Luxor, Egypt – The Home to the “Valley of the Kings”!
The West Bank of Luxor is certainly one of the best holiday destinations and the world’s most highly prized archaeological sites ever explored. Historically, it is actually much more than what we regard as the “Valley of the Kings,” however the term has come to describe the entire area found here in Egypt. As an example, many of the best books written about the West Bank at Luxor or ancient Thebes have been titled, “Valley of the Kings”, even though the books are describing the entire region.
As a result, it can get a little bit confusing for first time travelers to the area, especially when you take into consideration the actual scope of the religious concept; when referring solely to the Valley of the Kings itself, one speaks only of the tombs, however these tombs can’t be described without incorporating the wealth of the accompanying larger mortuary complexes. It’s true that the entire West Bank is flecked with with ancient tombs, tombs that once held the remains of Egypt’s kings, noblemen, servants, and noble families.
The Valley of the Kings, also referred to as Biban el-Moluk – the “Gates of the Kings,” is an extremely important place of Egyptian archaeology, nestled just behind the West Bank of Luxor. Not only is it a highly treasured Egyptian site, but also one of the most noteworthy archaeological sites in the entire world. It’s the place where the majority of the pharaohs of Egypt of the New Kingdom were laid to rest, and it still holds many secrets to this day.
Luxor, located in Upper Egypt, has been popularly described as being the world’s biggest open-air museum, given its many fantastic ancient archaeological sites. The city itself has a population of over five hundred thousand inhabitants, making their homes mostly in the city’s East Bank region. The East Bank is where you’ll find the modern city of Luxor with it’s residential areas, restaurants, cafés, shopping and more. Winter Palace Hotel, Karnak Temply, Luxor Temple, the Luxor International Airport, the Luxor Museum and the Mummification Museum are all located in the East Bank as well. This is the part of Luxor where you’ll be able to find the train and bus stations, the majority of the city’s hotels and dining establishments, tourist shops and so on. Most people coming to Luxor, including the vast majority of the city’s tour groups, stay on the East Bank and make their way across to the tourist sites on the West Bank daily; nevertheless in recent years there has been a hotel boom on the West bank and many independent travelers have started booking their hotels on that side.
The ancient capital of Egypt, called Thebes, was situated on the West bank of the Nile. This is where most of the ruins and the tombs are. Luxor’s West Bank is home to the Valley of the Kings, Valley of the Queens, Medinet Habu (memorial temple of Ramesses III), The Ramesseum (memorial temple of Ramesses II), Deir el-Medina (workers’ village), Tombs of the Nobles, Deir el-Bahri (Mortuary Temple of Hatshepsut, etc.), Malkata (palace of Amenophis III) and Colossi of Memnon (memorial temple of Amenophis III).
It’s worth mentioning that the majority of the ancient tombs are not open to the public – eighteen of the tombs can be opened, but are almost never all opened at the same time. Officials will occasionally close tombs, rotating their open or closed for tourism status, in order to preserve and do restoration work on any of the tombs that require it. The amount of traffic coming to Luxor to see KV62 has led officials to add a separate charge for entry into that tomb. Also, the tour guides are no longer allowed to give lectures from inside the tombs, and tourists visiting the area are asked to proceed in single file quietly through the tombs. These rules help to minimize the amount of time the large numbers of tourists are inside of the tombs, helping to prevent the crowds from causing any damage to the tomb’s structure or the surfaces of the decoration. Disappointingly to many, photography is no longer allowed in the tombs, however hopefully visitors will appreciate that these decisions are made so these great archaeological sites will remain intact for everyone to enjoy for years to come.
On most days out of the week, an average of four to five thousand visitors come to Luxor to see the main valley and take in the sights. This incredible number gives you an idea as to why these protective measures were put into place to help keep the site as undamaged as possible while still allowing tourists to come and visit. When the Nile Cruises arrive, the number of visitors to the area can reach more than nine thousand people, and these numbers are expected to keep growing to around 25,000 in the next year. The West Valley is the less popular of the sites, as there is only one tomb that is open for the public to see.
The Valley of Kings is a valley in this area where, for a period of roughly five hundred years from the 16th to 11th century BC, the tombs we see today were built for the Pharaohs and powerful nobles of the New Kingdom – these were the Eighteenth to the Twentieth Dynasties of Ancient Egypt.
The Valley of Kings rests on the West Bank of the Nile, across from Thebes (known today as modern Luxor), within the centre of the Theban Necropolis. The wadi consists of two separate valleys: the East Valley where most of the royal tombs are situated, and the West Valley.
This Luxor area has of course been a major region of modern Egyptological exploration for the last two hundred years, captivating people’s imaginations all over the world. Prior to this, the region was a place of tourism in antiquity, particularly during Roman times. This area underscores the shifts in the study of ancient Egypt, beginning with antiquity hunting, and changing to scientific excavation of the entire Theban Necropolis area.
Despite the vast amount of investigation, research and exploration, only eleven of the area’s tombs have actually been completely recorded. Interestingly, a number of the tombs have graffiti scrawled on them by ancient visitors. Jules Baillet was able to point out more than 2100 bits of Greek and Latin graffiti, along with some markings written in Phoenician, Cypriot, Lycian, Coptic, and other languages. Most of these ancient markings can be found within KV9, which is home to almost one thousand of them. It’s known that the earliest positively dated graffiti can be dated back to 278 B.C.
In 1799, people from Napoleon’s expedition to Egypt, including Dominique Vivant, were able to draw out maps and plans of the tombs that were known at the time. This was when the Western Valley was noted for the first time. Prosper Jollois and Édouard de Villiers du Terrage were able to locate the tomb of Amenhotep III, WV22. The Description de l’Égypte features two volumes out of a total of twenty four about the area surrounding ancient Thebes. European exploration persevered in and around the area of Thebes throughout the nineteenth century, inspired partly by Champollion’s translation of hieroglyphs early in the century. The Luxor area was frequented by Belzoni who was working for Henry Salt, and discovered several tombs such as tho tombs of Ay situated in the West Valley (WV23) in 1816 followed by Seti I (KV17) the following year. Nearing the end of his visits, Belzoni said that each one of the sites tombs had been found, and that nothing noteworthy remained to be discovered there. Exploring the region at the same time was Bernardino Drovetti, the French Consul-General who happened to be a rival of Belzoni.
When the time came that Gaston Maspero was reappointed to head the Egyptian Antiquities Service, the exploration of the valley in Luxor shifted once again. Maspero appointed English archaeologist Howard Carter as the Chief Inspector of Upper Egypt, and it was Carter who made the stunning discovery of many new tombs and explored many others, clearing KV42 and KV20.
In Luxor toward the beginning of the 20th century, American Theodore M. Davis and his team led by Edward R. Ayrton had obtained the excavation permit in the valley. The team found a number of royal and non-royal tombs including KV43, KV46 and KV57. In 1907 they found the what was possibly an Amarna Period cache in KV55. After they made a discovery of what they believed was all that remained of the burial of Tutankhamun (which were items recovered from KV54 and KV58), it was once again declared that the valley was completely and thoroughly explored, with no further burials left to be found. In Davis’s 1912 publication, The Tombs of Harmhabi and Touatânkhamanou; the book states, “I fear that the Valley of Kings is now exhausted.”
After Davis’s death in the year 1915, Lord Carnarvon obtained permission to further excavate the valley in Luxor and he got Carter to help him explore it. After a lengthy and methodical search process, they were able to find the actual tomb of Tutankhamun (KV62) in November of 1922.
Since then, a number of expeditions have continued to be carried out throughout the valley. In 2001 the Theban Mapping Project was able to create new signs for the tombs, giving information and plans of all of the open tombs.
With the recent discovery of a new chamber – KV63 – in 2005 followed by the 2008 discovery of two more tomb entrances, the valley is now known to be the home of sixty three tombs and chambers ranging in size from KV54, a basic pit in the ground, to KV5, a highly complex tomb containing more than one hundred and twenty different chambers.
Tourists come from all over the world to see the royal tombs, decorated with scenes from ancient Egyptian mythology which give insight to the culture, the beliefs and the funerary rituals of that time period. Virtually every one of the tombs appear to have been opened and looted in antiquity, but the tombs and burials continue to stimulate research and inspire interest around the globe and a new tourist centre has recently been opened. Perhaps the most famous discovery was that of the tomb of Tutankhamun along with its rumours of the Curse of the Pharaohs.
In 1979, the area in Luxor became a designated UNESCO World Heritage site, along with the surrounding Theban Necropolis, and measures are put into place to routinely repair and protect the different parts of the site. When visiting Luxor, you can travel as a part of a tour or go solo. One of the most reputable tours of the area is the Luxor Day Tour, offered by RealLifeEgypt.com. You will be collected from your hotel, and taken along a tour of the Valley of the Kings on a half day excursion. They also have accommodations available by the week or the month. Once you’re in the region you’ll see that there are many different ways to tour Luxor. By boat, hot air balloon, by horse or camel, an of course on foot.
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