Egypt’s ruling class started building tombs in the Valley of the Kings, across the Nile from the city of Luxor (then called Thebes), when they stopped building pyramids more than 3,500 years ago. Their great burial chambers were repeatedly being robbed because the pharaohs were famous for believing that you can indeed take it all with you.
So, they relocated their obsession with the afterlife to this Valley, because the main mountain, al-Qurn, resembles the peak of a pyramid.
Your visit to the Valley of the Kings will begin in lovely Luxor, and you will cross the Nile and drive west across lush farmland. There are more than 60 tombs in the Valley of the Kings, but only a handful will be open when you visit, and that changes daily. You may or may not get access to the famous tomb of Tutankhamun discovered here by Howard Carter. If you do, expect to pay an extra fee.
When you enter a tomb, you may walk straight into the cliff side, or you may walk down a steep flight of wooden stairs. The entry to Tutankhamun’s tomb involves a very steep climb down. All of the tombs are intricately decorated with hieroglyphics, images and vivid colours.
The ceilings are painted dark blue, with five pointed yellow stars to reflect the Book of Heavens. The colours are amazing, made of berries and minerals and egg wash, and they have lasted thousands of years in here because of the lack of sunlight. My guide informed me that at one point all of the temples and pyramids and ancient obelisks I had seen were as brightly coloured, but had faded in the thousands of years of Egyptian sun.
There is no photography in the tombs to protect those colours. If you have a guide, they will not enter the tomb with you, but will wait outside to answer your questions. You will be expected to visit the tomb in hushed silence.
Hatshepsut was an Egyptian queen who ruled Egypt not as a woman, but as a pharaoh. She has her own valley in Deir el-Bahri, where her mortuary temple stands alone, unlike every other ancient building in Egypt. It is carved right into the base of a cliff; a series of terraces lined with columns, connected by long ramps.
Behind the columns, the story of Hatshepsut is carved and painted into the walls of the temple. This temple is awe inspiring, built for one of the world’s most interesting queens by the architect Senemut, who is believed to have been her lover. It is the most beautiful and striking place I visited in all of Egypt.
Look Down & Look Up
The Valley of the Kings was formed by dense limestone and other soft rock, such as alabaster. Look down at your feet as you walk. The paths by the tombs are lined by millions upon millions of small limestone chips, which I imagine were carved out of the cliffs thousands of years ago when the tombs were first built. I picked up a few and slipped them into my pocket. I have no idea if that’s allowed, but they now sit in a small dish in my home as a connection to this beautiful valley.
After you look down, look up. I have never seen more remarkable skies in all my life. I am not sure whether it is because the Valley is a desert, or because it is so close to the equator, or what atmospheric conditions make this happen, but the sky here is the deepest shade of almost navy blue. Contrast that with the soft champagnes and orange hues of the cliffs, and the site will simply take your breath away.
If you are visiting Egypt, do not miss the chance to explore this remarkable Valley. It’s a unique view on Ancient Egyptian life and its obsession with death. What do you think? Can you take it with you?