The ancient Egyptian kings used to be buried in huge pyramids for a long time (2630-1550 BCE), like the Great Pyramids of Giza. The last royal pyramid was built in 1550 BCE by pharaoh Ahmose I in Abydos. Unpredictably, pharaohs ceased building pyramids due to grave robberies and decided to cut their tombs deep into the mountain in western Thebes (modern Luxor), creating what is known today as the Valley of the Kings.
The Rise of the Valley of the Kings:
The Valley of the Kings is one of the most important highlights not only in Luxor but throughout Egypt. The Ancient Egyptians named it (Ta-Iset-Ma’at), which means “the Place of Truth”. The Valley of the Kings is the necropolis of the great Egyptian pharaohs of the 18th to the 20th Dynasty (1550-1080 BCE). Tuthmosis I was the first pharaoh who was buried at the Valley of the Kings while Ramses XI was the last pharaoh who was buried there.
The story of the Valley of the Kings begins when the pharaohs ceased building new pyramids. Therefore pharaohs decided to separate their tombs from their mortuary temples. The first pharaoh to do so was Tuthmosis I. His chief architect Ineni excavated a shaft tomb in a lonely ravine, cut a steep stairway into the rock, and at its bottom the burial chamber; this plan was followed by all the later pharaohs.
Ineni himself has provided us with documentation of the utmost secrecy of the undertaking, in a phrase he carved into the wall of his mortuary chapel: “I alone oversaw the construction of the magnificent tomb of His Majesty. No one saw anything, no one heard.”
Tomb decoration in the Valley of the Kings:
The tombs in the Valley of the Kings are hewn out of the bedrock and decorated with scenes of the journey of the Sun-god Re through the underworld. The deceased pharaoh absorbed by the setting sun, traveled in the barge of the Sun-god through a 12-hour journey at night, each hour separated from the other by gates guarded by serpents. The solar barge safeguarded from the hazards of the underworld by protective deities and emblems, finally reached the Court of Judgment or the Court of Osiris.
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Here Osiris together with 42 gods from the provinces of Upper and Lower Egypt, listened to the confession of the deceased and then watched over the weighing of the heart of the deceased against the Feather of Truth. The Ibis-headed god, Thoth, the god of Writing recorded the verdict. If guilty, the deceased will be devoured by a terrible animal or sent to Hell. A good verdict gave access to everlasting life.
The tombs are just as fascinating as ever. Some royal tombs as Ramses VI have burial chambers adorned with astrological signs. The decorations in others such as Amenhotep II were made to resemble papyrus texts pinned to the walls.
The most beautiful tombs at the Valley of Kings are the tombs of Ramses IV, Ramses IX, Merenptah, Ramses III, Sethnakht & Tausert, Ramses VI, Seti I, Horemhab, Tuthmosis III, and Tutankhamen. Only 10 tombs are open to the public, on a rotation system. Some of the tombs have an extra fee to visit, like Tutankhamen 360 EGP, Ramses VI 150 EGP, and Seti I 1400 EGP.
Tomb numbering in the Valley of the Kings:
It is to John Gardner Wilkinson, one of the founders of Egyptology, that we owe the numbering of the tombs in the Valley of the Kings and the chronological cataloging of the pharaohs who are buried there. In 1927, Wilkinson set out to number the tombs according to a simple but highly officious system: armed with a bucket of paint and a brush, he assigned a progressive number to each tomb by painting it on the entrance or on a nearby rock.
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He began numbering with the tomb lowest down in the valley (that of Ramses VII, No.1) and proceeded along the main path, numbering as he went on both the left and the right. By the time he reached the top of the valley, he had numbered 15 tombs. He then descended again to count those in the adjacent ravines. The known and numbered tombs are today (November 2020) 65, all bearing the abbreviation KV for Kings Valley. Till writing this post (November 2020), all the royal tombs were discovered at the Valley of the Kings but the tomb of Ramses VIII is not discovered yet.
Discovering Tutankhamen Tomb:
Howard Carter (British Archaeologist) had begun work in 1915 and, with little to show for it seven years later, his patron Lord Carnarvon was about to terminate his contract. But on arriving for work on 4 November 1922, Cater was immediately aware that something out of ordinary had happened. While exploring the foundations of houses that had accommodated the workers on the tomb of Ramses VI, his workers had come across a steep cut into the rock. By the following afternoon, they had explored a flight of 16 steps and, at the bottom, a sealed door. The seal has merely that of a necropolis guard, not a royal one, but Carter dashed off a cable to Carnarvon and sportingly waited 17 days for him to arrive.
Together Carter and Carnarvon cleared the entrance and at the bottom of the door hit the jackpot. There, still intact was the seal of Tutankhamen. Beyond the door lay a sloping passage full of rubble. About 9m along the passage Carter found another door.
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To the men’s astonishment, the tomb was packed with an untidy mess of three gilded beds, two golden chariots, various chairs and stools, two black and gold life-size statues, and a huge assortment of objects. That proved to be only the antechamber, and on 17 February 1923 began the exciting job of chipping away at the plaster to find what lay beyond a massive gold shrine. Carter squeezed around it to find an open doorway that led to the treasury, watched over by a life-size statue of Anubis. Here a box-like shrine was found. When away was devised to open it up, it was found to contain another smaller shrine. It came apart, four shrines in all.
It took a whole year to reach the 4th and final shrine, which produced a quartzite sarcophagus with a lid of pink granite. Inside was a coffin in the shape of the young boy-king. The coffin contained a second coffin. On 17 October 1926, four years after the first coffin was found, a third and final coffin of solid gold weighing 112kg appeared. The mummy of the king was at last exposed. The famous mask protected the face well but the rest of the body had carbonized.
This tiny intact tomb gave the boy-pharaoh Tutankhamen his world fame. Most of his treasure is displayed at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo.
Priests trying to protect the mummies:
The repose of Tuthmosis I, like that of most of the pharaohs, was of short duration. Systematic plundering of the tombs began early, despite 24-hour surveillance by teams of guards during the entire pharaonic period. The thieves were of course after the precious furnishings of the tomb. By a curious twist of fate, these powerful kings were destined not to find peace even after death. During the weak reign of the Ramessides, the priests of Amon, once so powerful, lost all their authority. They nevertheless remained devoted to their deceased kings and in order to ensure them an undisturbed afterlife and to avoid profanation of the tombs, began secretly transporting the royal mummies from one burial site to another.
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These transferals were so frequent that Ramses III was buried all three times! Finally, they decided to prepare a practically inaccessible secret hiding place: in the mountain of Deir El-Bahari, they had a shaft dug to a depth of about 12 meters. A long corridor led off from the bottom of the shaft into a spacious room. At night and in great secret, with only a few torches to provide light, as stealthily as the tomb raiders themselves, the priests took the pharaohs from their sarcophagi in the Valley of the Kings and laid them all to rest in this cave in the mountain, each with a name shield around the neck for identification.
Some had died recently, some centuries before, some had reigned for short periods, and others for decades; some had once been the most powerful rulers on earth. It made no difference. Now they lay all together, in sparse order, one alongside the next. All in all, the bodies of the pharaohs which were to remain hidden in this anonymous tomb in the heart of the mountain for 3000 years numbered 40.
Modern graves’ robbery of the Valley of the Kings:
A young tomb robber named Ahmed Abdel Rasoul, from the village of Qurnah, discovered this hiding place by pure chance one day in 1875: for 6 years and became rich from trade in the objects they gradually stole from the royal mummies. Then the secret came out and on 5 July 1881, after lengthy questioning, the young boy led Emil Brugsch (brother of the famous Egyptologist Heinrich Brugsch and at the time Vice Director of Cairo Museum) to the entrance of the shaft. A few days later; the mummies were packed and carried down into the valley, where a ship was waiting to take them to Cairo.