The best temples & tombs of the Egyptian pharaohs in ancient Thebes!

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…

A tAncient Thebes is the location for the Necropolis of the Pharaohs and a big UNESCO site. Thebes is near Luxor, and is divided by the Nile into an East and a West Bank. 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. Most travellers only spend a few days 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. Here is a photoguide to the best tombs and temples of ancient Thebes!

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!

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GOOD TO KNOW

  • Many tombs are closed for the public. We tried to find a reliable source on what was open during our stay, but we couldn’t.
  • A tomb and a mortuary temple are not the same thing.
  • Bring plenty of “bakshees” for the guards! (and the toilet guys)
  • The tombs are hot – not cold!
  • Take the ferry from Luxor and get a taxi to drive you around all day. We payed 400 LE which was too much, but he drove us from the East Bank. The second time we payed 200 LE.
  • The entrance fees are higher than in Lonely Planets book from 2015.
  • Try not to god mid day, since it gets very hot, and you get exhausted!
  • Bring water and a flashlight – if your phone doesn’t have one.
  • Wear clothes that are allowed to be dusty.
  • Read up on your hieroglyph skills -this will make the visit more interesting.

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 160 LE will get you into 3 tombs, but some are extra – Ay, Tutankhamun, Seti I and Ramses VI. Remember to choose if you want the 300 LE ticket for also being allowed to take pictures!

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The train is useless, by the way…

We didn’t see Tutankhamon tomb, since all the good stuff are in the museum in Cairo. Lonely Planet highlight 5 tombs, but Horemheb and Ay were closed. Seti I is apparently the most beautiful one, but it was 1000 LE, so we decided that the rest was good enough for us. So we bought an extra ticket for Ramses VI for 80 LE. 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!

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THE TOMB OF RAMSES VI (KV9)

This was 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. 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.

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In the two other tombs I didn’t bribe the guards, so no pictures.  We saw the tomb of Tausert/Sethnakht (KV14). We were the only ones there. KV 14 is a rare example of a queen’ s tomb of the Rameside period in the Valley of the Kings re-used for a king’s burial. It is quite beautiful with images from the Book of the Dead. Lastly, we saw the tomb of Merenptah (KV8). The upper chambers of the tomb (up to pillared chamber F) were accessible during Greek and Roman times, because it has 135 graffiti written on the walls. There is a large granite sarcophugus with a kneeling Isis on the end. Apparently it was so big, they had to cut some the wall back. Not that spectacular, but that’s because you’re getting blasé.

TEMPLE OF HATSHEPSUT ⇓

You can see this funerary temple from afar, and it’s quite spectacular. But mainly from the outside. Hatshepsut was the first female pharaoh, whom represented herself as a male king, but newly discovered images show her as a woman in her early reign. Her stepson later tried to erase her memory. Fortunately he didn’t succeed! The temple is thoroughly restored and the entrance is 60 LE.

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MEDINAT HABU ⇓

It is the best preserved New Kingdom memorial temples! This is the mortuary temple of Ramses III (whose tomb we saw in Valley of the Kings) and my favourite temple. The entrance is 60 LE. It’s a bit like Karnak, but of course smaller. But with only a few visitors – and many pigeons!

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TOMB OF THE NOBLES ⇓

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 were opened 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 not as extravagant as the others, but they show more of daily life.

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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.

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Details of the female figures, which in previous times were noble and austere, are here young, sensual and sophisticated. Their rounded proportions are revealed through the plaits of their hair and dresses – also their large almond shape of their eyes are different from previous times.

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.

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Also some beautiful paintings showing Menna and his family in papyrus boats spearing fish and hunting birds. This includes 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 cant get a glimpse of the delicious ready-to-pluck vines on the ceiling above my mom. 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.

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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 ⇓

This 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.

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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.

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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.

I haven’t written all the good stories, but I hope this helps in choosing what to see!

Have you been to Egypt?