In the Book of the Dead, there are spells on “not to rot”, “not to do work in the land of the dead” and “for not dying a second time”! Since I was a kid, I’ve been fascinated by the ancient Egyptians and it’s mysteries. I even tried to learn hieroglyphs… So naturally going to Valley of the Kings and see the tombs of the pharaohs was on my bucket list, and I’m sure it’s for you.
If you aren’t intrigued, then this is not for you. If you are:
A complete guide to the best temples & tombs in Thebes!
Ancient Thebes is the location for the Necropolis of the Pharaohs and a big UNESCO World Heritage site. Thebes is near Luxor, and is divided by the Nile into an East and a West Bank. For what to see on the east side – such as Karnak and Luxor Temple – as well as general good advice when in Egypt read more in Why Luxor, Egypt was not as I expected!
The sun sets in the West – so of course the realm of the dead, and hence the mortuary temples and the tombs of the pharaohs are on the West Bank.
TO THE TOMBS
Most travellers spend very little time here as a stop between Cairo and Aswan. This means that the sights not in Top 3 have almost no visitors – especially in these days. So don’t be one of the just passing by on a day trip.
Now, that you are all prepared and geared up – let’s hit the best tombs and temples of ancient Thebes!
VALLEY OF THE KINGS
While the pharaohs of the Old Dynasty are close to the Nile Delta, the rest are here. This is where most of the pharaohs are buried. In a very small area, there are 62 numbered royal tombs, which is overwhelming. So which tombs to choose? The ticket to 10€ will get you into 3 tombs, but some are extra – Ay, Tutankhamun, Seti I and Ramses VI. Remember to decide beforehand if you want to add the 18€ ticket for also being allowed to take pictures!
We didn’t see Tutankhamon tomb, since all the good stuff are in the museum in Cairo – but we still kind of regret it. Lonely Planet highlights 5 tombs, but Horemheb and Ay were closed. Seti I is apparently the most beautiful one, but it was 60€ extra, so we decided that the rest was good enough for us. To summarize, we bought an extra ticket for Ramses VI for 5€. And of course regrets not taking Seti as well. All together 4 tombs took 2 hours.
Get more detailed information on the tombs at Theban Mapping Project.
THE TOMB OF RAMSES III (KV11)
This is one of the most decorated, best preserved and largest of the tombs. Ramses III was the last of the warrior pharaohs. Spend a year in here!
Ramses or Ramesses defended Egypt against foreign invasion in 3 great wars, and so ensuring tranquillity during much of his reign. At least however, he was killed – maybe by one of his second wives.
THE TOMB OF RAMSES VI (KV9)
This tomb is also pretty spectacular. It was begun for the Ramses V and continued by Ramses VI – the names and titles of Ramses V still appear in the first half of the tomb.
Its fine decoration is well preserved, with an emphasis on astronomical scenes and texts and extracts from the Book of Gates and the Book of Caverns. Nearer the burial chamber, the walls are decorated with extracts from the Book of Amduat. This is an important funerary text. Unlike other texts, it’s mainly for pharaohs.
The burial chamber is beautifully decorated, with a superb double image of Nut framing the Book of the Day and Book of the Night on the ceiling.
In the two other tombs, I didn’t bribe the guards, so no pictures.
In the tomb of Tausert/Sethnakht (KV14), we were the only visitors. I waas pretty surprsied at this, but again: Egypt has been seeing a downfall in tourism for many eyars and most just visit the largest tombs. But KV 14 is a rare example of a queen’ s tomb in the Valley of the Kings, that’s re-used for a king’s burial. It’s quite beautiful with images from the Book of the Dead.
Lastly, we saw the tomb of Merenptah (KV8). The upper chambers of the tomb were accessible already during Greek and Roman times. Inside, there’s a large granite sarcophugus with a kneeling Isis on the end. Apparently it was so big, they had to cut some of the wall back to get it inside the tomb. Not that spectacular, but that’s because you’re getting blasé by now. Oh another extraordinary tomb…
TEMPLE OF HATSHEPSUT
You can see this funerary temple from afar, and it’s quite spectacular. But mainly from the outside – the inside is not overwhelming compared to what else you can see in the Valley of the Kings (maybe an unfair high standard…). Hatshepsut was the second female pharaoh, but the first one to represent herself as a male king. So how do you know it’s a woman? Because new findings show her as a woman in her early reign.
Her stepson later tried to erase her memory (family…). Fortunately, he didn’t succeed! The temple is heavily (and badly) restored, and the entrance is 4€.
It is the best preserved New Kingdom memorial temples! Medinet Habu is the mortuary temple of Ramses III (whose tomb we saw in Valley of the Kings), and my favourite temple here.
It’s next to the Valley of Kings, but not really walking distance… The entrance is 60 LE. It’s a bit like Karnak, but of course smaller. But with only a few visitors – and many pigeons!
TOMBS OF THE NOBLES
On a smaller site than Valley of the Kings, this is where other important figures like politician and scribes started building lavish tombs for themselves. Almost no visitors come here at all, which can give you a little more of that solo-explorer feeling – all the doors had to be unlocked and closed for us.
You have to buy tickets at the impossible-to-find-ticket-office and know in advance which tombs to see. The tombs are definitely (and obviously) not as extravagant as the Kings’, but they show more of daily life.
Tombs are still being excavated everywhere, and here we met some Belgian researches moving rocks and taking notes…
THE TOMB OF NAKHT
Nakht was a scribe. The tomb is small, but has some important images. The wall to the left side of the entrance to the burial chamber depicts the famous banquet scenes with dancers.
Details of the female figures, which earlier were noble and austere, are here young, sensual and sophisticated. Their proportions are revealed through their hair and dresses – also their large almond shaped eyes are different from seen before.
THE TOMB OF MENNA
Menna was also a scribe probably under Thutmoses IV. The tomb ends in a small room beautifully decorated. Some of the wall is devoted to agricultural scenes with detailed depictions of the grain harvest. The far end of the wall depicts a judgement scene, in which Menna must account for his earthly actions and have his heart weighed.
In the tombs are also some beautiful paintings showing Menna and his family in papyrus boats spearing fish and hunting birds. It shows much of the wildlife in the river in Menna’s time – including a crocodile beneath the boat and a cat. The cat was one of the defenders of the Sun God and used as a retriever.
THE TOMB OF SENNEFER
Sennefer was probably a Mayor of Thebes during Amenhotep II and seen here with his wife. The tomb is also known as the tomb of vineyards. You can get a glimpse of the delicious ready-to-pluck vines on the ceiling above my mom in the picture below. There are also jackals guarding the door. This tomb is in a really good state, but you have to climb down a steep staircase. Note the decoration, where he is wearing a leopard skin.
The tomb of Rekhmire wasn’t that interesting, but there are some nice pictures of animals – giraffes and leopards – to remind you that Egypt wasn’t always a desert.
VALLEY OF THE QUEENS
The Valley of the Queens is where the wives (and children) of the pharaohs were buried, and it holds about 70 tombs. There were NO other tourists here! Of course, when you’ve already seen the king’s tombs, this is quite smaller and simpler. So if you can begin here and afterwards visit Valley of the Kings – I would recommend that. The most famous is the tomb of Queen Nefertari. But again, it was 1000 LE. So we didn’t. Which I regret now…
The tomb of Khaemwaset is one of the more important and bigger tombs here. He was also son of Ramses II, and there are images from the Book of the Dead.
We also saw the tomb of Prince Amunherkhepshef (or something like this name) – who died at a very young age as son of Ramses III. It’s small, but important. You see him portrayed as a boy with the typical shaved-and-one-sidelock hairstyle.
Even more sad is a mummified foetus on display; the legend goes that Amunherksehshef’s mother miscarried, when she heard of her son’s death. It’s almost too much.
For the Colossuses of Memnon, the driver will stop on the way back or to the tombs. The Ramessum you also see along the way. We didn’t stop. Even cultural travellers have their limits!
I haven’t written all the good stories that Egyptian history is full of, but I hope this helps in choosing what to see!
If you want to see some of the artefacts removed from the valley head to Paris and the Louvre:12 other highlights in the Louvre.
Have you been to Egypt?