Find magnificent rock tombs
Also known as Wadi Biban El-Muluk, the Valley of the Kings is one of many necropoli in the limestone hills on the West Bank. The area first became a burial site during the New Kingdom rule of Tuthmosis I (1525-1512 BC) in the hope that the tombs would be safe from looters. The kings’ tombs are not actually confined to the single valley and it is believed that there may be others still waiting to be discovered. Those already discovered are numbered in the chronological order of their discovery rather than by location. Although some are simple and comparatively crude the best are incredibly well preserved, stunningly decorated and a testament to the intricate craftsmanship of the workers. Most of the discovered tombs are in the east valley but the Tomb of Ay in the west valley (Valley of the Monkeys) is worth a visit.
The tombs generally follow two designs. The early 18th-Dynasty (1567-1320 BC) tombs are a series of descending galleries followed by a well or rock pit that was intended both to collect any rain water and deter thieves. On the other side of the pit there were sealed offering chambers and then the rectangular burial chamber built at right angles to the descending galleries. The later tombs, from the late 18th to the 20th Dynasties (1360-1085 BC), were built in the same way but the galleries and burial chambers were on the same axis, being cut horizontally but deeper, straight into the rock face.
Note: There was obviously no need, originally, for light in the tombs and today the authorities maintain the lowest possible light levels. Take a torch, it will enable you to read this book, admire the outstanding wall decorations and illustrations, and avoid tripping on the uneven ground!
Ramses VII 1148-1141 BC (1)
This later style, single horizontal plane, and poorly preserved tomb lies in a small valley to the right after the entrance gate and is seldom visited by tourists. Above the outer door Ramses VII’s names are displayed with a scabbard and disc. The walls are lined with scenes from the Book of Gates. The most interesting area is the Burial Chamber with its granite sarcophagus still in place. The picture on the ceiling portrays the constellations and calendar of feasts while the sky goddess Nut spans the area. The inner chamber contains scenes of Ramses making offerings to the gods.
Ramses IV 1166-1160 BC (2)
Nearer is the tomb of Ramses IV, although his sarcophagus was reburied in Amenhotep II’s tomb by the priests. Do not be discouraged by the Coptic and Greek graffiti because the colours of the inner tomb are truly fantastic. The first two corridors contain poorly preserved reliefs of the Litany of Re, while the Hall and Burial Chamber are decorated with parts of the Book of the Dead and Nut spans the ceiling. The sarcophagus lid shows Ramses IV protected by images of Isis and Nephthys and the pink granite sarcophagus is inscribed with magical texts. This is the only tomb for which the original plans, drawn on papyrus, still survive (now in the Turin Museum).
Prince Mentuherkhepshef Son of Ramses IX (19)
Discovered in 1817 in the southeastern extremity of the east valley is a tomb intended as a final resting place for a king (Ramses VIII) but truncated and occupied by Prince Mentuherkhepshef, one of the sons of Ramses IX. The entrance is remarkable for its width (3.6 m). Splendid mock doors are painted on the walls at the portico together with door jambs decorated with serpents. The walls of the main 3-m corridor each bear seven images of Prince Mentuherkhepshef making offerings to the gods, including Khonsu, Osiris and Ptah. The paintings, particularly of Prince Mentuherkhepshef although sadly now rather damaged, are renowned for being among the most technically excellent in the Valley of the Kings and exhibit the Ramsesian school to great advantage.
Tuthmosis IV 1425-1417 (43)
This large tomb was discovered in 1903 by Carter, but others had been there before and everything moveable had been taken. Many of the walls and pillars are undecorated and the impression is rather austere. The well room has scenes of Tuthmosis paying homage to to the gods and receiving the key of life from various deities including Hathor. The antechamber has illustrations of a similar theme and both have a ceiling of yellow stars on a dark blue sky.
Ramses IX 1140-1123 BC (6)
Immediately to the left of the barrier, this tomb is typical of the later long, deep style that became the established style by the end of the New Kingdom. The reliefs on the corridor walls depict Ramses before the gods and the four pillared Offerings Chamber leads to the richly decorated Burial Room, but the sarcophagus is missing. The ceiling in yellow on a dark blue background depicts a scene from the Book of the Night with jackals, watched by Nut, drawing the barque through the skies to the afterlife.
Meneptah 1236-1223 BC (8)
Set back against the cliff face on the other side of the road is a long steep 80 m tomb with a wonderfully preserved false Burial Chamber. The ceilings of the five corridors are decorated with flying vultures and other forbidding reliefs. Looters abandoned the sarcophagus lid here, which portrays scenes taken from the Book of Gates and the Book of Am-Duat similar to those in the antechamber. Steep steps lead down to the Burial Chamber where the rest of his pink granite sarcophagus lies, decorated with intricate designs from the Book of Gates. It is claimed that Meneptah was pharaoh during the time of the Exodus.
Ramses VI 1156-1148 BC (9)
The discovery of this tomb, which was usurped from his predecessor Ramses V and enlarged to become one of the longest in the valley, shed light on some aspects of pharaonic beliefs that were not previously understood. The corridor displays reliefs from unknown and long since lost Books. Egyptologists were fascinated at their revelation of pharaonic concepts, more usually associated with India, of reincarnated birth into a new life. One does not, however, have to be an expert to appreciate the graphic designs and the colours beyond the graffiti drawings in the first two corridors.
The themes on the corridor ceilings are predominantly astronomical while the walls are largely devoted to the Book of Gates and the entire version of the Book of Caverns. In the Offerings Hall there is a relief of Ramses making libations before Osiris, while the pillars are devoted to the pharaoh making offerings to other gods including Amun. Descending deeper within the tomb, the passage leading to the Burial Chamber is guarded by serpents of Nekhbet, Neith, Meretseger and Selket. Further on illustrations from the Book of the Dead predominate. Just before the entrance to the Burial Chamber, cryptographic texts adorn the ceiling. Astronomical scenes from the Book of Day and the Book of Night cover the ceiling and the sky goddess Nut observes from above. The sarcophagus, shattered by grave robbers centuries ago, lies broken in the centre of the room.
Ramses III 1198-1166 BC (11)
Also known as ‘Tomb of the Harpists’, this particularly beautiful and exceptionally large tomb is unusual because, unlike those of most pharaohs, it contains scenes from everyday life. It was originally intended for Sethnakht (1200-1185 BC), but the angle of digging was such that it coincided with another tomb and was abandoned. Later Ramses III restarted the work by digging into the rock face from a different angle. The lintel with a disc and Re shown with a ram’s head accompanied by Isis and Nephthys can be seen at the entrance. Ten side chambers, which were for storing objects that the pharaoh would require after his death, lead off from the entrance corridor. In the last on the left is the famed depiction of the two harpists, the lyrics of the song are carved into the entrance wall. The final section of the tomb is closed because of a collapsed ceiling.
Ramses I 1320-1318 BC (16)
Despite being the founder of the 19th Dynasty, his short reign meant that this Ramses did not merit a larger tomb but it still has beautifully ornate and sophisticated designs that are preserved on the blue-grey foundation. The granite sarcophagus in the burial chamber is decorated with yellow while the wall relief depicts scenes of the pharaoh with local deities and divisions from the Book of Gates. The eastern wall of the entrance corridor is decorated with 12 goddesses depicting the hours of the night. This is one tomb not to be missed if open when you visit.
Tomb of Tuthmosis III 1504-1450 BC (34)
Hidden away high up a side valley furthest from the main gate this is one of the oldest tombs, and its distinctive location makes it feel quite special and different. Though it is particularly stuffy and sweaty after the long ascent and descent, there is a pleasing spacious lightness to the chambers and its simple design is balanced by the interesting layout. After the second steep corridor, it veers sharply to the left into the antechamber. The walls here are lined with lists of 741 deities who are portrayed as tiny stick figures. The burial chamber, shaped, unusually, like a cartouche, is entered down a set of oval shaped steps. The walls here are dominated by sections of the Book of Am-Duat with an abridged version also inscribed on two pillars. Tuthmosis III is depicted on one of the pillars with his mother standing behind him in a boat. A beautiful carving of Nut, effectively embracing the mummified Tuthmosis with her outstretched arms, lines the inside of the red granite sarcophagus. His mummy is in the museum in Cairo.
Siptah 1210-1204 BC (47)
The interesting tomb of Siptah, a monarch of the late 19th Dynasty, was discovered by Edward Ayrton in 1905. The stair entry leads to a long corridor plastered and painted with formal scenes of the Litany of Re on the right and left, with images of Mut and a fine representation of Siptah before Re-Horakhte. The intermediate corridors leading, via the antechamber, to the Burial Chamber are undecorated. Inside the burial chamber are four rough-hewn pillars and a red granite sarcophagus bearing jackal and demon figures. The tomb was disturbed at one time – possibly during the 21st Dynasty – and the mummified body of Siptah was found in a cache of royal mummies in the tomb of Amenophis II in 1898, the withered left foot of the King clearly visible.
Tawosret 1204-1200 and Sethnakht 1200-1198 BC (14)
Sited close by the tomb of Tuthmosis I, this is one of the longest (112-m) axial tunnels in the Valley of the Kings – belonging to Tawosret, wife of Seti II from the 19th Dynasty. The monument was taken over by Sethnakht, the first ruler of the 20th Dynasty, who lengthened the tomb and removed the remains of Tawosret, it is suggested, to the cache in Tomb KV35. The original ownership of the tomb is still apparent in the first corridor, with male deities bearing female designations, but many scenes of Tawosret before the gods were usurped by Sethnakht. In the Burial Chamber of Tawosret itself there are scenes from the Book of the Dead, the ceremony of the opening of the mouth and the Book of the Gates, together with a finely drawn scene of facets of the Sun God Re as a disc and ram-headed eagle from the Book of the Caverns. Beyond is the extended royal tomb of Sethnakht along broad corridors decorated with scenes from the Book of the Secret Chamber. The Burial Chamber of Sethnakht has a barrel-domed ceiling with a painted astronomical finish while the walls are decorated with scenes from the Book of the Caverns and Book of the Gates. The eight pillars of this Burial Chamber carry representations of the king and the deities and his granite sarcophagus lies shattered but still in place.
Seti II 1216-1210 BC (15)
The tomb of Seti II has been open since antiquity. It was a hastily completed monument but is important in that it has a number of innovations that became standard practice in subsequent tomb building. The wall niches in the antechamber to the first pillared hall are much more pronounced than in earlier tombs while the entrance is cut into the hill face lacking the previously used wall and stairway. The burial chamber is crudely adapted from what was to have been a passage to a larger room that was never excavated. There are conventional decorations on the entrance doorway of Ma’at, the goddess of truth and beauty, and scenes from the Litany of Re are shown in a variety of reliefs on both the left hand wall of the first and second corridors. Beyond the first corridor the walls are unplastered and generally painted in an attractive but peremptory fashion. The antechamber has an unusual format of figures of deities among which the king is shown riding on a panther and hunting in a papyrus boat. In the pillared hall itself there are formal scenes from the Book of the Gates and above the damaged sarcophagus is a fine picture of Nut, goddess of the sky, with outreaching wings. The mummy of Seti II was among the kings found in the cache of royal mummies at the tomb of Amenophis II.
Amenhotep II 1450-1425 BC (35)
When this tomb, one of the deepest in the valley, was opened up again by Victor Loret in 1898 a trove of grisly and invaluable treasure was found. Here for once the tactics of building false chambers and sunken pits actually worked and the pharaoh’s mummified body was found inside the sarcophagus, along with another nine royal mummies that had been removed from their original tombs for safety’s sake. Amenhotep’s mummy was originally kept in the tomb but after a nearby theft it was removed to the Egyptian Museum in Cairo. Ninety steep steps and a descending corridor lead into a pillared chamber where the tomb’s axis shifts 90° to the left, after which the walls and ceiling are decorated. The ceiling is coloured blue with an astronomical star design in yellow and the walls delicately illustrated with passages from the Book of the Secret Chamber. Columns show pictures of the king with deities – Anubis, Hathor and Osiris. Further stairs (the air gets hotter and thicker with each one) and a short passage lead to the enormous two-level Burial Chamber. Amenhotep’s sarcophagus sits in a sunken area with storage chambers around, the second on the right being where the cache of mummies was discovered. Look in particular for the beautiful image of Isis in sunk relief at the end of the decorative quartzite sarcophagus, still with its lid in place.
Horemheb 1348-1320 BC (57)
After the long, steep and undecorated descent is the Well Room where beautifully detailed reliefs begin. Colourful scenes portray General Horemheb who, despite lacking royal blood later became pharaoh, was the powerful regent behind Tutankhamen’s short rule and leader of the Theban counter-revolution against Akhenaten’s monotheistic religion. The scenes of Horemheb being introduced to the gods are repeated in the antechamber, which is dominated by the huge red granite sarcophagus. Point a torch inside the sarcophagus for a glance at some bones. Some guides suggest that the base black lines in the sanctuary indicate the first draft of the decorating, while the red marks are corrections, as Horemheb died too young for the artists to finish.
Tutankhamen 1361-1352 BC (62)
The tomb owes its worldwide fame not to its size or decoration, being on the whole rather small and ordinary, but to the multitude of fabulous treasures that were revealed when it was opened in November 1922. Even the burial chamber is relatively limited in size, so when Carter broke through the rooms were crammed with an abundance of artefacts. In fact, the scale of the discovery was so vast that it took 10 years to fully remove, catalogue and photograph all of the 1700 pieces. Considering that the boy king reigned for a mere nine-10 years and was a comparatively minor pharaoh, the lavish funeral objects found seem all the more extraordinary.
The short entrance corridor leads to four chambers but only the Burial Chamber, which is the second on the right, is decorated. Around the room from left to right glassed-in murals display Tutankhamen’s coffin being moved to the shrine by mourners and officials after which his successor Ay (1352-1348 BC) performs the ceremony of the Opening of the Mouth and makes sacrifices to sky-goddess Nut. Tutankhamen is then embraced by Osiris and is followed by his black-wigged Ka or spirit. A scene from the Book of Am-Duat on the left-hand wall depicts the pharaoh’s solar boat and sun-worshipping baboons. The quartzite sarcophagus is still in place, with its granite lid to one side, and inside the innermost solid-gold coffin, containing his mummified remains.
Seti I (17)
Seti I’s is regarded as the most developed form of the tomb chambers in the Valley of the Kings. At some 120 m it is the longest, but it is permanently closed for conservation purposes since its decorations suffer from condensation produced by visitors. Throughout the tomb there are paintings/reliefs of fine workmanship on nearly every surface, though not all were completed. Seti’s mummy can be viewed in the museum in Cairo while the sarcophagus is in Sir John Soane Museum in London....