When most people think of ancient Egypt, King Tut Ankh Amon comes to mind. Truly, the boy king himself was nothing special. He served for 10 fairly unimportant and unproductive years out of 3000+ years of impressive pharaonic rule. He is a household name because the discovery of his tomb was such a treat in 1922. At that point, all of the other tombs in the Valley of the Kings had been robbed twice, by both ancient tomb raiders and modern ones. King Tut’s tomb, however, was created in an unlikely place; the entrance is 4 meters below another tomb, which concealed it from modern greed and made it a cachet of artifacts.
So far, 63 of an estimated 65 tombs have been found in the Valley of the Kings, where the pharaohs buried themselves for roughly 500 years after they realized the massive stone structures called pyramids were attracting grave robbers like flies to honey. Pharaohs began construction of their tomb as soon as they ascended to power, and once they died, their people had 70 days — how long it took to mummify a pharaoh — to finish carving, painting, or preparing anything for the after-life.
Tut’s tomb is the shortest in the Valley of the Kings. At only 25 m long, it is a quick walk to a small room that housed his sarcophagus and the immense treasures that have made his tomb such a famous discovery. Most of those artifacts, such as the famous mask and the golden chair, are on display at the Egyptian museum in Cairo, but his blackened mummy is still in a climate-controlled box in the tomb. He’s the only mummy still in the Valley of the Kings, because, as our guide Abdul remarked, “it is good for business.”
In order to preserve tombs for future generations, only four are open to the public at any given time. In addition to King Tut, we also entered the empty tombs of Ramses IX, Ramses IV, and Merenptah. We were not allowed to take pictures in the Valley of the Kings, unfortunately.
The tombs create an underground world, spreading out beneath mountains like veins. Tombs are deep, with the ceilings, which all have a depiction of the sky, approximately 15 feet taller than the floor. Each tomb has an entry way that tells stories from the pharaoh’s life or about the gods, and most of the colors are still in tact. The path slopes down into the burial chamber, where many of the sarcophagi still sit because at 10 or sometimes 20 tons, they ain’t going anywhere.
The long entryway to the tomb of Ramses IX is covered in graffiti. Christianity first arrived in Egypt around 68 AD, and 600 years later, the Coptic Christians were suffering from persecution. They fled the lush river valley of Luxor and found themselves living in the tombs in the desert. In order to get light, they camped out near the entrance of the tombs, which is why there is Coptic writing covering the hieroglyphs and images of bishops and disciples over Anubis and Horus.
The longest tomb, which is not currently open to the public due to safety reasons, belongs to Hatshepsut, the queen who seized the throne from her step-son. Her tomb is on one side of the mountain, and her temple is on the other. The temple room and burial chamber meet on the same plane even though they are coming from opposite directions, and a one-meter thick wall separates them. Mysteriously, the wall was not built; the temple stopped on one side, the burial chamber on the other, and the architect (who was also her illegal lover) kept one meter of mountain in tact.
After Thutmose III reclaimed the throne, he destroyed Hatshepsut’s temple. Statues were broken, cartouches and images of the former queen were removed, and sometimes, images of Thutmose were inscribed instead. It took a Polish team of archaeologists 5o years to reconstruct the temple.
Nearby, the Colossi of Memnon stand 18 m tall, towering over the remains of Amenhotep’s temple, which was even larger than Karnak when it was built in the 14th century BC. Most of the temple has since disintegrated, but excavators continue to find remnants throughout the land.
Edfu is a small town in Upper Egypt, with a population of 195,00 people and 32,500 horse carriages. This city survives off of tourism; when will you come visit us?
The Horus Temple in Edfu is a young one; construction began in 237 BC and was completed 180 years later. The major temple is dedicated to Horus, god of the sky, who is often depicted as a falcon and the all-seeing eye. The major temple room holds a replica of a boat, which is where a golden statue of Horus was carried through the streets of Edfu on his festival day. This tradition has evolved in the Christian tradition in many European and Latin American countries, where they carry Jesus and Mary through the streets on Easter.
Pockmarks scar the hieroglyphs throughout this temple and the thirteen smaller temple rooms that surround Horus’. Early Christians intentionally destroyed the images, daring the Egyptian gods to retaliate for the destruction they caused. When there was no response, many Egyptians converted from polytheism to Christianity.
The temple room for Min, the god of fertility, has extreme destruction. If you remember, Min is depicted as a man with a missing arm and leg, and as our guide Abdul oft repeated, “a sexual organ erected.” Thousands of years ago, all of the men in a small village were rounded up to fight in a battle. One young man stayed behind to protect the women (or stayed hidden so he would not have to fight, depending on the story teller). Upon the soldiers’ return, they found the women pregnant or new mothers. This extremely fertile young man, though impressive because some 400 births are attributed to him, needed to be punished for his immoral and illegal extra-curricular activities. They cut off his left arm and left leg, though perhaps that was the wrong body part to remove. Thus, Min is now portrayed with one arm, one leg, and one very erect penis. The early Christians removed all of the inappropriate images of Min that they could reach in this temple.
The temple at Kom Ombo sits directly on the banks of the Nile. As we were enjoying our afternoon coffee on the sun deck, we followed a bend in the river and an ancient temple arose out of the horizon. Our cruise ship docked at the base of the temple, and we walked through the least aggressive group of trinket peddlers we encountered throughout the entire trip to reach the steps.
The dual temple has significant Greek influence, as it was built during the Ptolemaic ruling. One half is dedicated to the crocodile god, Sobek. Two floor vents frame either side of the sacrificial table, and they lead to the Nile River. The draining blood attracted the crocodiles, a helpful way for the high priests to strike fear into the people and therefore encourage the people to bring food to appease Sobek. Of course, Sobek subsisted on the burning of the sacrificial animals mixed with the incense, and the priest was the one to feast on all of the gifts from the masses.
The second half of the temple, dedicated to the god of healing, consisted of six specific clinics. Based on the hieroglyphs, which included images of stethoscopes and scalpels, Egyptologists determined the purpose of each clinic: one for general practice, a second specializing in the head, another in chests, one focusing on the abdomen, a fifth on the nether regions, and finally one clinic for skin and bone diseases. The hieroglyphs show a variety of medical tools and procedures, many of which are still used or followed in some capacity today.
Part One of the trip can be found here. Part Three on its way.