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Luxor - West Bank
The Valley of the Kings

The Valley of the Kings is the burial ground of virtually all the pharaohs of the New Kingdom (1549-1064). The Valley is hidden behind the Theban hills, close to Deir el-Bahri, and is known by the Arabic name, Biban el-Moluk, meaning 'Doors of the Kings'. Essentially the Valley of the Kings is two valleys - one on the west and the other on the east, with the latter being the most visited. The tombs within the Valley are numbered by the succession of their discovery, and prefixed with the letters KV (Kings Valley). Currently there are sixty-two tombs, with KV62 being that of Tutankhamun, the almost intact tomb discovered by Howard Carter in 1922. Besides being a royal sepulchre, the Valley is home to numerous burials of New Kingdom high officials, priests and other members of the royal court. The use of the Valley marks a change from the previous burial practice of the pyramid complex. An integral reason for this change must have been the need for greater security. It was widely acknowledged that a vast amount of Old Kingdom tombs had been pillaged, and many temple complexes were now neglected. Literature from the Middle Kingdom (2066-1650) reveals some doubts over burial preparations:

"My ba opened its mouth to me, to answer what I had said: If you think of burial, it is heartbreak. It is the gift of tears by aggrieving a man. It is taking a man from his house, casting (him) on high ground. You will not go up to see the sun. Those who built in granite, who erected halls in excellent tombs of excellent construction -when the builders have become gods, their offering stones are desolate, as if they were the dead who died on the riverbank for lack of a survivor. The flood takes its toll, the sun also. The fishes at the waters edge talk to them."

(From Papyrus Berlin 3024: The dispute between a man and his ba -12th Dynasty)

The Valley offered greater protection as it was small enough to be closely guarded, and the good quality limestone allowed many tombs to be carved out close to each other. The growing importance of the Cult of Amun at Thebes made the area a desirable place to be buried. The founders of the New Kingdom were Theban Princes, and they saw it fit to lavish wealth upon their local god, and to eventually return to their homeland for burial.

High above the Valley stands a pyramid shaped peak called el-Qurn ('the Horn'), where the goddess Mertesger, ('she who loves silence') resides. Its resemblance to a pyramid must have made the area an appealing choice. The shape of the pyramid is closely associated with the sun god Re. Upon death a Pharaoh would ascend to heaven, and be united with Re. In spell 508 of the Pyramid Texts the king speaks to Re: "I have trodden upon your rays as a ramp underneath my feet". In Spell 523, Re says, "Heaven has strengthened to you the rays of the sun in order that you may lift yourself up towards the sun". Other spells refer to climbing the steps to heaven, and treading the ramp. Many believe that the pyramid was an earthly manifestation of the sun gods rays and a physical means of the Pharaoh's ascension to heaven.

The Abbott Papyrus describes the location of the tomb of Amenhotep I with references to ancient locations.


Unfortunately time has not preserved these geographical markers, and the final resting place of this Eighteenth Dynasty king is still to be determined.

The earliest known tomb of the New Kingdom within the Valley of the Kings is that of Thutmose I (c. 1500 BCE). This tomb, KV 20, was also host to the body of the king's daughter, Hatshepsut, herself a ruling monarch. After the ruling Queen Hatshepsut had completed her fathers mortuary temple she was succeeded by Thutmose III, and laid to rest in her fathers extended tomb. Thutmose III decided to build, his grandfather, Thutmose I, a new tomb on the other side of the Valley (c.450 metres west of KV 20), now known as KV 38.

KV 34 marks the sepulchre of Thutmose III, and represents the standard form for Eighteenth Dynasty royal tombs. The tomb contains sloping walled corridors with antechambers and separated by deep shafts that represent a descent into duat (the underworld). The corridors are decorated with excerpts from the funerary texts and chronicle the kings'journey through the hazardous night time, and his successful rebirth at a blood red dawn. Like the tomb of Tuthmose I, the tomb plan is curved, however, it then makes a deliberate turn to the right, where the burial chamber lies. The figures depicted are composed of stick-like proportions in red and black ink, painted upon the light brown canvas of the tomb wall, making the decoration not too dissimilar from the appearance of an actual papyrus text.

KV 35 is the tomb of Amenhotep II, and contains a false shaft that the Egyptians called the hole of hindering. The vertical shaft built at the base of the staircase would encourage looters to journey down this passage in false pursuit of the burial chamber. This shaft would also reduce the damage caused by flash floods that occur during times of heavy rain, particularly in tombs lower down the valley. Unlike previous tombs, whose burial chamber was shaped like a cartouche, Amenhotep II's burial chamber is rectangular in shape. KV 35 is unlike the majority of tombs at the Valley of the Kings, as it actually contained the body of its owner. Priests who feared for the safety of the bodies removed the vast majority of mummies from their burial chambers during the Third Intermediate Period (1064-664 BCE). During this stressful time of Egyptian history many tombs were plundered for gold, and the Valley was not as closely guarded, or respected. KV 35 was host to a cache of rescued mummies that were placed within the tomb and resealed. A similar cache of royal mummies was found in tomb TT 320, near Deir el-Bahri. With many separate tombs being looted for precious commodities, and for the re-use of burial equipment, cache's proved to be the more popular form of safeguarding a large amount of Pharaohs in one burial place.

Amenhotep II was succeeded by Thutmose IV, with his tomb being numbered KV 49. Tuthmose IV was followed by Amenhotep III who was buried within the Western Valley (WV22). His successor was Amenhotep IV, who is better known by his later name, Akhenaten, a pharaoh who abandoned Thebes and the worship of Amun, and gave ultimate worship to the god, Aten. He also transferred the royal capital to the virgin site of el-Amarna. His son was Tutankhamun, and it is his tomb, KV62, that sees the return of royal burials at the Valley of the Kings, which continued up until the end of the Twentieth Dynasty (c.1069 BCE).

(Ashley Cook)




Luxor Valley of the Kings Concepts New Kingdom Mortuary Temple Photo Gallery West Bank