from a simple pit some 5-6m below ground, to complex tombs 20-30m below ground containing over 100 chambers). Today we got to go down into 3 of these tombs and see for ourselves the splendour in which these ancient kings were buried.
Most of the tombs in the Valley of the Kings were cut out of the mountains following a similar pattern: a long central corridor angled down with an antechamber, numerous side chambers for treasure and a lower/deeper sarcophagus chamber. The theory is that the pharaohs switched to using these sunken tombs as they were harder to rob and were more easily concealed than the pyramids of the Old Kingdom. Unfortunately, despite their valiant efforts, almost all of the tombs discovered to date had been opened and robbed in antiquity, but the sheer size of the tombs and number of rooms designated for storage of treasures still gave us an idea of the opulence and power of the pharaohs. Amongst the most renowned tombs in the Valley of the Kings are those of Ramses II (i.e. Ramses the Great) and Tutankhamun – one of the least significant of the New Kingdom’s kings, but one of the most famous due to the fact that his tomb was discovered untouched and still containing all its treasures.
After a couple of hours trawling through the Valley of the Kings we hopped back in our minivan and drove 5 minutes down the road to the incredible tomb/temple of Queen Hatshepsut. This huge temple/tomb was both a tomb for Queen Hatshepsut and a monument to her greatness. In its reconstructed form the temple is very impressive; wandering its immense 3-tiered terraces, we felt very very small!
Hatshepsut was a pharaoh during the 18th Dynasty of the New Kingdom and is generally regarded by Egyptologists as one of the most successful pharaohs, reigning longer than any other woman* and achieving much in the way of establishing trade networks and consolidating Egypt’s significant wealth.
*Although it was uncommon for Egypt to be ruled by a woman, the situation was not unprecedented.
We were incredibly fortunate to once again have these sites virtually to ourselves. Being able to wander through the tombs at leisure, without having to dodge other people or wait in queue, has been fantastic. Thanks to lack of fellow tourists we’ve been able to linger in many of the temples and tombs and really get a feel for the place. Even better, the hawkers aren’t allowed into the actual tomb/temple grounds in most of Egypt (just at the Pyramids of Giza which just ruins the experience in our opinion).
Now we’re off to to stroll along the riverfront corniche and find ourselves a nice restaurant that specialises in shish tawouk (translation = charcoal grilled chicken) and koshari (translation = a uniquely Egyptian mix of lentils, rice, chickpeas and rich tomato paste) – our current favourite foods! Tomorrow we’re checking out the temples on the East side (i.e. the land of the living); tune in then to see even more historical marvels form Egypt!