Tombs That Left Us In Awe – West Bank, Luxor

Day 46 – Sept 3, 2022

Our program director/Egyptologist Mohamed had us on the bus by 8:00am for a full day of adventure, and with a predicted high of 107º we knew it was going to be a hot one.  We were reminded to bring water, hats, sturdy shoes, sunglasses, and to lather up with sun protection. For us it was like another day at home in the Arizona desert!

The Colossi of Memnon. These massive stone statues of Pharaoh
Amenhotep III have stood since 1350 BC

Valley of the Kings

If you recall from my previous post, when we were on high in the hot air balloon we saw the expanse of the Valley of the Kings and Queens situated on the eastern slopes of the Theban Mountains. We were excited, as we knew we’d soon be going underground into those tombs to learn the legends of the pharaohs and queens of ancient Egypt buried there.

Relief map of the main Valley of the Kings, marking several of the tombs

Our first destination of the day was the Valley of the Kings, the resting place for almost all of the kings (pharaohs) of the 18th, 19th, and 20th dynasties (1539–1075 BCE), from Thutmose I to Ramses X.  The hundreds of tombs in the area are actually arranged in three sections – the common workers, the high ranking officials, the elites and nobles known as the Tomb of the Nobles, and finally the royals. 

Tomb of the Nobles

Tombs were built for the pharaohs while they ruled, with elaborate preparations for the next world in which humans were promised continuing life, and pharaohs were expected to become one with the gods. Egyptian tomb art was known to be the point of contact between the living and the dead. The belief was that some of the images and carvings they created in the tombs would come to life and accompany the mummified deceased into the afterlife.

Tomb of the Kings alley

The main valley contains 63 known tombs, numbered Kings Valley KV 1-63, but only 24 contain royal remains with the others being empty or undecorated, or belonging to privileged high-status officials of Thebes. We had tickets to visit any two of the king’s tombs, plus a special ticket for the highlight – King Tut’s tomb.

Photography was allowed without flash, and all of our underground pictures were taken with our iPhones.

Tomb of Rameses III (KV 11) is characterized by its many impressive reliefs and paintings. I’ve forgotten the story of what the amazing texts and paintings represent:

Tomb of Rameses I (KV16) was discovered in 1817 by Giovanni Belzoni, an Italian explorer. Two staircases and a descending corridor lead directly to the burial chamber. Its decorative style uses grayish-blue as the background for the brightly colored figures, scenes and texts:

Tomb of King Tutankhamun, or King Tut for short (KV62). This tomb was hidden for 3,000 years until Howard Carter discovered it in Nov. 1922. Although almost all tombs here have been looted over the years, this one was found with all of its incredible treasures intact, which is what made it so famous. We saw some of those treasures, including the solid gold coffin and funerary mask, displayed at the Egyptian Museum just a few days ago, and we were very excited to see the tomb and the actual mummy itself.  It was extraordinary to view the mummy that created such a sensation in our modern world!

King Tut died at age 19. His body has been in this oxygen-free glass enclosure for over 100 years, and previous to that within the innermost golden coffin of a three-nested coffin for some 3,000 years

Our next stop was at the home of archaeologist Howard Carter, the man who discovered King Tut’s tomb in 1922.  Nothing too special there as far as we were concerned. The house was restored and now contains period elements, but the articles on the walls showing details of the discovery and the handling of the treasures were interesting:

Scenes on our way to the Valley of the Queens, locals going about their daily lives, a peaceful scene.

Valley of the Queens

We finally arrived at the Valley of the Queens, another area full of fascinating tombs. It houses the burial tombs of many Egyptian queens, princes, princesses and family members of the pharaohs. It was initially built for the wives of the pharaohs, who weren’t allowed burial in the nearby Valley of the Kings. This valley is made up of just over 90 tombs, but not all are open to the public. We had a ticket to the tomb of Prince Amenherkhepshef (QV55) and a special one for Queen Nefertari (QV66).

We arrived at the Valley of the Queens at 11:00am and it was already HOT!

The tomb of Prince Amunherkhopshef (QV55), one of Ramesses III’s sons, was discovered in 1903. It is one of the finest monuments within the Valley of the Queens. The decoration is beautiful, with well-carved painted reliefs on a blue-grey background. The overall appearance has an ultramarine hue that gives a soft and gentle feel to the young prince’s tomb:

The tomb of Queen Nefertari (QV66) was discovered on March 12th, 1904 by Ernesto Schiaparelli, the director of the Egyptian Museum in Turin at the time:

Queen Nefertari was the great and favorite wife of Pharaoh Ramses II. Because of her importance to him, an impressive tomb was constructed for her as an equal to the magnificent rock temple dedicated to her within Abu Simbel Temple – which we’ll visit in a few days.

This is the largest tomb found on the site, and one of the most beautifully decorated in the history of ancient Egypt

After a flight of stairs to the landing, our jaws dropped at a sight to behold:

The tomb of Nefertari is one of the most spectacular and colorful ever discovered in Egypt

The ceiling is painted in dark blue and spangled with golden stars. Its lavishly decorated white walls bear elegant and vividly colored depictions of ancient Egyptian funerary beliefs. Although years of looting have affected this tomb, the structure and decorations remain immaculate:

At over 3,000 year old, these are the best preserved and most beautiful ancient paintings we’ve ever seen. Mohamed was right when he teased us that today’s excursion would be special. Throughout the morning he had been reminding us that the best was yet to come, and we were definitely blown away!

He said it was the greatest of all royal tombs and we had to agree!

Queen Nefertari’s tomb was stunning, you’ve got to see it to believe it!

On our way out of the valley we stopped at the Mortuary Temple of Hatshepsut, the greatest of Egypt’s female pharaohs:

By then I was overheated and tired, can you tell?

We learned the stories and legends of the pharaohs and queens of ancient Egypt, and marveled at their impressive tombs. We’ll never forget these tours as they’ve opened our eyes to amazing cultures and incidents that have occurred over the past several thousand years that we knew so little about. Even today new tombs are being discovered with amazing buried treasures!

What an adventure it’s been so far!

Next up: Life Along the Nile River


  1. I wondered when we were working at the Gila Cliff Dwellings, and I wonder again as I look at your gorgeous pictures of those elaborate tombs, why weren’t they cared for in the intervening years if they’re so culturally/historically important? All that work, all that “value,” and abandoned to the literal sands of time. Did your consummate guide talk about that aspect at all? History and time are strange things!

  2. Fabulous area and pictures! I don’t know how you can recall the details of a trip you took five or six months ago! I suppose the pictures jog your memory but…’re good!

  3. It’s amazing that the vibrant colors lasted all this time. They look as if they were just completed. I can’t imagine how spectacular they must have been in person. Too bad you didn’t a week or more to take all this in. Definitely two days of overload. What a fantastic post. Thanks so much for beautiful photos and all the history. I’m sorry we weren’t able to get that way when we visited.

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