Egypt is a country of myth and legend; of places that exist in the collective imaginations of the world and that seem impossible to occupy space in the real world. Yet they do, and perhaps the most impressive of Egypt’s ancient monuments is the Valley of the Kings. No, you won’t find pyramids here or lavish temples or anything above the ground, except for mounds of sand. That was the point though, to conceal and preserve and while that didn’t really work, the ancient tombs of the Pharaohs still remain, waiting for us to explore them.
I started my own exploration of the tombs with Insight Vacations a little frustrated though. Photos aren’t allowed anywhere in the valley, in order to stop people from taking cameras down into the tombs themselves. It’s a smart policy, and while I was at first a little peeved I quickly let go of it and enjoyed the ability to throw myself into the experience. It’s nice to put down the camera sometimes and to enjoy the moment for what it is, and the Valley of the Kings is the ideal place to do just that.
The Valley stands on the west bank of the Nile, opposite modern day Luxor and for more than 500 years between the 16th to 11th centuries BC served as the final resting place for the rulers of ancient Egypt. Purposefully built in the middle of the desert to deter thieves, most of the graves were robbed in ancient times, but the tombs that remain still offer important clues to the past. Not all the tombs were robbed though; this is where Howard Carter discovered the tomb of Tutankhamun in 1922, complete with its riches and new tombs are still being located today. It’s a place of power where the imagination takes over full control and I couldn’t wait to see it all with my own eyes.
Walkways connect the various mounds to each other, their riches of information just beneath the surface. Every day a few of the tombs are open to visitors and everyone follows a similar trail around the accessible parts of the valley. Next to each mound, open or not, is a sign with the name of the ruler who once rested below. It’s a collection of some of the most famous names in Egyptian history and it’s amazing to think of the centuries of history all found in this one place. The real treat though was descending into the tombs themselves.
As I started to walk down the pathway that took me into the bowels of the earth, I couldn’t help but think of the original archeologists who re-discovered the Valley. The tombs are dark, today lit of course, but back then must have been intimidating and more than a little scary to explore for the first time. But immediately I saw what kept them going, colorful murals appeared on either side, leading me deeper into the tombs – the colors still amazingly brilliant and as impressive as when they were first painted.
The tombs are impressive, no doubt there, they descend deep into the earth and the chambers can extend in multiple directions throughout the underground space. Think of the work required to build these final resting places, all in the dark and with more than a little bit of danger involved. Although the riches and treasures have long since disappeared, the hieroglyphics and images are still there, all demonstrating the incredible power once enjoyed by the mighty Pharaohs. Believe it or not, but the tombs have been tourist sites for millennia. Before we rediscovered them, the ancient Romans and Greeks visited just as we do today, even inscribing their names on the walls. Some things never change I guess.
To walk through the tombs really is to be in another time, another place. I could imagine the priests assembling deep below the earth, the golden treasure glittering in the torchlight and the smell of incense filling the air, creating a smoky yet somber atmosphere. It’s one of the few times anywhere in the world when I was able to see past the ruins and to imagine the real people who once occupied that same space. It’s a remarkable experience, and one that only the Valley of the Kings can provide.
In addition to the three tombs included in the admission price to the Valley, visitors can elect to pay an extra fee to visit the most famous tomb onsite – King Tut’s. Of course I bought the ticket, when else was I going to have that opportunity? The treasures once contained within are nearly all on display in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo and what remains is a small tomb, hastily put together after the sudden demise of the young king. But there’s something else there that most people don’t expect, the remains of the Pharaoh himself. Carter wasn’t a great archeologist, and the damage he inflicted on the mummy as well as those who came after him means that the body can’t be removed at all, otherwise it would be destroyed beyond all recognition. So there he lies, the small king in his small coffin, gawked at by millions of people over the years. This proud boy-king was once one of the most powerful people on the planet, and now he’s a novelty, like a carnival attraction. It’s sad to think about, but of course also a remarkable opportunity for those of us who visit, to look upon the visage of a kingdom long gone and a way of life all but forgotten.
The sun was high overhead as I braced my eyes for the bright light after emerging from the tombs. Walking back to the van I said no thank you to hawkers selling postcards and kids who wanted me to buy statues of ancient gods. Driving away I looked behind me and not for the first time shook my head in amazement. I couldn’t believe then, and still have to pinch myself today, that I was privileged enough to have visited one of the most famous gravesites in the world. But you know what? It’s just one of many so-called once in a lifetime experiences all visitors to Egypt enjoy.
11 thoughts on “What Visiting The Valley Of The Kings In Egypt Is Really Like”
Amazing…Thanks for sharing.
Could you please share how much was the ticket and which tombs were included in the pass?
Also, where did you stay? I am planing a visit to Egypt and was considering AirBnb.
Thanks for sharing Matt , my favorite place too since I was a kid till now , no matter how many times I visit it , I still discover something new . My second favorite is the Valley of Nobles . Glad that you enjoyed my homeland.
While I’d like to visit, not being able to take photos would be a huge downer.
I visited the Valley of the Kings in 2003, before the phone camera and selfie stick. The walls of the tomb would be damaged by flash, and the area is too small to allow people lingering to set up a shot. Plus it takes away from being in the moment and contemplating the history there. There is a book of photos you can purchase, “The Valley of the Kings” by Kent Weeks and photos by Araldo Luca. It is far superior to anything you could ever take on your own, because unprecedented access was granted, and the plexiglass that covers all the walls was removed for the photo shoot. Lastly, other places did allow cameras- Abu Simbel, Karnak, Luxor. As I said, pre-selfie stick. The experience was marred at Abu Simbel by the hordes of international visitors who were more interested in snapping a million photos than really looking at the interior. It literally was like being in the middle of a swarm of ants, scurrying around frantically. I had to wait for the tour bus of them to leave before I could take it in at a contemplative pace. Karnak has a room that was built by Alexander the Great specifically for worship, and the paint is intact on the scenes depicted on the walls. When you stand there, you stand in the same place as one of the most influential people in the history of ancient western civilization stood and it is unchanged.
Correction: Araldo DeLuca is the name of the photographer.
Wow, what an amazing experience, Matt. A few years ago I saw the incredible Tut exhibition here in Toronto and also attended an associated talk by none other than the charismatic Dr. Zahi Hawass, then Secretary General of Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities. Howard Carter’s methods may not have been 21st century but I find the tale of Howard Carter’s boyhood and life as epic as Tut’s. I think I would pass out if I ever got the chance to follow in their footsteps into that tomb. (Come to think of it, not Tut’s footsteps because I guess he didn’t walk in but…)
I also saw that exhibit and got to me Dr. Hawass! It was amazing. I even got him to sign one of his iconic hats!
I have to say that I am impressed with your article. Thank you for the elegant writing and passionate, If I may may say, description. Also I thank you for sharing your experience with everyone. So, with this rich experience, I know that some tombs may be better preserved , more complete and interesting than others. In your opinion what should be the better selection of tombs to visit in a day or two? This will be of help for those like me planning to visit the site. Thanks a lot
Thanks for the info! I do have a question though. It seams a few years ago a replica at the Carter House was made. Is it still possible to see the original? Is that was is described in your article? Or is the original off-limits to tourists in 2017 and everyone can only see the replica?
Photos are allowed now but only with a special permit that you can purchase :-)
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