February 14, 2003:
Starting at 8 to try to avoid the crowds and the heat
-- even in Spring, it's oppressive on the west bank.
The sandstone cliffs are like oven stones and catch
and reflect the heat back into the valleys. The breeze
is nice, though.
We decided to swap around things today, to spend the
day on the west bank and spend a more leisurely day
on the eastern bank and the temples tomorrow. It made
much more sense. We had a new guide today, Jimmy had to stay
at home with his family. Haggag is very interesting
-- probably the best guide that we had -- and his
specialty is the religious aspects of the tombs.
He's working on his PhD, and he studied in Pennsylvania.
Valley of the Queens
Only four tombs are open in the Valley of the Queens, and most of them are for princes. Earlier pharaohs and their families were buried here. Some 100 tombs are cut into the stone walls here -- Listing of Tombs. We went into two of the tombs, including Amunherkhopshef. We didn't take a lot of pictures here, I'm not sure why.
Valley of the Kings
Our next stop is the Valley of the Kings -- not the
most impressive of places when seen from the road
-- just a few walls and holes in the ground. The gate
and ticket kiosk are far down the road (part of the
new security measures) and you take a little Disneyland
train (called a Tuff Tuff) to get closer to the actual
barrier. It beats walking up the road for a mile or
The tombs are built under natural pyramids -- while
they no longer build "real" pyramids because
they are like beacons to thieves, they still want
the symbolism of "first land" to rise from
the waters. First land is simply mountains -- pyramids
-- rising from the sea, part of the Geb/Sed myth.
In the tombs, Re, the sun god, is represented by many symbols, all
of them the "circle of life". Shown as the
scarab at dawn, a disk at noon, and old man at dusk.
In the calendar, there are 360 days (12 months of
30 days of 3-10 day weeks) plus five "Forgetting
Days" of festivals, celebrating the honeymoon
of Re and Isis. The tombs in the valleys symbolize
the journey to the second life, not the "Afterlife".
Life is on the east -- houses and temples to the gods,
all the living world. Death is on the west -- funerary
temples and tombs only. But, the egyptians really
didn't have a concept of "death" since it
was simply a second life.
I was very surprised by the first tomb we visited. Wow. I say that alot, actually,
but I wasn't prepared for the bright colors and the
sheer volume of art in the stone tombs. These tombs
are actually large -- deep, with multiple rooms, and
gorgeously colored. Tausert, Ramesses III, Ramesses IX, Seti II, Merenptah,
and Thutmosis III -- I took one look at the huge staircase
up o the mountain cleft and the thought that it was
90 feet back down was a bit too daunting. I sat on
the rock wall and waited for Mark. The style of this
tomb (much like Amenhotep) is very different from
the styles of the others. I'm sorry I missed it., but Mark took some good pictures.
The famous tomb KV5 is not open. This is the enormous tomb of Ramesses II's sons (possibly the largest tomb in the valley with hundreds of rooms). It is a current excavation, so no visitors. Most tombs are empty, anyway -- some retain a sarcophagus or fragments of one, but they are empty rooms. It's the decorations that are fascinating, anyway.
We passed on seeing King Tut's tomb -- it is pronounced
toot-ANKH-AH'-moon, not Toot'n'KA'mun) since everything
in he tomb is in the Egyptian Museum, so other than
to see how small it is compared to the others, there
isn't much there. Instead of Tut, we went to three
more tombs and to the Valley of the Artists, a much
Valley of the Workers
Then to the Valley of the Workers/Artists, which is
the village (of about 1000) who supplied the technical
skills to build and decorate the tombs. The houses
-- one or two story mud brick and stone, are the same
now as there were in 1700 BCE -- the tombs are built
just up the hills from the houses.
The artists were "protected" by guards to
prevent anyone from coming in to the West Bank, or
them leaving to the East -- the workers knew where the
tombs were and what was in them, so they were carefully
guarded to make sure they didn't reveal that information.
It didn't work -- the tombs were looted soon after
they were built, in what is widely believed to be
One of the workers, named Sennedjem, was the "best
in Egypt at making KNEES". It is reasonable to
assume that others did hands, eyes, or other body
parts as a specialty. Workers were organized into gangs, and were responsible for the left-hand side of the tomb, or the right-hand side. Many nobles have a title such as Overseer of the Right-Side gang. It was almost an assembly line process.
We visited the Tomb of Peshedu, a deep hole of a tomb, but the
details of daily life in the painted burial chamber
are beautiful. A helpful gentleman handed out squared
of cardboard to fan ourselves (it's bloody hot in
these airless tombs) and pointed out the interesting
scenes. No photos were allowed, as they've apparently
had problems with flash. Pity, really, as they were lovely.
We also visited the lovely little temple of Deir el-Medina,
which is surrounded by high, undulating mud brick
wall. We weren't allowed to go up the stairs -- mostly
because another group was there. We could have given
the custodian a bit of baksheesh, I think, and been
allowed up on the roof, but not all of us. Behind the temple is an enormous
deep drainage hole that was the garbage dump of the
town -- where the town put their refuse, so this is
where everything will be found. It's a great place
The Ramesseum, our next stop, is enormous. It's an
imposing temple surrounded by the now-familiar mud
brick wall and row upon row of mud brick arched storage
rooms, like silos, for a few acres behind the temple
itself. Food for the whole city of Thebes for two years could be stored here.
The colossi of Ramesses II is here, an astounding
size. Only the head and shoulder remain, but they
are truly colossal. The toes of the feet, found in
pieces around the front of the temple, are almost
two feet long, and it is said that the entire statue
is one piece of pink granite. This is the piece that
Shelley's poem is supposedly written about.
I met a traveler from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half-sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read,
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless tings,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed,
And on the pedestal these words appear:
"My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings:
Look upon my works, ye Mighty, and despair!"
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away. -- Shelley
There are "new" mud brick walls surrounding
the temple grounds, but they cannot be differentiated
from the "old" mud bricks walls without
some effort. Nothing has changed.
Very close by is the temple of Medinet Habu, a beautifully
decorated ruin that we wandered around for an hour
or so with our heads craned back staring at a the
brilliantly colored ceiling. I think that this temple is actually even more colorful than Kom Ombo. I think that the temples are more likely to remain colorful if they ar buried -- most of these temples were engulfed in sand as little as a century ago.
Tombs of the Nobles
The Tombs of the Nobles -- Ramose, Nakht, and Menna
-- are phenomenal. THe bas-relief are incredibly
detailed, carved into fine white limestone. It is
nearly white and so smooth it feels like porcelain.
Only some walls of the tombs are finished -- the rest
are gridded and outlined and barely started.
I was feeling very icky all day, upset stomach-food-poisoning
sort of things (probably from Aswan, where
I ate "Salad". Even doused with lemon juice, it was apparently too much). So today included a series of stops to sit for a minute until the feeling passed. Still sickly even though we stopped for tea and lemon
to settle my stomach, I sat in a hot bath once we
got back to the hotel and then couldn't seem to get
warn. I bundled up in bed and Mark ordered room service
to keep me company. He had steak, and ordered a plate
of white rice for me. I ate in bed.