For as long as I can remember we have wanted to visit Egypt and immerse ourselves in the ancient wonders that it has to offer. The jewel in the Egyptian crown has always been the Valley of the Kings for us and that was one of the major reasons for us coming on this particular trip. Another early start was on the cards from our berth in Luxor with several points of call on todays expedition.
So ‘Where is the Valley of the Kings‘? Well it’s actually on the west bank of the River Nile almost opposite Luxor.
Now apologies before we start for the huge amount of history in this post. What was I supposed to do with a visit to one of the oldest and most historic places on earth? It’s more for us to remember perhaps so just skim by if it’s all too much.
The Colossi of Memnon
After a short boat ride across the River Nile and a shorter bus trip we stopped at the edge of a tiny settlement to see the Colossi of Memnon. These are two huge 3,500 year old statues of the Pharoah Amenhotep III that stand side by side in the Theban Necropolis and are all that is left of one the biggest tombs ever built in Egypt.
Unfortunately a combination of the Nile flood plain and a couple of devastating earthquakes, the worst of which took place in 1200 BC, all but destroyed the original tomb which was actually bigger than Luxor Temple. All that remains are the two Colossi. Badly damaged but still standing protecting Amenhotep III’s final resting place.
The Valley of the Kings
A short ride from Memnon and we were in the world famous Valley of the Kings. Vast stone walls lined the road from the banks of the Nile as we headed for what the locals call The Valley of the Gates of the Kings. A subtle visitors centre and ticket office shepherded us all through into little yellow trains that would transport us up the valley. No vehicles are allowed past this point and also no photography is allowed without the purchase of a fairly expensive ‘camera ticket‘.
So apologies for ‘borrowing’ these photos of the Valley from elsewhere. We decided to soak up the atmosphere and enjoy the experience rather than shell out on a ‘camera ticket‘.
The little yellow trains drop visitors at the centre of the valley where there are numerous tombs that can be visited. The standard entry ticket allows you to enter any three tombs but of course you can pay for more if you choose. The only exception is the tomb of Tutankhamen which requires a special ticket. It was pretty early in the day when we were there so the crowds weren’t too bad and we didn’t have to queue for a single tomb. Apparently it can take a long time in the busy season to get in the popular ones.
We had a quick briefing on the history of the Valley of the Kings from Nabil where he recommended a couple of tombs as being the biggest, or the deepest, or the oldest, before heading off to explore. First stop the tomb of King Rameses IV which is the biggest one in the valley. What blew us away was the quality and colour of the hieroglyphics all the way from the entrance to the main sarcophagus. So well preserved and colour absolutely everywhere.
Nabil had briefed us on what different symbols meant and what to look out for but it wasn’t easy with every surface covered and in brilliant condition. It truly felt like we were stepping back in time.
Following this we headed for the deepest tomb of Merenptah which again was astounding in its colour and preservation. Have to admit that we were surprised that the tombs were not air conditioned at all to preserve the painting or that nothing was really covered to stop visitors touching. Seemed odd.
Finally we visited Rameses IX’s final resting place. Impressive again but it’s at times like this you really do need a guide that knows the intricate history of each pharaoh because the vast number of tombs and the amount of history is astounding and difficult to take in.
Probably the most interesting part for us was when we went into the entrance to Tutankhamens tomb and there was a line of information boards with history, time lines, and photos of the discovery of the tomb. Fascinating. It all makes you realise how little you know about Egyptian history though, it’s vast.
After a couple of hours, which was nowhere near long enough, we left the valley for a short drive round to the edge of the Valley of the Queens where we were visiting the Hatshepsut Temple. Now the pharaoh Hatshepsut was the second female pharaoh of Egypt and according to Nabil spent part of her reign pretending to be male. Not sure about that as he also told us that she sent and expedition to Somalia and was the first to bring chickens back into Egypt. Could be true, could not be.
Our final stop was the huge Habu Temple on the way back to the banks of the River Nile.
The Mortuary Temple of Rameses III at Medinet Habu
The temperature was seriously high by now and many of our party were visibly wilting with this fourth temple stop being a ‘Temple Too Far‘ for many. It is possible to get historied-out I think and a few of our fellow travellers were thinking of cold drinks and dinner at this stage. Not us of course, we loved it ……….
Once again the quality of the preserved hieroglyphics astounded us. With so much flooding over the centuries and so much looting it’s amazing any of these places are still standing.
Interestingly, as we wandered through the temple we were waved over by a machine-gun wielding police officer at one end of a row of columns. We approached wondering if we’d done anything wrong but he led us forward and started to point out intricate drawings and hieroglyphics on the columns.
‘How nice‘ we thought. Then he offered to take a photo of the two of us, ‘even nicer‘. How refreshing to meet someone here who wasn’t trying to rip you off.
Then as we made to leave he blocked our path, lifted his automatic weapon and thrust his hand forward! He wanted cash! We were so appalled that we just pushed past him and stormed away not even considering the fact that he was armed until much later. Unbelievable.