Valley of the Kings
Historic Site in Luxor
The Valley of the Kings, also known as Wādī Al-Mulūk or Wādī Bībān al-Mulūk in Arabic, is a long and narrow defile located just to the west of the Nile River in Upper Egypt. It was a significant part of the ancient city of Thebes and served as the burial site for almost all the kings (pharaohs) of the 18th, 19th, and 20th dynasties from Thutmose I to Ramses X, dating from 1539–1075 BCE. The valley consists of 62 known tombs that exhibit a wide variety of plans and decorations. UNESCO designated the valley as part of the World Heritage site of ancient Thebes in 1979, which includes Luxor, the Valley of the Queens, and Karnak.
To keep their rich burials safe, the kings of the New Kingdom adopted a new plan of concealing their tombs in a secluded valley in the western hills behind Dayr al-Baḥrī. The pharaohs, as well as several queens, high-ranking officials, and numerous sons of Ramses II, were interred in tombs that were dug deep into the heart of the mountain. The plan of the tombs varied considerably, but they typically consisted of a descending corridor with deep shafts to confuse robbers, pillared chambers or vestibules, a burial chamber with a stone sarcophagus, and storage chambers where furniture and equipment were kept for the king’s use in the afterlife. The walls were often adorned with sculptured and painted scenes depicting the dead king in the presence of deities, particularly the gods of the underworld. The walls also contained magical texts designed to help the king on his journey through the nether regions. These texts represented differing but not necessarily conflicting views of the afterlife, in which the king had to overcome various perils and undergo trials.
Most of the tombs in the valley were cleared out in antiquity, with some being partially robbed during the New Kingdom. However, in the 21st dynasty, all the tombs were systematically emptied of their contents to protect the royal mummies and recycle the rich funerary goods back into the royal treasury. Greek travelers in the 1st century BCE were able to visit 40 of the tombs, some of which were later reused by Coptic monks who left their own inscriptions on the walls. Only the tomb of Tutankhamun, located on the floor of the valley and protected by a pile of rock chippings, escaped pillage. The treasures discovered in Tutankhamun’s tomb in 1922, now housed in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, provide a glimpse into the riches of a great pharaoh’s burial during the empire’s heyday. The longest tomb in the valley belongs to Queen Hatshepsut, whose burial chamber is nearly 700 feet (215 meters) from the entrance and descends 320 feet (100 meters) into the rock.
The largest and most complex tomb in the Valley of the Kings, Tomb 5, was apparently built to contain the burial chambers of many of the sons of Ramses II, the greatest king of the 19th dynasty. Although it had been previously discovered and dismissed as insignificant, the tomb was again located in the late 1980s and partially excavated in the 1990s. The tomb’s uppermost level contains a central pillared hall and various corridors leading to dozens of chambers.
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