The Valley of the Kings

14/10/2016 17:40

The ancient Egyptians called Ta-sekhet-ma'at, the Great Field, to the valley the sun burns under Meretseger, the Hill which loves the silence. The silence that for centuries has accompanied hundreds of outstanding graves excavated in the rock, hidden beneath the sands of the Valley of the Kings.

The burials of the kings of Egypt left the ostentation trying to protect them from those who desecrated graves risking to be exposed to extreme punishment. West of the Nile, west of Thebes, the main city, these became almost secret places. Despite the precautions most of the tombs were looted as soon as even in times of the pharaohs. As time goes by the graves were buried again, now into oblivion. Except for the 141 members of the Commission des Sciences et des Arts who accompanied in the summer of 1798 Napoleon's campaign against the Turkish Empire in Egypt. They print their research and discoveries in the many volumes of the Description de l'Égypte, ou Recueil des observations et des recherches qui ont été faites en Égypte pendant l'expédition de l'Armée française, finished in Paris in 1809.

After the French expedition began the fever for hunting treasures and archaeology pieces for museums and individual collections. The new passion for Egyptology starts. Giovanni Battista Belzoni, Johan Burckhardt, Jean François Champollion and other curious ventured on a quest charged with the prevailing romanticism at the time. All of them participate in the discovery and study of new hoards, certainly one of the most striking happened in the vicinity of Luxor, where on the west bank of the Nile began to be found royal and noble burials, so beautiful tombs such as Sethy’s or Horemheb’s.

The high point of the valley occurred on November 4, 1922, when Howard Carter, in the excavation funded by another Egyptology lover, Lord Carnarvon, discovered, near Ramses VI tomb entrance, a new burial. It was just a minor pharaoh almost unknown, called Tutankhamen. On 26 Carter and Carnarvon could enter the tomb three millennia after this was sealed. On 16 February in the following year they entered to the inner chamber where the sarcophagus was. Along seven years Carter removed about five thousand objects, most of them deposited in the Cairo Museum, the best known is the Pharaoh golden mask. Tutankhamen died in his teens and still today the causes of his death are speculated. His early death seems to justify a hasty burial in an almost improvised grave. In the room there is a representation of Nut, the sky goddess, and Osiris guiding Tutankhamen on their way to the kingdom of the dead. Four wooden containers, one inside the other as the Russian wooden dolls, kept the sarcophagus containing three coffins inside, the two outermost were wood decorated with gold sheets and the inner in solid gold. Within the latter lay the mummy of Pharaoh with his face covered by his famous mask.

The walls of the tombs were usually decorated with scenes from the Litany of Ra or the Book of the Dead which describe the formulas of sacred texts that must be uttered to each of the gatekeepers of the hours of the night.

Situated near the Valley of the Kings there are other burials, these monumental mortuary temples are known by the name of Deir el Bahari. Deir el Bahari in Arabic means the Sea Monastery and here rested Nebhepetre Mentuhotep II, Hatshepsut, daughter of Thutmose I and Thutmose III. The Egyptian name of the place is Djeser-djeseru, meaning sacred between most sacred and for a time was a Coptic monastery.

Along the road from Luxor, and once crossed the Nile south of the city, in the distance are perceived two seated figures. If it’s early in the morning, is easy to see flying balloons showing the valleys of the kings and queens from the heights. The two stone giants are the Colossi of Memnon, who once were part of probably one of the largest temples of ancient Egypt, judging by its size. Both representing Amenhotep III facing east, toward the rising sun. The temple and the statues were affected by an earthquake in 27 BC. Until the restoration carried out by Septimius Severus in the third century it was said that one of the giants sang every dawn, the reason was the evaporation of water vapour through their cracks in the heat of the first rays of sun.

Leaving behind the colossi, to the left, the road leads to Medinet Habu, an old administrative complex where there was a temple dedicated to the Queen Hatshepsut Maatkare and also to Ramses III.  In its walls is depicted the pharaoh defeating the Libyans and the Sea Peoples who attacked the country in the eighth year of the reign of Ramses III, 1200 years before our era. And called them by name: Peleset, Tjeker, Shekelesh, Denien and Weshesh. The Peleset end up settling on the coast, in the region that now bears their name: Palestine.

To the right is the great temple that was dedicated to Ramses II and Champollion himself would call Ramesseum. The Frenchman was who would identify the names of the pharaoh on the temple walls and the original name of the place: Usermaatre Setepenra (Ramses II) House of the Million Years linking the city of Thebes with the kingdom of Ammon. In 1815 Giovanni Belzoni kept a big souvenir, a seven tons granite bust representing the pharaoh. Three years later came to London where it is still exhibited in the fourth room of the British Museum. Shelley dedicated his poem Ozymandias.

© J.L.Nicolas


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