Colossi of Memnon
With our number bolstered by the first of our late arrivals, we set out for the Valley of the Queens. Armed with ice-cold water we set off in our minibus taxi up though the villages, past the Colossi of Memnon. It was great to see just how much of the layout of Amenhotep III’s mortuary temple has been uncovered since I was last here.
Valley of the Queens
A few minutes later we were at the parking area before what was known in ancient times as “The Place of Beauty”. As we disembarked, the heat hit us like a sledgehammer, and it is at that moment that you realise that you are now in the desert, and that not much stands between you and the Atlantic Ocean but sun-scorched rock and sand.
Our Luxor Passes got us through the security checkpoint with ease, and after collecting our photo passes, we set off up the valley. There are only a handful of open tombs in the Valley of the Queens, but each one is interesting in its own right. First stop was the tomb of Prince Khaemwaset, one of the sons of Ramses III. For most of the group this was their introduction to a royal tomb and the looks of disbelief were great to see. It is one thing to see pictures or videos of theses artistic wonders, but to stand in one and realise that what is in front of you was commissioned several thousand years ago is something else entirely.
Although the tomb of Nefertari was the big prize, we left that to last, and moved on to the tomb of Queen Tyti, a wife of Ramses III, and probably the mother of Ramses IV. Another prince, Amun-her-khepeshef, another son of Ramses III. The walls show the young prince being led by his father into the presence of the gods. Next up, QV66, the final resting place of Nefertari, Great Royal Wife to Ramses the Great. This magnificent tomb has been hailed as the finest in the whole Theban necropolis, and its beauty and vibrant colours are simply breath-taking. This was a return on our Luxor Pass investment.
Leaving the Valley of the Queens, our next stop was on the other end of the social scale as we were heading for the worker’s village of Deir el-Medina. A short trek over the hillside, past the rock-cut shrine to Ptah and Meretseger, seemed a better option than the easier, but much longer, road route, especially considering the heat. We soon arrived at the rest stop overlooking the ancient village. This was home to the craftsmen who actually built the tombs, who laboured away, cutting through the rock, plastering the walls and crafting out the splendid decorations of these hallowed spaces for their kings and queens. This UNESCO World Heritage Site carries one of the best documented accounts of community life in the ancient world, spanning almost four hundred years. Just behind the rest stop lies the glorious tomb of Sennedjem and his family. The Ministry of Antiquities has recently opened more tombs for general viewing, for example, the tomb of Amennakht, plus the temple of Hathor at the northern end of the village is worth a visit.
Lunch was calling, and it was a reasonable walk from the village to the front of Medinet Habu, where we were welcomed by the genial host of the Café & Restaurant Maratonga.
Medinet Habu is the mortuary temple of Ramses III. Its walls carry more than 7,000 m2 of decorated reliefs detailing the king’s military campaigns against would-be invaders from the north, in particular the Sea Peoples. It is interesting to note that the original entrance is through a gate house, very much in the style of the Asiatic migdols of the period. The temple is probably the best preserved on the West Bank and its interior decorations are superb, especially higher up towards the remaining ceilings. Medinet Habu also has the only record of a decisive Egyptian sea battle, showing Ramses III defeating the so-called Sea People.
By now our final group member had arrived, and she, the pool, and something cold were all waiting back at the hotel.