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.
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.
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.
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.
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.