Next morning after visiting the Luxor temple, we got up early (this was not a trip for sleeping in!) and crossed the Nile and made our way through the lush farmland to the arid hills where the ancient Egyptians made their tombs.
First stop was Hapshetsut’s memorial temple, which lies at the base of impressive limestone cliffs and feels remarkably modern in both scale and aesthetic despite having been built around 1450 BC. Apparently the spot has been designated as one of the hottest places on earth, so we were lucky to be there early and under cloud cover!
From there we drove around a spur of the mountains and up into the narrow winding Valley of the Kings. The place was desolate — which was the whole point. The place needed to be as hot and dry as possible to preserve the mummies, which were a key to the spirit’s survival in the afterlife, and also remote and difficult to find to deter grave robbers. It didn’t always succeed in deterring grave robbers, as many tombs were discovered and raided even in antiquity. But some of the tombs, most notably Tutankhamen’s, weren’t discovered until quite recently.
Another interesting thing about the location? If you look in the background, you’ll see that the canyon leads up to the base of a pyramid-shaped peak. The pyramid was a sacred symbol and an important part of the burial beliefs for the ancient Egyptians, and it was much easier and cheaper to carve out a tomb beneath a pyramid-shaped mountain than to build an entire pyramid yourself!
Unfortunately for blogging purposes, photography of the tombs themselves was forbidden without an expensive license, so I don’t have any photos of my own to share. I will say, however, that the tombs were fascinating — they bored deep into the mountain with wide halls intricately carved and brightly painted. They were also very unpleasant with the heat, humidity and stink of hundreds of perspiring tourists in a tight space. Definitely glad I saw them, but not much inclined to spend more time than I did…
On our way back to town we stopped at the Colossi of Memnon, who faceless giant statues rising from the flood plain. They are among the last remnants of what used to be the largest funerary monument in Egypt. Each was cut from a single block of stone weighing 1,000 tonnes and rising 18 meters above the flood plain. I love that these statues were already popular tourist destinations even during the Greco-Roman era, when they were believed to have been raised by the legendary African King Memnon who was slain by Achilles during the Trojan war.
Our excursion ended with a short boat ride across the Nile with some fresh-baked bread that our guide picked up along the way.