Sometime around the start of the New Kingdom, the pharaohs realized that, maybe, just maybe, it might be a good idea to hide their tombs a bit better. I guess they finally figured out that building a giant pyramid that could be seen for miles to mark the spot where you had just buried yourself with thousand of priceless jewels and worldly goods was a bit too tempting for the crafty grave robbers of the time, no matter how well you tried to booby trap the place.
Instead, the new plan called for stealth and secrecy in a desolate, inhospitable valley located across the river from the ancient city of Thebes (modern day Luxor) on the west bank of the nile.
“I saw to the excavation of the rock-tomb of his majesty, alone, no one seeing, no one hearing.” – Ineni, advisor to the King Thutmose I
And while this started off as an excellent idea, eventually the location of the secret royal necropolis became known and dubbed “The Great and Majestic Necropolis of the Millions of Years of the Pharaoh, Life, Strength, Health in The West of Thebes” or “the Great Field” for short. (Because whoever thought of that first name must have had a lot of time on their hands.)
And while the location of the necropolis was now a widely known national “secret”, the pharaohs still did their best to disguise, hide and obfuscate the entrances to their burial sites in the hopes of protecting their tombs from thieves.
This plan ultimately, failed. Each tomb being subsequently robbed and looted of its treasure at some point in ancient antiquity.
As of today, archeologists have discovered 63 different tombs at the site, containing the burial places for dozens of ancient Egyptian Kings, their sons and even several high ranking officials who managed to secure one of the highly coveted spots in the royal necropolis.
Upon discovery, these tombs were each given numbers to help identify them, proceeded by the location of the tomb “Kings Valley” or “KV” for short. During our visit we explored 5 of the 63 tombs in the valley, 4 of which you can learn more about below!
KV 2 – RAMESES IV
In a truly Game of Thones like moment, Rameses IV ascended the throne after his father Rameses III died from wounds inflicted during an assassination plot by one of his secondary wives in a maneuver to establish her son Pentawer on the throne. Rameses IV (who would have still been going by Amonhirkhopshef at the time) discovered the plot however and was able to intervene just in time, secure the throne for himself, round up all the conspirators and have them executed. Huzzah!
Unfortunately, Rameses IV didn’t have very long to enjoy his victory, when after reigning the kingdom for only about six years, he died suddenly.
This left the construction workers building his tomb in a bit of a pickle, (since they had really only just started work on his tomb). Meetings were called, solutions were discussed and the plans were quickly updated in order to make do with what they had completed so far at the time of the pharaohs’ death by converting what was originally intended to be a pillared hall into the new burial chamber. The walls were quickly covered in the much faster and easier sunk relief carvings, the walls were painted and finally Rameses IV’s sarcophagus was intered in the converted central chamber inside a monolithic red granite outer shell.
When the tomb was discovered however, explorers found that the red granite sarcophagus had been broken into at one end during antiquity. The lid was displaced and the mummy of Rameses IV was missing. Curiously, the body was later discovered inside KV 35.
The walls of the burial chamber are covered in reliefs detailing the second, third and fourth hours from something known as “The Book of Gates” which narrates the passage of a newly deceased soul into the next world. Each step of the journey corresponding to the path of the sun through the underworld during the twelve hours of the night.
During each stage of the journey the soul is required to pass through a gate associated with a different goddess and pass a test recognizing her particular characteristics.
The close-up below is from the 4th hour of the book of gates, the many-coiled serpents between the two blue ramps, represent the infinity of time and the twelve goddesses on either side of the ramp embody the twelve hours of the night.
Perhaps the most interesting fact regarding KV 2 however is that this tomb has been open since antiquity and features graffiti left by both ancient Greek and Roman visitors. It was once used as a dwelling place for Coptic monks and was visited by early European explorers in both 1743 by Richard Pococke (who designated it as “Tomb B” in his Observations of Egypt) and then later by Napoleons survey team and by James Burton who mapped out the tomb in 1825. At one point the tomb was even utilized as a sort of hotel for many 18th and 19th century visitors.
KV 11 – RAMESES III
Speaking of Dad, across the valley from KV 2 is KV 11, home to Rameses IV’s assassinated father Rameses III.
Originally constructed by Pharaoh Sethnakht, the tomb was abandoned when diggers found that they had accidentally tunneled right into a neighboring tomb, whoops… Rameses III however, not wanting a perfectly good start to go to waste, simply told workers to tunnel around the existing tomb, causing his tomb to take a sharp right at the breach point and then continue straight upon its new axis.
These small niches in this first passageway would have originally been used to store funerary objects the pharaoh may need in his afterlife including food, boats, craftsmen and musicians.
Quick detour here to avoid the neighboring tomb…. sorry about that Amenemesses…
Sadly, even though this tomb is one of the longest in the valley (over 262 feet in length) visitors today are only able to proceed about halfway down the passage, as the rest of the tomb has been barred off to visitors since its ceiling collapsed due to flooding in the early 1900s. But don’t worry, for those wanting to see the red quartzite sarcophagus that would have resided in the burial chamber at the end of the tunnel, you can find it in the Louvre. However, you’ll have to travel to Cambridge to see the lid.
Like KV 2, KV 11 has been open since antiquity, and among various other names, has been referred to as Bruce’s Tomb (after Scottish traveler and travel writer James Bruce whom entered the tomb in 1768) and Harper’s Tomb, due to a wall mural featuring two blind harpers in one of the small annexes off the first corridor symbolizing the musicians the pharaoh would be bringing with him into the afterlife. Also like KV 2, at some point in history Rameses III’s mummy went missing, only later to be discovered among a cache of other royal mummies in 1881 by a tomb-robber named Abd el-Rassul near the site of Deir el-Bahri. Today you can pay Rameses III a visit at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo.
KV 9 – RAMESES V/VI
After the death of Rameses IV (of KV 2 fame), Rameses IV’s nephew, Rameses V took the throne. Unfortunately his brief four year reign was beset by financial problems and Libyan raiding parties who kept terrorizing the citizens of Thebes and attacking his tomb builders in the royal necropolis. Then, just to top off his already unlucky stint as pharaoh, Rameses V contracted the first ever documented case of small pox which brought about a quick end to his short reign.
After his sudden death Rameses V’s paternal uncle assumed the throne and was crowned Rameses VI. Who, for whatever reason, chose to hold onto his nephew’s body for two whole years before burying him. (Even though Egyptian tradition strictly required the pharaoh to be mummified and buried precisely 70 days into the reign of his successor.) And even then, it is unclear if Rameses VI buried him for any period of time at all in his own tomb in the valley (which was uncompleted at the time of his death), or simply decided to inter him elsewhere.
What we do know is that at some point Rameses VI usurped his nephew’s tomb, which was still under construction in the valley, enlarged it, and took it as his own.
Then, after his own short 8 year reign, Rameses VI passed away at around the age of 40 and was buried in KV 9. However his mummy was to only lay untouched there for fewer than 20 years before thieves ransacked the tomb, hacking away at his mummy to gain access to the jewelry and priceless objects in the wrappings. Karma anyone? At some point after this, the tomb now breached, the body was moved to KV 35 during the reign of Pinedjem I, where it was discovered in 1898 by Victor Loret.
Also in 1898, Georges Émile Jules Daressy uncovered fragments of a large granite box and mummiform stone sarcophagus inside the tomb that had been shattered in antiquity. These were painstakingly reconstructed in 2003 from fragments found in the tomb and scattered elsewhere around the valley.
The large pit in the center of the burial chamber is where the Rameses VI’s sarcophagus would have originally been interred inside a larger granite box, two huge fragments of which is all that remains today.
Like many artifacts in Egypt, the facial piece of the sarcophagus lid reconstruction is a replica, the original of which has been on display in the British Museum since 1823.
This tomb, like the others, has been a well trod tourist destination since antiquity, partially due to a small misunderstanding associating the tomb with the greek hero Memnon. One ancient Greek graffiti artist even inscribed this little note on the side of the tomb:
“Hermogenes of Amasa had seen and admired the tombs, but this tomb of Memnon, after he had examined it, he more than admired.”
KV 62 – Tutankhamun
While usurping your nephew’s tomb is not usually looked upon favorably by most, it did have one big positive outcome, and that was to totally bury the location of king Tutankhamun’s tomb under a giant pile of building rubble and worker’s housing to the point that everyone simply forgot that the little tomb even existed.
That is until Howard Carter discovered it again in 1922 and set the world into a sort of Egytomania, heavily influencing the art deco movement, Hollywood filmmakers and spurring an entire Egyptian revival hysteria.
Unfortunately, at the time of our visit there was no photography allowed inside the tomb (but I have read elsewhere that has since changed!) so I can only tell you stories. Which I will REALLY try to keep brief, because if I’m honest, I was fan girling pretty hard outside this tomb.
Yes this tomb is tiny. And a lot of people decide not to pay the extra money to go in. I mean it’s basically just two sort of smallish rooms with two attached storage annexes totally just under 1,200 SF of space. It’s not even that well painted, carved or decorated. The whole thing feels like the rush job that is was. On top of that, all the fun gold sparkly stuff has been moved to the Egyptian museum in Cairo, so you won’t find any treasure here.
But as a kid it was this tomb, and the story of Howard Carter and King Tut that sparked my love of Egypt, its people, its culture and its history. This tomb is THE REASON I was standing here, halfway around the world in the middle of the Egyptian desert. So it personally, it wasn’t much of a decision on wether or not to pay the extra few dollars to go in.
If you don’t know the story of King Tut I’ll keep it brief... or at least I’ll try.
Tutankhamun’s dad was a bit of a black sheep, who decided that instead of worshiping the same old Gods that the Egyptian people had been worshiping their whole lives, He was instead going to worship the sun disk Aten, changing his name from Amenhotep IV, to Akhenaten (beloved of Aten). He and his wife Nefertiti (whom I’m sure you’ve heard of) moved the capital of Egypt to their cult city of Amarna. He had eight children, two boys and six girls, the youngest of which he named Tutankhaten (the living image of Aten).
Let’s just say that the Egyptian people, the high priests of all those other traditional gods and well, basically everyone was not happy about this whole Aten worship thing.
After Akhenaten died, history gets fuzzy as subsequent rulers tried to erase as much of this part of their history as possible. But historians believe that the country was ruled for a brief period by Smenkhkare and then possibly for a time by a woman named Neferneferuaten (who may have been Nefertiti). From there, although there are many conflicting theories and thoughts on this, many believe that with Akhenaten gone, the priests and advisors took advantage of the situation to get back to the old ways by putting Akhenaten’s young son Tutankhaten on the throne.
So at only 8 years old he suddenly found himself ruler of Egypt, married off to his half sister Ankhesenpaaten (who would have been about 12), and the two officially had their names changed to Tutankamun (the living image of Amun) and Ankhesenamun (her life is of Amun).
Together the two had two daughters, neither of which survived infancy and both of whom were buried with their father in KV 62.
Together the two young rulers governed Egypt for roughly 10 years until Tutankamun’s death at the young age of 19 due to what scientists believe was the result of a combination of multiple health disorders (due to years of royal incest), a leg fracture (perhaps the result of a fall), and a severe malarial infection.
With his death came the end of the 18th dynasty of Egyptian pharaohs.
And while his rule was not as short as some of the other’s we’ve mentioned, apparently no one was expecting someone so young to pass away quite so quickly. So yet again we see a mad scramble to figure out what to do with the body.
Finally, it was decided that they would lay the young pharaoh to rest in a small tomb that was currently being constructed for a private individual in the valley. It was tiny, but it would work in a pinch.
Hurriedly they set about decorating the tomb as best they could on short notice. Finding themselves running out of wall space to contain all the necessary inscriptions, they constructed a series of nesting gold gilded wooden shrines that would house the sarcophagus and contain the remainder of the necessary funeral texts.
And while many believe the tomb remained sealed and untouched until Carter’s discovered in in 1922. The tomb was in fact broken into and robbed on at least two separate occasions in ancient antiquity.
The first was a smash and grab job shortly after the pharaoh had been buried, the thieves toppling things over, emptying boxes, ransacking the annex and removing items through small hole they had smashed in the door. After the robbery was discovered, the door was resealed and the access tunnel was filled in with limestone chippings.
The second robbery was a bit more organized and required the thieves to clear out a small tunnel through the descending corridor that had been filled in. This time, archeologist estimate that over 60% of the jewelry in the tomb was taken along with various precious metals. But this mainly consisted of smaller items the thieves could easily get in and out of the small tunnel they had dug into the tomb.
The tomb was again quickly resealed and then finally lost to history as it became buried under building debris and workers housing from the construction on KV 9 during the reign of Rameses IV.
If you want to learn more about the tombs discovery and the mysterious curse, you can follow along with more of the story on my Winter Palace post!
Learn more about the tomb and the work being done to restore it in a great video documentary put together by The Getty HERE!
What You Need To Know
KNOW THAT NOT EVERY TOMB WILL BE OPEN WHEN YOU GO & ITS IMPOSSIBLE TO KNOW IN ADVANCE WHICH ONES WILL OR WON’T BE OPEN
Due to the strain that tourism puts on the tombs in the valley, and the deterioration that keeping these fragile tombs open to the public causes, only a small selection of tombs are made available to the public to visit each day. And the only way to find out what’s going to be open, is to show up that day and see what you get. For example, here’s a list of the tombs that were open the day we went.
The only exceptions to this typically are KV 9, KV 17 and KV 62 which require an extra additional ticket to enter, thereby reducing their foot traffic and letting them stay open to the public most days.
YOU ONLY GET THREE
Be aware that your admission ticket will only allow you to access up to three tombs. If you would like to visit more than that, you’ll need to purchase an additional ticket from the entrance kiosk which will allow you into an additional three tombs.
The Tombs of Rameses V/VI, Seti I and Tutankhamen each require a separate additional ticket as well in order to visit.
If it were up to me, I personally would have loved to snag two tickets and wander into as many tombs as I could, however we visited this site as part of a tour group, seeing only the tombs our guide recommended, therefore unable to pick for ourselves or spend any additional time there seeing more.
In the end, our guide had us visit: KV 2, KV 6 & KV 11 and we were given the option to purchase the extra ticket to visit KV 9 and KV 62 which we did. Since we were going to also see the valley of the queens and visit Nefertari’s tomb that day, our guide suggested we pass on KV 17.
WHAT IT COSTS
Ok so once you get there, here’s a breakdown of what the admission prices were like during our visit in 2018.
4 LE – Tram Into The Valley
This is so cheap, you just want to get it. It’s worth saving yourself the walk in what can be potentially boiling temperatures in the valley.
300 LE – Photopass
Until recently no photography was allowed in the valley. However, rules on photography at most Egyptian sites are now changing on what seems like a daily basis. During our visit we were required to purchase a separate photo pass that would only allow us to take pictures in three tombs, and no photography of any kind was allowed in Tut’s tomb. However, I have read that recent visitors are reporting that they were allowed to take as many photos as they liked in any of the tombs with their cell phones, but a separate photo ticket was still required if they planned on using a separate camera.
240 LE – Admission Ticket To Visit Three Open Tombs
100 LE – Admission Ticket To Visit Rameses V & VI Tomb
300 LE – Admission Ticket To Visit Tut’s Tomb
1000 LE – Admission Ticket To Visit Seti’s Tomb
At the $ to LE conversation rate as of writing, all totaled if you were to buy all of these admission tickets, your visit would cost around $123 per person.
Removing the admission fee for Seti’s tomb brings the admission fees down closer to $60 per person, and of course often only one person in your party may need the official photo pass, bringing the cost down even more.
HOWEVER, if you plan on spending several days in the area and seeing several of the sites, you can bring down the costs a bit by purchasing an LUXOR PASS that includes admission to the tombs of Seti I and Nefertari in the cost. Information on the pass here, scroll down for the english version.
The Valley of the Kings, and the entire west bank of Luxor can be an incredibly frustrating place to attempt to visit on your own. To begin with there is little to no public transportation to any of these sites and even just getting across the Nile from the east bank to the west bank can prove challenging. Which is why most tourists simply end up hiring a guide, or hiring a driver for the day. However, if you are determined to go by foot, be aware that it’s a little over a five mile trek uphill from the ferry crossing. So be prepared with good shoes, appropriate clothing to keep you cool and plenty of water. You can also rent a bike and explore the area that way near the ferry HERE. Personally, we visited the Valley of the Kings as part of our tour on the Steam Ship Sudan, but almost every hotel in Luxor offers daily West Bank tours for a small fee.
A FEW GENERAL TIPS
- It’s often brutally hot and sunny in the valley, so I highly suggest bringing a hat and sunglasses when you visit.
- Be aware that there are no vending machines or snack vendors of any kind in the valley so if you plan on spending several hours here, you may want to bring along some water and snacks.
- Timing wise, most of the local tour groups arrive here early in the morning (around 8am) to beat the heat, with another wave of buses arriving around 10am. So often late afternoon or prior to 8am is least busy.
- Tomb guards. If they start acting helpful and pointing out things to you, be aware that they are going to want a tip for their services, even if you didn’t request them. So either be prepared with a pocket full of small bills (5 LE is fine) or be sure and cut them off before they can start being “helpful”.
- Even if you hire a guide, know that they will not actually be allowed to enter the tombs with you. You will be given any information regarding the site outside the tomb and then be entering and exploring the interoir on your own. So you may want to bring information with you to refer to once inside the tomb on your own.