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.
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.
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.
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 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”.
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.
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.
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.