Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Day 11: The Valley of the Kings

We had a 4:45 AM call for the Valley of the Kings,


because you really don't want to be there in the hot part of the day. Also, certain things like King Tut's tomb only have so many tickets available per day, and if you're early you have the best chance. They need to limit access because just having tourists there causes the tombs to deteriorate. For example, mere breathing changes the balance of humidity in the tombs and eventually the extra water is enough to damage the wall paintings.

We were even more excited than normal for such a major attraction. Yesterday when we were getting ready for dinner we flipped on CNN on the TV. (Dad is a news addict and has been suffering withdrawal; the only news we get is CNN International, and they don't cover American college football which is extremely disturbing.) Right there on the screen they were interviewing tourists coming out of King Tutankhamen's tomb because they had just put his mummy on display in there in a humidity-controlled case like the ones in the mummy room at the museum in Cairo. It had previously been inside one of the original coffins in the shrine in the large room of his tomb, but it had been deteriorating badly because of the tourism (see above). This new case is supposed to help preserve his mummy.

Well, when we went to the Lounge for our usual afternoon talk about the next day's activities, we all asked the program directors if we would be able to see King Tut's mummy. Those poor guys were completely blindsided, because of course they hadn't been watching TV - they had work to do - so they didn't know! They were all, "No, his body is inside its coffin and you can't see it; they wouldn't just put it out!" It was very confusing.

When we got off our buses at the Valley, they gave us our tickets. You get a single ticket and it allows you entry into any three tombs that happen to be open (they are always changing it, opening and closing tombs to distribute the tourists). For each tomb you go in, the gatekeeper punches a hole in your ticket. You could also go to one of the "adventurous" tombs that you have to climb up to, but Dad and I didn't take advantage of that opportunity. Dad also bought us tickets to King Tut, which cost an extra $16. (Yeah, they milked us for a little extra, but we didn't really mind - we really wanted to go in there, and we know that these ticket sales are what finance the preservation of the artifacts, so it's kind of a contribution, ya know?)

Dad, being a canny old fox, suggested that we do King Tut first, and I'm really glad we did. If we had seen it last we would only have been thinking about how small it was, but seeing it first we were impressed, and now for the rest of our lives we can say we were there!

Here is an absolutely awesome website where you can find plans and drawings for basically every tomb in the Valley of the Kings; that's where I found this floor plan of King Tut's tomb (to read this, you must have Adobe Acrobat Reader installed), and this info page (no special software needed). By the way, this is an absolutely stunning website run under the auspices of Dr. Kent Weeks, one of the the foremost scholars on the Valley of the Kings. If you're interested, poke around there! It's amazing!

King Tut's tomb is really tiny. When we went in,
we walked down a long staircase and further down a smooth slope to the "antechamber" which is as far as you can go. To the left at the foot of the ramp is where they have placed King Tut's body in its climate-controlled case. Straight ahead is what Howard Carter called the Annex, where there was a bunch of stuff just tossed around. (of course, it's empty now.) To the right is the main burial chamber; you can see in quite well from the antechamber, and we spent a while looking at the frescoes on the walls. (They were in such a hurry to get this tomb ready for poor Tutankhamen that they didn't do any carving, just painting.) The National Geographic website has some pictures.

As for our three "included" tombs, Ihab suggested several good ones, and since we didn't know squat, we just went with his suggestions. They were pretty amazing, although I later read about some that I wish I had seen. Oh well - maybe I can go back someday.

The tombs we saw were all Rameseses, though not Rameses the Great from the 19th dynasty. These were all 20th-dynasty Rameseses, numbers 3, 9, and 4. Rameses III's tomb


was very large and elaborate, with tons of sunken reliefs carved directly into the stone walls, since the stone was very good there. (More commonly they would plaster the walls and then paint/carve on that.) It has lots of side chambers that would have originally held offerings, and you can tell they didn't have maps of all the tomb locations, because while they were building this tomb they broke through into somebody else's: the tomb of Amenmeses. They altered the axis they were carving on, shifting several feet to the right; you can see it if you look at the link above.

Rameses IX's tomb


was also large and elaborate, with carved and painted reliefs through much of it, but its burial chamber was like Tut's - only painted plaster without carving. (Much larger though. And sunken, like a sunken living room!)


Our third tomb, that of Rameses IV, had a very simple floor plan - basically one long corridor - but it had tons of color left on the walls so it was pretty wild to look at.

By the way, if you're interested, Dr. Kent Weeks published a fabulous, oversized book called "The Valley of the Kings" that has fold out pages showing many beautiful photographs of the insides of these tombs. See if your library has it!

The tombs were very hot and stuffy inside so there was a limit to how long we could stay in them; we eventually came up for air and went back toward the entrance. We were so happy 1) we were there first thing in the morning, and 2) we were there in early winter! Some of our friends who had been here just over a month earlier were almost baked in their skins.

Even so, I cannot even begin to express to you the desolation of this place:


Scorching hot, dust colored and dust covered, without a hint of green;


the only sign of life is the tourists.


And remember I said before that we could have climbed up to an "adventurous" tomb?


See those little things that look like goat tracks? That's where we would have had to climb. Yeah right! We went back to the bus and napped in the air conditioning. (I can tell I'm getting sick; I just didn't have the pep to do more exploring.)

On the way out, I picked a little pebble off the ground for Margy at work; she was awed to get "a piece of the Valley of the Kings"!

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