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March 2019 Tour Day 4

This morning’s quest demanded walking shoes as we were about to hit the tombs of the New Kingdom elite. Maybe tomb is the wrong word, as all of these sepulchres are really a combination of a final resting place and a memorial temple, in that each one, while containing a place for burial, is actually about celebrating the life and accomplishments of its owner, and so we find walls resplendent with scenes of daily life, rather than the spells and magic formulae of both the royal Tombs and those of the craftsmen of Deir el-Medina.

Tombs of the Nobles

We’re headed for Qurna and the Tombs of the Nobles. Most of the open tombs are actually the chapels that would have remained open after the burial, to be visited by friends and family on feast days throughout the year, keeping the cult of the deceased alive. The actual burial chamber was usually below the chapel and was sealed at the time of internment.

Nakht

Our first stop was the team of Nakht, a scribe and “Observer of the Hours (of night)”, possibly meaning he was an astronomer. This tomb is perhaps best known for the depiction of the musicians, a group of three scantily dressed women, who would seem to depict the somewhat decadent lifestyle of the day. There is the traditional hunting scene in the thickets of the papyrus marshes with Nakht catching birds and fish. Just below this is an idea of what went on in the vineyards, with scenes of grape picking, pressing, and the eventual bottling.  Below this we find food preparation as birds are killed, dressed, and roasted on skewers, providing provisions for Nakht in the hereafter. Much has been learnt from these scenes of daily life.

Amenemopet

From here we headed north over the rise to the final resting place of Amenemopet, royal scribe and “Chief Administrator of the Domain of Amun”, a very important man. The colonnades either side of the entrance are spectacular despite the damage done in the 19th century when the tomb was used as stables. There is much to see here.

Menna

Our third stop was for Menna, “Scribe of the Fields of the Lord of the Two Lands”. The walls are filled with lively paintings of agricultural work. The scenes, as in the other tombs, work in two ways. Firstly, they are a celebration of life, and secondly, and perhaps more importantly, they are a wish for the future in eternity.  But this is also a chapel to the departed, and so we also find depictions of offerings being made by Menna and his wife to Osiris. There is also the customary funerary procession which, for the first time in a tomb, ends with the Judgment of the Dead, and the well-known Weighing of the Heart ceremony.

Sennefer

Sennefer was Mayor of the Southern City, meaning Thebes ((Luxor), under Amenhotep II.  His tomb really is the tomb, as the long descent leads to the actual burial chamber, a small square room containing four pillars. It is probably best known for its uneven ceiling, masterfully painted to resemble a grape arbour, indeed it was known as the “tombeau des vignes”.

Rekhmire

Vizier under Tuthmose III and Amenhotep II, Rekhmire was basically, second in command as far as officialdom went. Many scenes here show local tax revenue being delivered to Rekhmire in the form of livestock, grain, beads and cloth, as well as gold and silver, however the tomb is largely noted for its representation of foreigners bringing goods to Egypt. We see emissaries from Punt and from Crete, followed by tributes from the peoples to the south, the Nubians and the Sudanese.  After them is a deputation from Syria and the East. There are also scenes depicting in wondrous detail, the local craftsmen; from the vineyards to the carpenters shop, from hunting and fishing; to food preparation, tanning, and metalwork. Another fascinating tomb, and the “long hall” has to be seen to be believed. It is nearly 90 ft long, just over 6 ft wide, and 26 ft high at the end. The latter half of this extraordinary room is purely religious, and the Opening of the Mouth depictions are probably the best of this ritual, broken up as it is into 50 individual scenes.

Ramose

Last, but not least, is the tomb of Ramose, the vizier under Amenhotep III and Amenhotep IV/Akhenaten. The best-preserved scenes are either side of the entrance, showing the funerary offerings as well as the guests who were to attend the funeral celebrations. The pictures of the mourners show the fluidity of artistic style that would come to be known as Amarna art. The tomb of Ramose is perhaps most unusual in that it has two depictions of Amenhotep IV: on the left side of the entrance to the unfinished burial chamber we find Amenhotep IV in the traditional style, with the goddess Ma’at standing behind him, while on the other side of the entrance we find the King, now as Akhenaten, in typical Amarna style, with his wife at the Window of Appearances.  Again, another fascinating tomb.

Ramesseum Rest House

But now it is time to go in search of lunch and where better than right next to this afternoon’s destination. We headed across the road for the Ramesseum Rest House.

A good lunch and a good chat with Nubi Hussein Abd el-Rasoul. It was Nubi’s father who was the young boy photographed wearing Tutankhamun’s pectoral at the discovery of the tomb. To hear the story from his son is experiencing living history.

Ramesseum

After lunch it was a short walk to the Ramesseum, the mortuary temple of Rameses the Great. This 600 feet long temple is perhaps best known for the 57 ft high statue of the King that once stood in front of the 1st pylon. Sadly, it now lies in pieces. Although generally in a state of disrepair, many of temple’s remaining pillars still bear their original paintwork, reminding us that the temples of antiquity were not hushed places of grey stone, but were thriving hubs of local and national economy set against a backdrop of riotous colour.

Colossi of Memnon

More statues for our final stop, and these are the two 60 ft high statues of Amenhotep III that mark the beginning of his own mortuary temple. Much work has been done in recent years in excavating what remains of what was once the largest temple in Luxor. 

A quick photo opportunity and then home to reflect on a busy day. 

March 2019 Tour Day 3

Breakfast looking across the Nile, watching the last of the hot air balloons as they finish their early morning flights.  One can’t really complain.

The West Bank

Today, we start on the West Bank.  Grabbing water, hats and sunscreen we piled into the minibus that was to take us the comparatively short distance to our first port of call, the Valley of the Queens.

Nefertari

The flagship tomb of the Queen’s Valley, if not the whole West Bank, is definitely that of Nefertari, the Great Royal Wife of Rameses II. The Sistine Chapel of Ancient Egypt, as it is sometimes called, is a beautiful demonstration of how not all the royal marriages of the time were purely ones of convenience with deep political undertones but were sometimes actually built on an emotional platform. Rameses the Great’s love for his wife is all too clear in the romantic poetry written on the walls.  Yet, he doesn’t appear in the tomb at all. This was the first New Kingdom tomb for many of our party, and the expressions on their faces were something to behold.

More Tombs

There are around 100 tombs in the greater Valley of The Queens area, but only a handful are open.  After Nefertari it was the turn of Amun-her-khepeshef, a son of Rameses III. A simple, straight tomb, looted in antiquity, its wall’s decorations are in excellent condition. Next was the very similar tomb of his mother, Queen Tyti. Our final tomb was that of the eldest son of Rameses III, Khaemwaset.  Another well preserved tomb, with magnificent wall decorations. Most scenes show the young prince, easily identifiable by his sidelock, being led by his royal father, yet it would appear that he outlived his father and his final funerary arrangements were handled by Khaemwaset’s brother Rameses IV.

A Word of Warning

Time to move on to the other end of the social scale. We are headed for the workers’ village of Deir el-Medina. A note of caution here: do not try and walk across the mountain path to the village as the ban on such journeys is strictly enforced by the police.

Deir el-Medina

Discretion being the better part of valour, we opted for the road route and minutes later were at the village itself. This is the erstwhile home of the craftsmen who built and decorated the royal tombs of the Valley of the Kings. An isolated but well looked-after, for the most part, village of master artists, Deir el-Medina is one of the finest documented ancient villages in all history. The tombs of Deir el-Medina are striking in that their decorated walls are not of daily life but almost exclusively scenes from the various Books of the Dead. An echo of the work carried out by these craftsmen on the other side of the mountain. At the far end of the village stands the Ptolemaic Temple which replaced the one built by Seti I. In fact there is so much to see at Deir el-Medina one could spend the entire day there, but lunch was calling, and so was the Café & Restaurant Maratonga.

Medinet Habu

It is always nice to return to places and be remembered by the people there, and so the return to Maratonga was a good one.  After a sumptuous lunch and a quick photo it was only a short waddle to Medinet Habu. It was the team’s first mortuary temple, and probably the most impressive.

Built for Rameses III, it is in an incredibly good state of repair. Of particular interest is the 18th Dynasty temple just inside the entrance, built by Hatshepsut and Tuthmose III. We all split up and began an extended afternoon of exploration. The interior walls and columns still bear fabulous examples of the original paintwork, and it is easy to get lost in the multitude of gods that surround you. Outside, on the north wall, can be found the famous Battle of the Delta, assumed to be showing Rameses III and the Egyptian forces repelling the still unidentified Sea People.

And as the Sea People were defeated, so it was time for us to withdraw, back to our hotel on the edge of the Nile.

March 2019 Tour Day 2

A lazy start to day 2 for most of the team, as yesterday had been so long. We only finally arrived in Luxor around midnight, and most of us had been on the go since the morning of the day before.

The Avenue of Sphinxes

After a quick breakfast, it was up to me to go and get our Luxor Passes. The issuing office has moved from behind the Luxor Museum and is now at the Karnak visitor’s centre. Leaving everyone else sleeping, I set out, via the ferry, for the East Bank and then followed, as far as possible, the Avenue of Sphinxes. This is currently under restoration and it is only possible to see it from the raised position of the roads that run alongside it. The Avenue ends at the Bab el Amara gate in front of the Khonsu Temple, just past where the Avenue splits at the Precinct of Mut. It is still quite a walk to get around to the new Karnak entrance, which is something that is going to have to be taken into consideration if the Avenue is going to be open to the public as a link between the Luxor and Karnak temples.

Luxor Passes

Just inside the entrance is a door marked Luxor Passes, and from here a lady led me to another room to get them. A fairly painless procedure; just make sure you have the relevant paperwork – your passport, 2 copies of the passport’s info page and 1 ID style photo and the fee in US dollars or Euros. I took along a glue stick as a form of baksheesh which helped things along a little. Nice to know that I could get them for the whole group without the others having to be there. Armed with the GnT team’s Luxor passes I headed south to meet everyone else at the Luxor Museum.

Luxor Museum

This is probably the best introduction that you can get to the New Kingdom, especially the 18th dynasty.  There was much interest in the two mummies in their darkened rooms. Upstairs for a quick rundown on Akhenaten and on to the basement which houses most of the statues from the Luxor cache found 30 years ago in the temple of the same name.  Some of the finest stone-working to be seen anywhere. This is still my favourite museum.

Mummification Museum

Just upriver stands the small, and often bypassed, Mummification Museum.  After some hurried checking about our Luxor Passes, we were allowed in to this fascinating, well laid out, visual explanation of the mummification process with numerous examples on display.  Not just human, but also many different animals and birds.  Also on display are some exquisite mummy cases, a selection of Ushabtis, Canopic jars and examples of the actual tools and chemicals used in the process. Fascinating and well worth a visit.

Rameses the Great

Time for lunch and an afternoon of relaxation before heading across the river once more to the magnificent Luxor Temple.  Our timing was spot on, as when we arrived a team of workers was busy with the restoration of one of the statues of Rameses the Great that front the first pylon.  The men were busy lifting a massive timber joist up to the top of the scaffolding that surrounded the base of the restored statue.  All done by hand with ropes and calls.  A large crowd watched mesmerized as the work crew slowly lifted this huge piece of wood into place. One could easily imagine that this is how it has always been done.

Luxor Temple

This incredible edifice was team GnT’s first real introduction to New Kingdom architecture, and there were several open mouths as we stood at the base of the one remaining obelisk.  Once inside, I think it is only after successive visits that one begins to appreciate the difference between the Rameside work and that of the earlier, more delicate 18th dynasty.  As the sun began to sink, so the numbers of tourists increased and it would have been easy to let oneself be swept along by the throng, but stepping out of the flow allows you to take in the full splendour of the temple, especially once the lights come on.

With Ra descending behind the Theban mountains it was time for us to also head west.

Tomorrow we start on the West Bank and the Place of the Beautiful Ones.

March 2019 Tour Day 1

Arrival

After a long and fairly sleepless flight, team GnT arrived at Cairo International. Immigration was straightforward although a recent rule change meant that we had to collect our luggage rather than leaving it to be automatically transferred to our later flight to Luxor.

Falafel Sandwiches

Moments later we were in our mini-bus and heading southwest for Saqqara. It is always interesting to watch people’s faces as they experience Cairo’s traffic for the first time. Having breakfasted at 03:30 it was time for some sustenance and a roadside stop for falafel sandwiches was most welcome.

Saqqara

On arrival at Saqqara we elected to first visit the Imhotep museum. Beautifully laid out, this is a must do. One tends to think of Saqqara as being an Old Kingdom necropolis, so it was good to be reminded that it featured in the New Kingdom and later. Especially interesting was the gallery devoted to Jean-Philippe Lauer who worked the Saqqara complex for so many years.

The Step Pyramid

Onto the Step Pyramid. For most of our group this was their first pyramid experience and this one never fails to impress. As you walk out into the Great Court from the entrance colonnade, you get your first full view of the Step Pyramid and realise just how big it is. A lot of work has been done since I was here last, notably the addition of the gleaming white walkway along one side.  We made our way around the west side of the pyramid and along the northern edge to get to the serdab. Again, it is always fun to watch people’s reactions to seeing the King staring back at them through the small holes.

The Pyramid of Unas

We moved on to the pyramid of Unas, going down into the burial chamber where the guardian was keen to show us the images that can be discerned underneath the hieroglyphs on the wall.  Both fascinating and beautiful, the torchlight picks out the blue of the first attested pyramid texts, against the gentle iridescence of the alabaster walls. From here it was a short trip to the Serapeum.

The Serapeum

What can one say about this incredible underground complex? The sheer size of the subterranean tunnels beggars belief, and that is before you start with the sarcophagi. The precision of stonework in here is remarkable, and to stand next to one of the colossal  stone sarcophagi is in some way overwhelming. One’s mind cannot help but question what sort of technologies were the masons and builders using.  A truly fantastic place.

Dashur

With a full itinerary it was time to move on to our next stop – Dashur and the Bent and Red Pyramids. With the clock against us, we didn’t stop at the Bent pyramid, but drove slowly around it, with a pause for photos. The Red Pyramid was a different matter.  The brave among us elected to take on the steep stairway up the side of Sneferu’s third attempt at pyramid building.  The climb accomplished; it is then a 200 feet long passage down to the first chamber. There are two more chambers after that. Truly magnificent and as impressive inside as the Great Pyramid of Khufu. Time to say goodbye to what the locals call the Bat Pyramid and head for the old capital Mennefer, better known as Memphis. 

Memphis

Although little remains of the fabled white-walled city it is still worth a visit.  Perhaps the most notable thing to see is the massive statue of Rameses the Great lying on its back in its own purpose-built museum.  The statue’s twin, now restored, stands in the entrance of the new Grand Egyptian Museum.  Memphis was the home of the god Ptah, and it is this god’s temple, Hwt-kA-ptH, via the Greek rendition Ai-Gy-Ptos, that gave Egypt her name.

Lunch

Nothing beats a quick koshari stop.  We pulled over to the side of the road in Giza for a quick lunch.  A bowl of one of Egypt’s national dishes, koshari, followed by another local favourite, roz bil laban, a sort of rice pudding, and then we were on our way once more. Next, the Giza plateau.

Giza

No words can ever really convey the full enormity of the Great Pyramid, you need to stand at its base, and for our first-time visitors this was a special moment. A slow walk down the hill brings you to the entrance to the Valley temple and of course the Sphinx.  It is good to see crowds of tourists here once more, and one can only trust that the Egyptian economy will see the benefits.  The Sphinx viewing platform was pretty full, and it took a degree of patience to get that perfect photo moment.

Departure

Exhausted but happy, it was time to get in the mini-bus and make our way across the city to the airport.

Next stop: Luxor.

Shopping In Luxor

For many, the endless stream of merchants trying to sell you some dubious souvenir can be wearing to say the least, but maybe it is worth remembering that for the majority of these hawkers this might be all they get to feed their family for that day. The drop in tourism since the revolution of 2011, although now on the rise, has been devastating for many of these merchants. If you don’t want to engage, then walk past with a dismissive wave of the hand, or a quick “laa shukran” (no thank you). The moment you answer the standard “Welcome in Luxor, where from?” greeting, you are considered a fair target. It is a game, and by answering you have accepted the opening move.

If you see something that you want, first decide what you would be happy paying for it, then ask the vendor for his price. Do not be fooled into telling them what you think it is worth. Offer half of what you would be happy paying and take it from there. Remember you can always walk away. Saying you need to think about it can often help negotiations. Keep smiling, it will get you a better price.

Some of the sites on the west bank have their own gauntlet of shops selling tourist items from plastic sphinxes to local clothing and innumerable scarabs, pharaoh busts and papyri as well as postcards. These stall holders can be quite insistent, but a little tolerance and a sense of humour will see you through. There is no point in getting angry – the only person who loses out is you. Better a laugh and a Laa, laa, laa.

On the west bank there are also several alabaster factories, again, some better than others. Speak to your guide or tour leader.

The souk, opposite Luxor Temple, is worth a visit, but be prepared to bargain. Most shopkeepers will tell you a vastly inflated price, sometimes up to ten times the real price, so your turn is to offer way below that. Eventually you will reach a middle ground. If the price is still too high for you then go and look elsewhere. Many of the shops at the tourist end of the market stock very similar items, some better quality than others. Have a good look around and do not be taken in by the tales of hardship from the shopkeepers, they will never sell you something at a loss. If you are happy with the price then all well and good, but do shop around.

Do not under any circumstances buy any antiquities. Laa shukrun.

Money

The currency in Egypt is the Egyptian pound (LE). There are 100 piastres in one Egyptian pound. Notes in common circulation are 200, 100, 50, 20, 10, 5 Egyptian pounds.

Paper money gets very old, tattered and torn, especially the smaller notes. Egyptians will often refuse to accept notes that are in bad condition, especially torn ones. It may be best to refuse any that are torn or repaired with tape in case you get stuck with them.

Notes are printed with one side in Arabic and the other in English

Lower value coins are still legal tender but they are rarely used, and may even be refused.

In restaurants change is normally rounded to the nearest pound.

Shops never seem to have any change, so it is best to pay for low cost items, such as drinks and small purchases from the souk with the right money. Keep hold of LE1 notes and coins and LE5 notes for small purchases and of course, for tipping.

You should get a much better exchange rate in Egypt than if you exchange money before you arrive. You do not pay commission if you change your money in Egypt. It is best to arrive with some dollars or euros (all major ‘hard currencies’ are very acceptable and easily changed) and to get Egyptian cash on arrival. In fact some countries do not deal in Egyptian forex. You can change money at the visa offices in the airport arrival hall, so there is no need to come with any at all, even to pay for porters, taxi to the hotel etc. There are also ATM machines in the arrival hall at the airport.

There are several ATMs on the East Bank in Luxor, notably behind the Luxor Museum and outside the Winter Palace. 

Medication

Visitors to Egypt are advised to bring an adequate supply of their own medication. Only bring what you need for yourself to see you through until the end of your stay. Be warned, some local medications/drugs are not allowed in Egypt, so to be on the safe side, bring a letter from your GP or other proof that you need the medication. Do not bring medication for other people.

A stomach upset followed by diarrhea is the most common form of illness for travelers to Luxor. To avoid the problem, the usual recommendation is to eat only thoroughly cooked food and fruit you have peeled yourself. In practice, stomach problems are not necessarily caused by food, in fact one of the biggest potential hazards is money, which changes hands all the time.

There is also a degree of understanding that the change in climate can also affect your stomach, especially if, after a hot day trekking over the hillsides, you immediately sink something ice-cold. It is better to let yourself acclimatize a little first. You are advised to bring your own hand sanitizer or wipes. There are plenty of well stocked pharmacies in Luxor.

Only drink sealed, bottled water, and try and avoid ice cubes.

What To Wear In Luxor

Egypt is a Muslim country. The culture and dress code are not as strict in Egypt as they are in some other Muslim countries, but it is still best to be modest, especially for ladies. There are many who will say they have been to Luxor and have worn exactly what they want, where they want, and nobody cared. The truth is that many people probably cared a great deal but were too polite to say anything. It is far better to be sensitive to local culture and to dress in a way that will avoid offence. It should also be remembered that most of the places you are visiting were, and possibly still are, sacred sites and it is preferable to show a degree of respect.

The other reason for dressing on the more conservative side, is the sun. Be under no illusion, Egypt is hot, especially further south, like Luxor or Aswan. It is crucial that you wear a hat, and we would suggest something with a wide brim, that offers some protection to, not only your face, but also the back of your neck. 

Guys, normal pants, jeans or chinos, nothing too tight, and shirts, t-shirts or golf shirts are fine. Make sure they are lightweight and natural fibres – cotton is best. Polyester or any similar artificial fabric will become uncomfortable very quickly. Shorts seem to be accepted in the hot season, more so on the West Bank. Remember, Luxor is a working ancient city, not a beach resort.

Girls, sorry, but for you it is a little more. Apart from the need to respect local custom and religion there are two other benefits from modest clothing. First, it will protect you from the sun. The sun is fierce most of the time and will soon damage exposed, unprotected skin. Second, the more modest you are the less attention you will attract. A basic wardrobe would be loose cotton or linen trousers and/or a longish skirt and cotton tops with sleeves that are at least half-length. No-one expects you to cover your face. Nor do you have to cover your head. However, in the street you should not expose too much skin, and preferably also cover knees and elbows. Clothing, especially blouses and skirts, should not be transparent or tight-fitting. Above the waist, baggy is best.

Shoes: we would suggest anything that you are comfortable walking in, the pavements in Luxor are not the best, and the terrain on the West Bank can be quite uneven. Many of the tombs have wooden floors laid to make it easier, but sometimes there are gaps between the planking, so heels are a no-no. Also, due to the sand and dust, any kind of open shoe is going to quickly become uncomfortable. Sneakers, walking shoes or desert boots are all good. It is not a good idea to rush out and buy something new, as shoes usually take some time to wear in.

This may all sound a little over the top, but we want you to enjoy your time in Egypt, and to protect you from the sun.

This is not a fashion show, and comfort should be your priority.

The GnT Story

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This is the story of two sound engineers who, unbeknownst to each other, shared a common passion – Ancient Egypt.

Gavin Athienides, current Vice-chairman of the Ancient Egyptian Society in Johannesburg, runs his own successful studio in Johannesburg. He had been working on the production of various audiobooks, however, the production had ground to a halt over copyright issues, and Gavin, out of sheer frustration, decided the best way forward was to write his own book. Inspired by the stories of the Hardy Boys’ adventures in Egypt, that he had loved as a child, Gavin found himself in the Land of the Pharaohs looking for subject matter and a plot for his own children’s book, ‘The Adventures of Tee, Timothy and Tiger’. Once there the bug bit, and he has subsequently revisited Egypt many times, concentrating on the Valley of the Kings in Luxor.

Meanwhile not many streets away Ted Loukes was busy running his own successful studio. When not at work, Ted is an independent researcher in the field of ancient civilisations. His particular fascination with Ancient Egypt began in 1972 with a visit to the Treasures of Tutankhamun exhibition, held at the British Museum. In late 2011 he had begun writing a blog on mysteries, both ancient and modern, and came across the story of Moses and his links to a renegade Pharaoh. Further investigation led to a two-and-a-half-year project, incorporating several field trips to Egypt, notably to Luxor, with its rich history of what is known as the New Kingdom, that culminated in his non-fiction work ‘Moses and Akhenaten: Brothers in Alms’

It was only in early 2015 that Gavin and Ted finally met and began sharing their passion for Ancient Egypt. Many discussions about returning to Egypt followed that meeting, until 2018 when the decision was made that what was missing were tours that concentrated on specific moments in Ancient Egyptian history, as opposed to the general package deals that tried to include all the three and a half thousand years that make up the Ancient Egyptian timeline. With their extensive knowledge and research carried out in and around Luxor, the time of Rameses the Great, Tutankhamun and Nefertiti, what is called the New Kingdom, was the obvious choice, and so was born GnT Tours.

The New Kingdom

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The Egyptian Timeline

The general misconception of Ancient Egypt is of everything mixed together in one time and one place: Pyramids, Pharaohs, Cleopatra, camels, mummies and so on, largely due to the way that Hollywood has portrayed it, whereas in actual fact the timeline of Ancient Egypt spans many thousands of years, as shown in the graphic below.

Ancient Egypt Timeline

As you can see, the pyramids are generally assumed to have been built around 2500 years before the common era (BCE), while Cleopatra died in 30 BCE. A huge time-span of two and a half thousand years, but don’t worry, we are not going to cover all of that. The period we will be concentrating on is known as the New Kingdom, well over a thousand years before Cleopatra. It is the golden age of Egyptian history and the time of many of the more well-known Pharaohs, including Tutankhamun, Nefertiti and Ramses the Great. In our exploration of the West Bank of Luxor we shall meet not only the great rulers, but also the courtiers and noblemen of the time, as well as the men who actually built and decorated these magnificent tombs.  

The Hyksos

The New Kingdom began with the expulsion of a foreign people known as the Hyksos who had taken control of the northern part of Egypt and split the country in two. From their stronghold in the Theban area in the south, the 17th dynasty rulers began a campaign to drive out the hated Hyksos. The success of this campaign reunited the country and so began the the New Kingdom and the 18th Dynasty.

The 18th Dynasty

It is impossible to spend time in Luxor and not come across the 18th Dynasty. From its beginning with Ahmose, whose body lies in the Luxor Museum to Horemheb whose magnificent tomb we will hopefully visit, the 18th Dynasty dominated the Theban political and religious landscape. It is the time of the mighty queen, Hatshepsut, the era of Tuthmose III, known as the “Napoleon of Egypt”. It saw the expansion of the Egyptian empire to become the most powerful country in the known world. It was also the dynasty of the religious heretic Akhenaten, his beautiful wife, Nefertiti and his famous son Tutankhamun. 

18th Dynasty

The 19th Dynasty

Moving from the 18th to the 19th Dynasty saw many changes. This was the rise of the Rameside family. Horemheb, the military general and last ruler of the 18th gave way to another military man, Rameses. Hailing from the north-eastern part of the Delta, Ramses the First was already an old man when he took the throne, and didn’t rule for long, but he sired the beginnings of one of the most powerful families in the ancient world. His grandson was Rameses the Great, a prolific warrior, campaigner and builder, and there is no part of Egypt that does not carry his name on buildings and statues. Although the Ramesides ruled from the north, Thebes (Luxor) was still the religious capital and the Rameside kings certainly left their mark there.

19th Dynasty

By the time of his death, aged about 90 years, Rameses the Great was suffering from severe dental problems and was plagued by arthritis and hardening of the arteries, and had outlived most of his wives and children. His campaigns had made Egypt rich from all his conquests. Nine more pharaohs were to take the name Rameses in his honour. Most of the Rameside kings were buried in the Valley of the Kings, as we shall see.

The 20th Dynasty

20th Dynasty

The last Dynasty of the New Kingdom was the 20th. The end of the 19th had seen a decline into a state approaching civil war, until Setnakhte restored some form of order. He didn’t rule for long and his successor was Rameses III. During this time Egypt was threatened by the Sea Peoples, but Rameses III was able to defeat this confederacy from the Near East. This king is also known for what is known as “The Harem Conspiracy” in which Queen Tiye attempted to assassinate the king and put her son Pentawere on the throne. The coup was not successful in the end. The king may have died from the attempt on his life, but it was his legitimate heir, Rameses IV, who succeeded him to the throne. After this a succession of kings named Rameses took the throne, but none would truly achieve greatness. Some of their tombs are the most splendid in the Valley of the Kings.

The power of the pharaoh was undermined by the rise of the Amun priesthood, to the point that toward the end of the dynasty the priests of Amun in Thebes effectively controlled the crown. Constant in-fighting between the sons of Rameses III also contributed to the eventual collapse and demise of the New Kingdom. 

As we shall see, Luxor is one colossal open-air museum with its main feature being the New Kingdom.

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