The Boy King
You may remember from our posts about Cairo how much we enjoyed seeing the Tutankhamun exhibition at the Egyptian museum. We saw some of the 5,000 pieces of jewellery, pottery, statues and other paraphernalia that had been found in the tomb in the 1920's. We were amazed by the sheer scale of the treasures found and couldn't wait to see the tomb itself later in our travels.
The end of our 4th week in Luxor saw that day arrive.
We had arranged to share the adventure with another Worldschooling family we had met in Egpyt. Melissa, Rafael and their daughter Aveda met us bright and early on the Nile road and we shared a minibus drive some 25 minutes away from the Nile villages and up into the mountains that are home to The Valley of the Kings. Grand title right, and understandably so!
My childhood was filled with ancient Egyptian history, and in my head Tutankamun and Cleopatra were the main event, but how wrong I had been. Our time in Egpyt had informed us that while arguably the most famous names outside of Egypt, these two are small fry compared to Pharoahs such as Ramses II, Hatshepsut, Thutmose III and Amenhotep III.
We learned that this place in Luxor, in Arabic, Wādī Al-Mulūk, was sacred land, a burial ground for the most loved and respected royalty. At the time of writing this (summer 2022), 63 tombs had been found under the earth here (although many believe there are more to be discovered, and when we visited there were huge excavations going on as archeologists and historians search for hidden vaults and chambers, expecially hoping to find the long lost tomb of Ramses VIII).
As we drove towards the mountains I was feeling so excited to be there and struggling to take in all that our guide was telling us. You definitely don't need a guide for a trip here but as the cost was going to be split between our two families and we are all big history fans we decided some extra info would be nice.
We arrived at the ticket office, in a valley with two towering mountains on each side of us. Before you get to your tickets you are funnelled through a mini souk (market) where lots of vendors are trying to sell their souvenirs. We didn't want to stop and look and so our well practised "La Shukran" / No thank you were used a lot here.
Having paid for our tickets we were shown to a buggy which was going to take us the few minutes drive up to the tombs. Aveda got to help the driver and was very proud of herself for getting us all there safely.
Included in your entrance ticket costing about 240 EGP (£10 GBP, €12, $13 USD) you get access to three tombs. They change these periodically which first means that tombs are not used all the time which helps preserve them, but also means that renovations and explorations can be done away from prying tourists eyes too. You can pay extra to visit certain others and we had decided as a group that Tutankamun was the one we all wanted to add. This was an extra 300 EGP per person (£13 GBP, €15 EUR, $16 USD). Worth knowing that children and students get a 50% discount.
Tickets bought, buggy ride over and souvenir sellers far behind us we arrived at the entrance to the hill that winds up between the tombs. It was breathtakingly beautiful, the colours of the dessert we'd become so used to somehow brighter up here as the sand and stones glistened and shone under the white bright sun.
We'd gone early to avoid the crowds we knew would start to build as the day went on and our guide, aware of this too, was keen to get us up to the first tomb, Tomb 8, Merentaph.
By this point in our travels you would think that the initial "wow" factor of these ancient monuments would have started to wear off, and I think for the children there was a small element of, here we go again, but for me, stepping into this first tomb was thrilling, taking me back to school projects and rewatched documentaries from my childhood.
Descending down the first slope, under brightly coloured hieroglyphs and messages to the gods your eyes don't know where to look first. As I've said before you really need at least two walks through a corridor like this to get anywhere close to seeing the true beauty. This tomb was found in 1903, and, like so many others, had been looted and defaced long before that, but the pillared hall and the burial chamber are outstanding enough on their own without other treasures. Like most tombs this one shows not just details from the pharoahs life but what they hope for in the after life too, and like many others, the night sky, dark blue with white/silver stars, painted on to the roof of the tomb takes your breath away. The children enjoyed finding the sarcophagi and peering through some wooden gates to as yet fully explored corners of the chamber.
All too soon we were ascending back up the slope, and on to the next tomb.
The "big" one. King Tut Ankh Amun himself. The Boy King.
As we walked towards the entrance our guide was pointing out stones and marks in the floor to the children and began to tell a story of how this tomb had been discovered, a story I had never heard before. World renowned Egyptologist Howard Carter had been searching for this burial chamber for 7 years, sure it was in the valley somewhere and finding small, tantalising pieces of funerary wear bearing Tut's name but never finding the tomb itself. The story goes that he had been given funding for one more year of exploration and was starting to get desperate.
One hot, dusty day, a local Luxor boy named Hussein Abdel Rasou was working on the site fetching water for the team. Arriving with two large jars he began to sweep some sand away to set the jars down on a flat surface when he noticed that there was a long, perfectly flat stone where he had been digging. He knew straight away that this wasn't something made by nature and rushed to find the foreman to tell him what he had found. That long flat stone would turn out to the be the first of the set of stairs leading down to King Tut's tomb.
We were all fascinated with this story and it meant that the children were very keen to find their own discoveries and were suddenly all much more interested in our surroundings! Later while researching the story I would find a fabulous photo of Hussein Abdel Rasou at the site wearing a beautiful scrab necklace that Howard Carter had found in the tomb and had let the boy try on as a reward for his discovery.
The tomb itself is very small, potentially because he died so young and unexpectedly and a grander tomb had not been prepared in time or maybe because his successor, Aya II, actually claimed the royal tomb for himself leaving King Tut to be buried in this smaller one.
Regardless of size it was incredible to be there, and the most incredible part was that, unlike most other tombs here who have had the mummified remains of their owners moved to museums, this tomb still holds the boy king. Coming face to face (well through glass anyway) with such an iconic part of history was overwhelming. I couldn't help but think of those first historians uncovering this place, how we were following the footsteps of them 100 years ago.
We made sure to get some family pics in front of the impressive coloured walls, and because this tomb is tightly restricted on numbers as it's so small we once again began reluctantly heading back into the light.
I wish my Dad had seen me here, we'd talked about it often when he would recount his trips to Egpyt and I now understood why. The history of this place is in the sand and rocks, and gets into your skin in a way I hadn't felt in many other places in my life.
Onwards, and next was Ramses III (tomb 11). This is a huge, exciting tomb measuring over 260 feet in length. The walls are covered in exerts and images from The Book of the Dead and includes some of the strangest carvings and paintings of Egyptian gods I've seen including this long, snake like body with feet and a human head and Pharoah's smoking pipes with tiny people walking along them. I could have spent an eternity here trying to make sense of what I was seeing!
Alas it was up and out again and on to our final tomb, Ramses IX (tomb 6).
The paintings here are amongst my favourite from my whole time in Egpyt, partly because of how well preserved and bright the colours are and partly because it contained the most amazing astrominal ceiling decoration showing constellations and symbols from the zodiac.
I was feeling totally drained by the time we were back in the buggy heading down the valley again, in a good way! We had seen incredible things, had big emotional reactions and had our head jammed full of facts from our guide.
We hadn't quite finished though and back in our minibus we made our way towards our final site, Queen Hatshepsut'ss temple. Built into the cliffs of Deir el-Bahari a short distance from the Valley of the Kings it's a breathtaking piece of architecture.
I've mentioned Hatshepsut ( a few people on our travels including our host, Nigel in Kefalonia and our Egyptian guides had taught the kids that the key to being able to prounce her name is to say "hot chicken soup" very quickly!) before so I don't want to repeat myself too much but she really was a bad ass! A widow, married to Thutmose II and taking the role of Pharoah from her stepson who was too young to be crowned she never gave it back, ensconcing herself firmly on the Egyptian throne and into the history books. When she reigned women were seen as weak, second class to their male relatives, but she didn't let this stop her. It is argued that she was one of the most effective Pharoahs in history, bringing wealth and good trade partners to the country and ruling fairly and justly, she was eventually loved and adored by her subjects.
Her temple and tombs were built by her to ensure her reign would never be forgotten but it nearly didn't work as, after her death, her stepson finally taking the role of ruler, seemed to want to make it look like he had been Pharoah all along, and many of her monuments, indeed anything referring to her, was destroyed.
Luckily not enough to cancel her out altogether and we now know the full extent of her rule once more. Her wish to be remembered forever finally granted.
We left Hatshepsut's temple behind, happy, tired and hot and all went to a wonderful restaurant nearby for some cold drinks and food for our empty bellies. We'd been told about the Marsam hotel by the World school hub hosts. A place where over the years, due to it's close proximity to the temple valleys, journalists and archeaologists would come to stay, eat, catch up and share news. It's a wonderful oasis of home grown vegetables and home cooked food where we spent an hour or two happily resting, eating and processing our exciting day.
I am so happy to have had this opportunity, made even better for sharing with new friends and a real highlight of Egpyt.