Away from the floodplain of the Nile is a sinuous wadi
(the Wadi el-Muluk - an intermittently dry river valley) that house over 60
tombs made for the pharaohs of the New Kingdom, mainly of the 18th to the 20th Dynasties, as well as their children or other important
Click this photo to see other pictures of the Valley of the Kings
In Thebes, the Pharaohs chose to be buried in underground chambers
that were purpose-built to their specifications. The
Valley of the Kings is located in an arid, and formerly isolated location, which helped to
preserve many of the monuments. However, rises in the
local water table proved damaging to some of the
tombs, particularly that of Ramesses II who was one of Egypt’s greatest
In past centuries tomb robbing was rampant in this area and most of the
tombs were vandalized in the past, though now restored. It appears
that the sole tomb of a pharaoh that was not disturbed was that of Tutankhamen (King
Tut). It was discovered in 1922 by Howard Carter with the support
of the Earl of Carnarvon, George Herbert.
The general ticket for admission to the Valley of the Kings provides you access
to three tombs of your choice, although there are a few that require a
special (additional) ticket and fee. One important caution is that cameras are not allowed
in the Valley of the Kings and visitors are urged not to
bring them to this site. If you bring your camera with you, you will
have to leave it on the bus as neither photographs nor photographic
equipment are allowed beyond the main gate. Next, not all tombs are open at the same
time or even during the same season, so let your guide recommend the best of
the tombs that can be toured during your visit.
A tram provides transportation from the entrance to the location of the
tombs. From there, you will walk to your chosen destinations. The
tombs are actually tunnels and chambers dug into the hills and there are no
external temples to see. In fact, most of the tombs that have been
excavated so far are comprised of relatively compact but finished passageways, that
lead down to the burial chamber. Usually there are a few twists, turns,
ramps and steps
on the path, but nothing extremely strenuous or difficult, although
wheelchair access is not available.
Most of the underground passageways and chambers are decorated with colorful
designs and interesting collections of images including animals, people,
astronomical signs and many representations of the ever present Egyptian
gods. The images were meant to help the Pharaoh make a successful journey
through the Underworld to the Afterlife. Images of snakes are particularly
prominent, although no real ones will be found in the tombs.
Tour Guides are not allowed to accompany their groups into the tombs, so
you will likely huddle together for a short lecture before you enter a
specific tomb. We recommend that you listen closely to the
description of what you are going to see, as the complexity of the images in
the burial chambers can be confusing. You could spend hours
gazing at the details on the walls, but the best you can do during a visit
is to tour three or four tombs. More than this and you will soon tire of
seeing another burial chamber, no matter how interesting.
While many visitors are attracted to the Tomb of Tutankhamen, it
is one of the smallest and least decorated of those available. The fame of
this tomb was that it was not violated by grave robbers and its treasure
were preserved for all to see after its discovery in the 1920’s by Howard
Carter (although most of these are at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo). The
leading tombs are those of Seti 1 which is large and ornate, the tomb of
Ramesses VI (extra fee), as well as those of Ramesses IV and IX.
The Valley of the Queens consists of approximately 80 tombs of queens from the 18th to
20th Dynasties. Although less frequently visited than the Valley of
the Kings, there are several impressive tombs here with that of Nefertari, favorite wife of
Ramesses II, considered the most
spectacular. Most of these tombs were less ornate than those of the
pharaohs and have received less attention from the authorities.
Hatshepsut is the famous for being the female pharaoh who reigned during the 18th
Dynasty (approximately 1480 BC). She ascended to the role of
co-regent after the death of her husband (Pharaoh Thutmose II), as her stepson was too young to ascend to the
throne (although he later become Thutmose III). Hatshepsut wore a fake beard and pretended to be a man in order to
protect the birthright of her son. However, the deception was so enjoyable
that she did not give up the throne when he came of age and kept it for
quite some time afterwards, much to his indignation. After Hatshepsut's death her son attempted to remove any trace of
her existence, which included defacing her tomb and statues across
the kingdom. Hatshepsut's reign is regarded by many as one of the most
peaceful and successful of any pharaoh.
Click this image for a photo tour Deir al-Bahari and the Temple of
The Temple of Hatshepsut is not in the Valley of the Kings, but in
nearby Deir Al-Bahari. The name translates roughly as
“northern monastery”, as the temple was once used for residential and
religious purposes by early Christians.
The temple is dedicated to
the sun god Amun, although there are, also, minor temples for the worship of Hathor and Anubis
(the Jackal-headed god who examined the scales of justice as the dead were
judged when they
entered the afterlife). Excavations at the site are ongoing . Adjacent to
the temple of Hatshepsut are the ruins of the temple of an earlier pharaoh, but details of his
reign are still sketchy
The Temple of Hatshepsut was in ruins for several centuries and many of its
treasures were looted, while others remain missing. The present
temple was largely reconstructed by modern day craftsmen, although it is
said to reflect the design of the original temple.
The temple is three-tiered and its design is quite unique compared
to other temples from this period. There are no pylons and the first courtyard ends at a lower
portico that is divided by a ramp up to the second courtyard, followed by
another portico and ramp. Modest temples honoring Hathor and Anubis are on
either side of the ramp that ascends to the upper portico leading to the upper
terrace and the temple celebrating Amun. Of course, the Temple
celebrates Hatshepsut and you will find statues of her adorning the upper
Note that this this is the temple where are large number of tourists
and Egyptians were murdered by terrorists in 1997. Security forces are
obvious here, but entrance to the facility is relatively unhindered.
Medinet Habu, built by Ramesses III (20th
Dynasty, approximately 1300 BC), is an expansive complex. It is surrounded by
dilapidated defensive wall that encloses a massive temple with two
The temple was damaged by earthquakes in the past and parts are in
relatively poor condition, but it is well worth seeing if you have the
time. This was one of the last of the great temples built by an Egyptian
pharaoh and it has many interesting
features. It was patterned, in part, on the nearby Mausoleum of Ramesses,
which, unfortunately did not survive the ravages of time.
Click this image for a photo tour of the impressive Medinet Habu
The entrance to Medinet Habu is through a gate-house that was once
fortified that is termed a migdol. The gateway was constructed as part of
the defensive wall and the tower is thought to have been at least one floor
higher than it is today.
The massive first Pylon of the mortuary temple shows Ramesses III smiting his
enemies. On the left, Ramesses, in the presence of the god Amun, has his
enemies by the hair as the beats them, while on the right he is smiting
other enemies in the presence of the god Horus.
Pass through the
central arch to view the First Courtyard, which has some excellent pillars
along its edge that merge with the Second
Pylon followed by a second courtyard. Next is the spectacular Great
Hypostyle Hall with its garden of colorful and relatively well-preserved
columns nestled among walls and portals with numerous images of
gods, goddesses and the pharaoh.
This is followed by the Second and
Third Hypostyle Halls whose ceilings are missing, as are the columns, which, except for their ornate bases, were destroyed by an
earthquake in ancient times. Next, you will encounter the sanctuary of Amun, which has been damaged, but is worth a
On the way to the major attractions in the Theban Necropolis, you will suddenly come upon two forlorn, extremely weathered, sitting
stone giants called the Colossi of Memnon. Approximately 60 feet tall, these statues of Amenhotep
III (around 1400 BC) were later reconstructed by the Romans.
Originally designed guard to Amenhotep’s mortuary temple and
thought to be at the front of a large pylon, the Colossi apparently
were miserable failures as sentinels. The temple they were to
guard no longer exists,
having been repurposed into building materials for other temples with parts being destroyed by Nile flooding. On the sides of the statues, near their legs are smaller statues carved into the main blocks
and these are reputed to represent Amenhotep III’s mother, as well as his favorite wife.
Click this image for other photos of the Colossi of Memnon
While on the West Bank of the Nile, your tour will
likely pass any number of shops specializing in Alabaster and other cut
stone. Our tour stopped at an Alabaster factory named Morsy in El Qurna.
The tour was both a show (put on by the craftsmen outside) and an
opportunity to part with some cash (inside), as the alabaster on display was
stunning and the craftsmanship of good quality. If you are looking for unique
trinkets and curios, you will find those here as well. Most visits include a
lecture on how alabaster is processed and how the craftsmen work with it to
produce thin, beautiful translucent vases, dishes and other interesting
Click the image above for more photos of an Egyptian Alabaster shop
One of the delights of visiting Luxor is the
opportunity to take a hot-air balloon ride over the West Bank of the Nile at
Sunrise. The expense is approximately $200 per person. For that fee, you
will be picked up (around 4 AM) at your hotel or river cruiser, driven to a
small, covered boat ( with complimentary continental breakfast) and shuttled
to the West Bank of the Nile. From there you will be transported to a
large lot where a number of companies launch their hot air balloon tours.
Click the image above for aerial views of the Nile Valley and the Luxor
area taken during a hot air balloon ride at dawn
The baskets attached to the balloons are designed to
hold 25 people with two to three persons wedged in the small compartments that ring the
basket and provide both security and good views. To path of
the balloon is determined by the prevailing winds, but usually the flight is
over the Necropolis of Thebes and the Valley of the Kings. The flights last
fifty minutes, depending on the winds and fuel
needed for navigation. On a clear day the views are spectacular.
Flights can be usually be
arranged by your tour manager. See the
website for examples of the type of balloons and services that may be provided
by balloon companies in Luxor. There are many providers and you should seek
the input of your tour manager for their recommendation on a company that
provides reliable, safe and affordable flights.
Hot air balloon flights while exhilarating can be dangerous in Egypt or
anywhere in the world. Be aware of the risks (fire, explosion, bad
landing due to wind, mid-air collissions) before booking. If you are uncomfortable with the
potential danger, do not take the ride as your personal safety is your
In February, 2013 a hot air balloon flying over the West Bank of Luxor
exploded in a catastrophic accident killing 19 passengers.
Click here for the last section of our Luxor guide to explore
Dendera Temple and its images of Cleopatra.
Or, click here if you want to return to
Luxor proper and the Luxor and Karnak Temples.
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