6 am pickup – and met Atef, our driver, who spoke little English but enough to tell us to ask in ten minutes when he picked up the guide. Adam Atito, our host, knows Atef and setup with his cousin a tour guide for us. We met the guide, Momen, a very knowledgeable young man, who has studied for four years in Archeology and History of Egypt, and English as well as Italian, and worked for ten years. When we learned of his background and experience, it explained quite a bit about the information he gave us for each site we visited. He would give us the information in such succinct detail before we entered the site, and then would let us go on our own at our leisure.
On the West Bank resides the Valley of the Kings, Valley of the Queens (smaller and on the other side of the mountain separating them from the Kings), Hatshepsut Temple, and a host of other less restored temples, and smaller sites that we did not visit. Photography and videos were not allowed while inside the gates of the Valley of the Kings, so we only have the entrance mountain scenes, and the caves as well as the burial chambers of the Kings’ workers before the valley. The West is for the land of the Dead, the necropolis, while the East bank is considered for the Living. It makes sense as the sun rises in the East and life goes on, and the sun sets in the West, when day is done.
In the Valley of the Kings, most of the tombs were empty or previously raided and destroyed by tomb raiders (Indiana Jones – watch out!), thieves and explorers from other countries. On the outside of the valley are where the kings’ workers were buried, and even those have been opened and raided. Some tombs travel a ways inside, depending on when the king began his burial chambers and when his rule began. The older the king, the less likely the tomb would be dug too far into the valley sides, and more likely that he would begin immediately. A mark that showed the tomb was completed by the time the leader died was the presence of Nut – Goddess of Day and Night – painted above the sarcophagus, depicting the day beginning with the sun coming out of her mouth, and ending on the other side with the sun settling back into her mouth, and the night begins. Most tombs were not completed, and this “signature” of the tomb artists is absent.
Tombs can run levelly, steeply, a short length (as Seti I’s was since he was first to choose the tomb location and begin the tradition!), or deeply into the valley walls, even descend greatly. As many kings were buried in the Valley of the Kings, and the entrances as well as the paths of the tombs were secret, it was quite possible for a tomb to be started and run into a prior king’s tomb. The path is then detoured, thus lengthening the amount of time for the tomb to be finished. The path is lined with stone walls, smoothed with plaster, or carvings done right on the stones, then painted as the work went. The burial chamber is planned ahead with the sarcophagus already in mind.
When a king died, work on the tomb ceased immediately. If the rule of a king was late in his life, and there was not enough time for more permanent carvings, paintings on smoothed plaster would be present. The tomb of Thomenthos III is an exception, as it is filled with seemingly stick figures, simple paintings and few carvings, though he ruled for decades. He didn’t feel he needed to work on his tomb as he was busy fighting wars during his reign.
There are three phases in most tombs – the name of the king and his greatness and perfectness as a leader; which gods he chooses to prepare, accompany, and transport him on the royal barge to Paradise, the other side of Death, what he brings to offer to Osiris as he stands judged, and finally, what he envisions Paradise to be when he lives there in the After Life. Some kings went into great detail about what they accomplished, some had great funeral processions with many protectors, followers, gifts, furniture, and attendance, while others emphasized what they saw for themselves in Paradise after they crossed to the Valley of the Dead with Anubis, Isis, Nephthys protecting them in their travel, and Osiris judging at the end.
Hatshepsut’s Temple has an interesting story – Hatshepsut was married to a King, but when he died, she couldn’t rule, as he had a son by his first wife, and she was only a step-mother. As he was 16-years-old when his father died, he would have been the youngest ruler of Egypt. However, Hatshepsut had other plans. She and her lover, a priest, sent the new king to schools overseas and out of Egypt, as they ruled Egypt for 20 years. One of the things Hatshepsut did was build temples to not glorify herself but did show her making offerings to her favorite gods, Horus and Hothep (sp?), God of Entertainment.
At the Hatshepsut Temple, there are three levels, which is rare as other three-level temples have not survived. Oddly enough, or perhaps ironically enough, though when Hatshepsut died, and the young king returned to rule, he promptly destroyed Hatshepsut’s works, especially any that depicted her, and many of the gods’ faces in her temples. It was quite obvious what his feelings for her were! Like a teenage on a rampant vandal spree! The irony lies in that his temple built right next to her temple did not survive due to the flooding from the Nile, and his architecture did not have walls high enough, whereas her temple survived due to higher walls!
After Hatshepsut’s temple, we move onward back across the Nile River to Karnak temple. I’d been at Karnak twice before, both times for the Light & Sound Show at night. Those nights were full moon views, which made the visit and show magical in the night. This time, however, I’d wanted to photograph Karnak during the daytime, as the night-time showed so many beautiful aspects I couldn’t get on digi-film due to the light limitations. It was amazing. Momen filled in so many more details for us than the Light & Sound show did. This was where we learned Momen’s background.
Karnak is a conglomerate of centuries and dynasties of works. Seti I started with a temple in the central part of Karnak, followed by Rames I, II, et al. Each ruler or queen added to the Karnak temple by putting in statues, obelisks, or temples, modifying the original. In fact, much later, Peter the Great at one point changed over the original central intimate temple that was accessible only by the pharoah and priests, and reused the blocks for his own design. Karnak grew to over 60 hectares, and then was walled into a rectangle.
The connection between Luxor Temple and Karnak Temple is a line of sight that can be drawn between Karnak and Luxor, a distance of 2 km as the crow flies.
Luxor Temple is much smaller and simpler than Karnak. It’s like an appetizer version. Still, it is impressive to see how well many of the large columns and statues have been preserved and restored. There are four statues of Rames, two at the front and two in the inner courtyard. One of two obelisks is in front of the two Ramses statues, as is the proper place for obelisks (the other obelisk is on display at the Concorde Museum in France) that stand 25’.
Of note, what amazed Amy and me were the colors that were still intact, albeit quite faded, on the carvings, columns, heiroglyphs, and walls. Most were underneath or in covered rooms, but those that were best kept were enclosed and on stone, not on the plaster overlay. The walls of many structures, if not carved out of stone, are made of mud bricks, floated with mud for a level surface, and plastered over for carving and then painting. Colors on stone were made out of natural materials like semi-precious stones, (duh), ground down to a powder, mixed with cane sugar, resin, and other carrier and binders to make a paint-like fluid. Compared to Indian paintings on buildings, the Egyptian paints sounded more likely to last, however. Indian pigments were from plant materials, also mixed with carriers and binders for application and endurance. Of course, the differences in ages weathered is much greater for the Egyptian works.
Another point that amazed us was the intelligence, scientific precision, and forethought of the Egyptians of the Old, Middle and New Kingdoms. The Old Kingdom is known for the large architectural projects and when the pyramids were built, more than 4,000 years ago, 2649–2150 BC, covering the 3rd to the 6th Dynasties. The first known ones were built by Snurfu, and were round or “bent” shaped, not the triangular pyramids like the famous Giza pyramids, including the largest one built by Khufu from 2589 – 2566 B.C. The Middle Kingdom covered 2055 – 1650 B.C., 11th Dynasty to the 14th Dynasty, and was generally at war or kings trying to unite parts of Egypt. The New Kingdom is known for the Ramses dynasties, 1550 to 1069 B.C. from the 18th to the 20th Dynasties. The New Kingdom is when Kings were formally called, “Pharoahs,” many of them named after Ramses.
Many of Egypt’s ancient artifacts are not in Egypt because of the centuries of discoveries by foreign explorers, with the antiquities taken out of the country, most likely never to return. Several important pieces are still in negotiations for their return. In 1971, the Egyptian Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA) was formally formed, and has kept Egyptian a track of artifacts within and outside of Egpyt. Because Egypt is dependent on tourism of the ancient world (where about one third of the world’s ancient treasures are located in Egypt), these ancient artifacts are important economically as well as Egypt’s pride.
Of the two museums in Luxor that Amy and I have visited – the Luxor Museum, and the Mummification Museum – both were quite informative and magnetic! The Luxor Museum houses quite an exhibit of items found in the tombs and pyramids, mostly intricately carved statues and walls, two mummies (one of Ramses II with a fantastic story of how it was returned to Egypt from Niagra Falls, NY, and through Atlanta, GA!), and several fascinating artifacts. The explanations were clear and plentiful. The museum’s path was easy to follow, and well planned. We could have easily spent hours there, and I thought Amy would be done in ten minutes, but she was just as engaged as I. What amazed me was how advanced the Egyptians then were to have such craftsmanship and forethought. It was shown by the delicate hieroglyphics documenting an accounting to the gold work of jewelry, to the details of the funeral beds for the tombs. These were planned to last for eons. Entry to the museum cost EGP 100 for adults, and EGP 50 for students (about $17 for adults and $8 for students).
The second museum is the Mummification Museum by the Luxor Temple, found along the Nile River walk. It’s a bit pricey for what it shows, but it is a simple display that is well-assembled in one large room with a ramp along the wall with a trail of panels depicting the burial process. The curator did a good job in arranging the displays in such a tight space. The tour takes us from the body of the king or important person to be embalmed, cleaning in clear water, applying the linens, resins, to the final funeral procession. Temperature and humidity controlled display cases show several items found in the tombs, an assortment of mummified animals, a mummy of a general of Amunra, and whole painted well-preserved mummy cases. The cost was Adults, EGP 50, Students (to 10) EGP 25 (about $9 / $4.25).
Unfortunately in both museums, no photos can be taken. However, I found both well worth visiting. We were finished with all of the above tours by 2 pm! Whew!