November 6 – 17
After I finished my beer, I set out in search of an ATM to get some cash; one of the downsides of travel in Egypt is that not many places take credit cards. When you combine this with the need to purchase the additional side trips we’d been taking with our tour, we needed to use cash far more than usual.
My lengthy search, nearly a mile in total as I made a big loop brought home to me the enduring problem one encounters as a non-Egyptian, the relentless onslaught by the locals for money. It produces a level of cynicism that is hard to let go of; each time one is approached you do what you can to discourage interaction as you know it will likely lead to a proposed sale of merchandise or charge for a service you didn’t ask for. I had two children approach me out of nowhere while walking and demand that I give them a Euro.
Later, replete with an adequate supply of cash, we all made our way a few blocks to the Nefertiti Hotel and its Al-Sahaby Lane Restaurant for dinner. Up a couple of flights of stairs, we were seated at outdoor table on the roof with a nice view of the city. A couple of appetizer plates to share were ordered which we all enjoyed, with familiar items like hummus, baba ghanoush and some dumpling like creations.
Joanna ordered the Camel Meat Pot and I the Feteera Lahma, thinking it sounded interesting, but was deceived by the description as it turned out to be an Egyptian Pancake like we had our first night of the tour. The Camel was interesting, full of firm flavorful meat, not too gamey but slightly fatty with a rich brown sauce.
As we were finishing, Joanna and others decided to have dessert but I was bushed and asked her to cover our portion of the bill so I could bail out for the hotel. Together with our drinks of sparkling water and a lemon/mint tea, the total with a tip came to 500 EGP ($31).
We’d experienced crowded temples and monuments throughout the tour and so Mahmoud suggested that for our visit to the Valley of the Kings that we agree to a very early start the next morning, leaving the hotel at 5:30 to get to the site when it opened at 6:00 am and not surprisingly with this group, we were all on board. When we arrived at the site, our reward for the effort was the best prize of all; we were the first ones there and had the whole place, for the time being, to ourselves.
Shuttled a short distance out to the area of the tombs, at first glance it’s a disappointing sight, a shallow denuded desert valley with nothing magnificent, like a pyramid or gigantic statue to catch your eye. But don’t let this fool you as the rewards are all featured underground. For a period of nearly 500 years from the 16th to 11th century BC, these rock cut tombs were excavated for the pharaohs and powerful nobles of the New Kingdom (the Eighteenth to the Twentieth Dynasties of Ancient Egypt).
The Nineteenth and Twentieth Dynasties saw an increase in the number of burials (both here and in the Valley of the Queens), with Rameses II and later Rameses III each constructing a massive tomb used for the burial of their sons (KV5 and KV3 respectively). With KV5, Rameses II enlarged the earlier small tomb of an unknown Eighteenth Dynasty noble or his numerous sons. With 120 known rooms, and excavation work still underway, it is probably the largest tomb in the valley. Originally opened (and robbed) in antiquity, it is a low-lying structure that has been particularly prone to the flash floods that sometimes hit the area.
With the 2005 discovery of a new chamber and the 2008 discovery of two further tomb entrances, the valley is known to contain 63 tombs and chambers. The royal tombs are decorated with scenes from Egyptian mythology and give clues as to the beliefs and funerary rituals of the period. Almost all of them seem to have been opened and robbed in antiquity, but they still give an idea of the opulence and power of the pharaohs.
The tombs were constructed and decorated by the workers of the village of Deir el-Medina, located in a small wadi between this valley and the Valley of the Queens, facing Thebes (Modern day Luxor). The daily lives of these workers are quite well known due to their being recorded in tombs and official documents. Amongst the events documented is perhaps the first recorded workers’ strike, detailed in the Turin strike papyrus.
The modern abbreviation “KV” stands for “Kings’ Valley”. In the 1820’s KV numbers were painted over the entrances to the 21 tombs that lay open in the East Valley at that time, as well as four tombs in the West Valley that were dubbed WV1 through WV4. The tombs in the West Valley were later incorporated into the East Valley numbering system as WV22 through WV25, and tombs that have been opened since that time have been added to the list. The numbers range from KV1 (Rameses VII) to KV64 (discovered in 2012).
Most of the tombs are not open to the public (18 of them can be opened, but they are rarely so at the same time); entrance to three came with our admission ticket and we would visit those of Merenptah, Rameses III, and Rameses VI. For an extra fee we could have seen that of Tutankhamen, but Mahmoud advised against it as it had been so hastily constructed (the king died suddenly at an early age) I decided not to spend the time or money.
We’ll cover the tombs in detail and our visit later that day to the Hatshepsut’s mortuary temple complex at Deir el-Bahri. Needless to say, our time in the Valley was awe inspiring, the richness of detail, size and scope of each tomb and ongoing connection to these ancients will not be soon forgotten by any of us.
Al-Sahaby Lane Restaurant: https://nefertitihotel.com/sahabi.htm
Valley of the Kings: http://www.sca-egypt.org/eng/SITE_VOK.html
Turin strike papyrus: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Judicial_Papyrus_of_Turin