The West Bank: Pharaoh Hatshepsut's Mortuary Temple, Valley of the Kings, and Valley of the Monkeys

Luxor Travel Blog

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Luxor from the air.
Deir el-Bahari: Pharaoh Hatshepsut's Mortuary Temple and the Mortuary Temple of Montuhotep II

If you are on the East Bank for a sunrise, look across the Nile to the West Bank - there in the distance will be a sparkling light nestled against the imposing desert cliffs.  That shimmering, dancing light is Deir el-Bahari.  The polished white limestone catches the sun's rays and reflects them with a blinding brillance.  On the flip side,  unless you are there during the dead of winter (i.e. after December), Deir el-Bahari usually gets roasting hot after 8:30 am.  So, it's HIGHLY ADVISED to go here first.  Plus, if you can arrive right when the site opens at 6 am, you often can have a few moments of peace before the throngs of tourists arrive.
Looking down on Hatshepsut's Mortuary Temple at Deir el-Bahari from the cliff tops above.
  It's worth the early start to share a few quite moments with the beautiful temple - takes you back 3,000 + years to a time when the temple was a vibrant site of worship of a powerful female Pharaoh.

The architect of Hatshepsut's mortuary temple was her lover (still a bit of an archaeological question mark), Senmut, who also doubled as a top-notched architect.  The southern wing of the temple depicts the transportation of the Pharaoh's obelisk over water to Karnak.  There is also depiction of the famous expedition to Punt.   Hatshepsut, who portrayed herself in statues and on temples as male, found a way to get around the tiny technicality that the Pharaoh is the god Horus on earth, thus making the Pharaoh divine and a god-king.  You can't be Horus on earth if you are a woman.
Hatshepsut's Mortuary Temple on the right, Montuhotep's Mortuary Temple and Burial site on the left (the little pile of rubble).
  So, to still make herself a god and thus Pharaoh, Hatsheput created a myth of her divine birth in which the god Amun impregnates her mother and the important gods of the pantheon attend her birth.  You can see this story carved into the stone walls of Deir el-Bahari.

Next to Hatshepsut's Mortuary Temple at Deir el-Bahari is the mortuary temple of Nebhotepre Montuhotep II.  He was the 5th Pharaoh of the 11th Dynasty and it is thanks to him that we have the Middle Kingdom. At the end of the Old Kingdom, Egypt fragmented into what in essence were city states and many years of fighting ensued, termed the First Intermediate Period.  Then Montuhotep was born, became ruler of Upper Egypt, re-unified all of Egypt (by smitting all the Egyptian warlords until they couldn’t so much as raise a pinky), and Egypt went back to being a happy little kingdom with intrigue, assassinations, flooding of the Nile and plans of world domination.
A Polish team is hoping to find themselves a cache of mummies in the cliffs above Deir el-Bahari, or atleast the back entrance in the Valley of the Kings.
Oddly, Montuhotep, being the little rebel that he is (he is named after one of the gods of war, Montu), was buried at his Mortuary Temple at Deir el-Bahari.  Usually, Pharaohs had a Mortuary Temple where priests worshiped them and then their tomb which was “hidden” somewhere.  Montuhotep’s Mortuary Temple at Deir el-Bahari used tiers and columned porches, and was the architectural inspiration for Hatshepsut’s temple.

Interestingly, a mass grave was uncovered at Deir el-Bahari containing the remains of 60 Egyptian Soldiers who were probably casualties of Montuhotep’s extensive campaign into Nubia.  So our little rebel, who worshiped the Theban god of war, built a very unusual mortuary temple that fit nowhere into Egyptian architectural history, then buried himself in it, and finally had 60 of his favorite war buddies who took one for the team in Nubia buried in his front lawn.
Conservation of the temple reliefs - cement, it's almost as universal as duck tape.
  Man I love this guy! 

The Valley of the Kings: Where Many Of The New Kingdom Big Boys Have Their Posh AfterLife Flats

Get to The Valley of the Kings as soon as you can (but don't short shrift Deir el-Bahari in the process).  The Valley gets packed pretty quickly with naive tourists all bustling in to look at the "freak show" and not to enjoy and honor these great kings.  Valley officials rotate which tombs are open, so you may not see the exact ones I did, but no matter what you will be awed.  Remember to take time to honor and appreciate these great men and women for it is a real privilege to get such an intimate glympse into their world.  The Ancient Egyptians spent their lives preparing for their death and these New Kingdom tombs of Pharaohs, just like the Pyramids of Giza, show the length one powerful individual will go to to MAKE SURE (with amazingly elaborate back up plans) that no matter what they would make it to the out-of-this-world afterlife.
The famous journey to Punt.
  By being respectful and learning about these great individuals you will help them acheive that dream of immortality.

Tuthmosis III (KV34): Tuthmosis III was the 6th Pharaoh of the 18th Dynasty.  He was a brilliant military ruler, creating the largest empire in Egyptian history.  He completed over 17 campaigns, conquered Niy in North Syria all the way down to the fourth waterfall of the Nile in Nubia.  Once he established his empire, Tuthmosis III went on a building frenzy building tons of structures, monuments and temples all throughout Egypt.  His tomb in the Valley of the Kings is located at the very back of the Valley.  You have to climb up a steep ladder that goes up the side of the cliff face to reach the entrance to the tomb.
Looking down on Montuhotep II's temple and burial site from atop the cliffs above.
The 2nd room is covered with depictions of deities.  The figures represent 741 different gods, each with its name and function written on the wall.  The burial chamber is formed in the shape of a cartouche.  The wall paintings are from The Book of What is In The Duat.  The text is complete and excellently preserved (it is very rare, even in royal tombs, to see a complete book on the walls, usually they only use sections of it).  All 12 hours are shown.  On the two square pillars of the burial chamber there are passages from the Litany of Re.  The heads and crowns represent the 74 forms of Re.  In addition, there is a unique scene where the King is portrayed being nursed by a divine tree goddess labeled Isis.  In the center of the burial chamber is Tuthmosis III's massive red granite sarcophagus, which is engraved with protective texts and goddesses.
Montuhotep II's temple and burial site.
  It’s my favorite of all the sarcophagi.  On a side note, the Lonely Planet in 2006 claimed that Tutmosis III’s “missing mummy has not been identified among those in the two major caches of royal mummies.”  This is incorrect.  It has been identified and labeled and is currently living in the Cairo Museum’s royal mummy wing for all to see.  The catch is that the mummies found in the caches MAY have been mislabled by the priests who placed them there during the 21st Dynasty.  Archaeologists are currently using comparisons of features to try and link up who is related.  Hopefully, some time in the near future Zahi Hawass will allow the best ancient DNA experts (let Svanta Paabo do it, once he's finished sequencing the complete genome of a Neanderthal) to have a go at the mummies and add more evidence to who is who.
Overlooking the Valley of the Kings
  But, for now we must go with what the ancient priests labeled each mummy as.  So, yes, you can see Tuthmosis III - sort of.

Seti II (KV15):  Seti II’s throne name, Userkheperure Setepenre, means “Powerful are the Manifestations of Re, Chosen by Re.” He was the son of Merneptah (successor of Ramesses II) and his reign was known for many serious plots to overthrow him.  His reign only lasted 6 years.  Seti II’s tomb is the only time that the reliefs were carved directly into the rock walls of the tomb.  In all other Egyptian tombs the walls were covered in plaster and then the reliefs were carved into that.

Tausert/Setnakht (KV 14): Tausert was the wife of Seti II and after Seti II’s successor Siptah died she took over as Pharaoh.
  Tausert ruled Egypt as Pharaoh from 1188-1186 BC.  She was also the final Pharaoh of the 19th Dynasty and her reign ended in civil war.  This tomb was originally designed for Tausert and Seti II, but later Setnakht (Tausert’s successor) removed Seti II and put himself in the tomb. In Tausert’s tomb there are scenes from the Book of the Gates, the Book of Caverns, and the Book of What is in the Duat.

Ramesses III (KV 11): Ramesses III’s tomb has an unusual architectural feature - 10 small side-chambers opening off of the first two corridors.  These rooms contain scenes of daily life, plowing, sowing, sailing, etc., and aren’t found in other royal tombs.  The corridor contains the Litany of Re.  You can also see where the builders inadvertently broke into another tomb.
  There are also sections of the Book of What is in the Duat and the Book of Gates.  Ramesses III was the 2nd Pharaoh of the 20th Dynasty and is considered to be the last great New Kingdom Pharaoh to wield any substantial control over Egypt.  A fixed chronological dating point for determining the dates that Ramesses III reigned (March 1186 - April 1155 BC) was the eruption of the Hekla III Iceland volcano from 1159 BC onwards.  The massive and extended eruption of this volcano (for 19 years) ejected large amounts of plume and rock into the atmosphere, causing massive failures in Egyptian grain crops.  This coupled with numerous sea battles put severe stresses on the Egyptian food rations and resulted in the first labor strike in recorded history during year 29 of Ramesses III’s reign.
Valley of the Kings.
  When he could not provide food for Egypt’s elite royal tomb-builders and artisans in the village of Deir el-Medina they made history by going on strike.  Ramesses III also had the wonderful luck of being subject to a massive assassination plot by his harem.  The main conspirators were Queen Tey and her son Pentawere, Ramesses' chief of the chamber, Pebekkamen, seven royal butlers, two Treasury overseers, two Army standard bearers, two royal scribes and a herald.  A total of 38 people were sentenced to death.  It is not known if the assassination plot was successful since he died in the year of his reign before the summaries of the sentences were composed.

Merneptah (KV 8): Merneptah had the unfortunate luck of being the son of a very long living Ramesses II.
Approach to Tuthmosis III's tomb. We're heading for the break in the cliffs at the back.
  But, he was lucky in the fact that he was the eldest living son, at 60 years old, when Ramesses II died, thus becoming his successor.  Ramesses II must have been a very tough act to follow, especially with his colossi littering Egyptian landscape and monuments, always overshadowing Merneptah’s rule.  Merneptah’s tomb in the Valley of the Kings contains pictures of Nubians and Syrians from the Book of Gates.  The sarcophagus in the burial chamber is gigantic, granite monstrosity, thus being a huge deterrent for ancient and modern thief’s grubby little hands.   Merneptah’s tomb actually had 4 sets of sarcophagi in the burial chamber, a feature no other tomb in the Valley can also boast.  Dad must have blown all the money on the good architect, since Merneptah had a little trouble with his tomb.
Next you have to climb the cliff wall up to Tuthmosis III's tomb.
During construction, it was discovered that the sarcophagi could not fit through the tomb’s several gates.  The only solution was to hack away the gates to get the large boxes inside. 

Tutankhamun (KV 62): Tutankhamun is the most famous of all the Egyptian Pharaohs and at the same time the least important.  All he did during his very unimportant and unimpressive reign, was die and then not get robbed (because his tomb was so small and inconsequential that is was used for decades as a dump site for archaeologists, and tomb robbers didn’t even deem it worthy to venture in).  If Mr. Unimportant was buried with ALL of that gold and cool stuff, just think about what the great Pharaohs of Egypt were interred with!!  When you visit Tutankhamun’s tomb one can really see how much of an after thought he was.
Once up in the cliff wall, down you go. Tuthmosis III.
  The wall reliefs are of a very poor quality, the lower section of many of the walls wasn’t even finished being carved and the tomb is very small.  Tutankhamun’s body is in the sarcophagus that is located in the burial chamber. 

Tuthmosis IV (KV43): Tuthmosis IV’s tomb is one of the largest and deepest tombs constructed during the 18th Dynasty.  There is an enormous sarcophagus covered in hieroglyphics.  Several depictions of deities presenting the Pharaoh with the key of life.

Ramesses VII (KV1): Ramesses VII’s tomb was the first discovered in the Valley of the Kings.  The walls are decorated with passages from the Book of Gates, the Book of Caverns, the Book of the Earth, Opening of the Mouth Ritual, and the deceased with deities.
Tuthmosis III's tomb.

Ramesses IX (KV 6): Ramesses IX’s throne name, Neferkare Setepenre, means “Beautiful Is The Soul of Re, Chosen of Re.”  It is one of my favorite throne names.  The walls of Ramesses IX’s tomb are decorated with excerpts from the Book of the Dead (including the Negative Confession), the Book of Caverns, the Litany of Re, the Book of What is in the Duat, the Book of Day and Night, the Opening of the Mouth Ritual, and the deceased with deities.

Montuhirkhopshef (KV19): He was a son of Ramesses IX, but not his successor.  The tomb is okay, but not very extensive, or interesting.  In one dark sideroom there was a bunch of bones and a mummy with its dried guts hanging out.
East Valley, aka Valley of the Monkeys.

Siptah (KV 47): In Siptah’s tomb there are scenes from the Litany of Re and the Book of What is in the Duat.  Siptah’s mummy was found in Amenhotep III’s tomb and it clearly shows that Pharaoh’s left leg to be shorter than his right, his left foot is severely deformed probably due to cerebral palsy.

The Valley of the Monkeys:  Traveling Back in Time To an Undiscovered Valley of the Kings

The Valley of the Monkeys branches off from the Valley of the Kings just passed the entrance to the Valley of the Kings, on the right hand side.  It is a good 2 km trek from the Valley of the Kings to the heart of the Valley of the Monkeys, where you can go inside the tomb of Ay.  The Valley of the Monkeys is undeveloped with just a few archaeological digs and surveys being conducted.  With few tombs to see, few tourists go here; one can get a moment of peace and solitude while in the Valley.  You can feel what it would have been like hundreds of years ago in the Valley of the Kings, before the Valley was excavated.  There are still dozens of tombs to be uncovered in the Valley of the Monkeys (Amenhotep III’s tomb is currently being excavated, and I’m betting that they may just find Akhenaten here or atleast a tomb he used for symbolic puposes), and it can be very powerful to spend a few moments here wandering through the cliffs and rolling mounds of sandstone fragments and sand just feeling how the Valley of the Kings and the Valley of the Monkeys was intended to be - a burial place and sacred location for the Great New Kingdom Pharaohs. 

Tomb of Ay: Ay ruled after Tutankhamun, and may have “helped” him along to the afterlife (there currently isn’t much rock solid evidence for this, though).  Interestingly, Ay’s tomb has very similar wall paintings as Tutankhamun’s tomb, Ay’s tomb is just larger, of higher quality and completely finished.  His tomb also contains the famous Baboon scene.  It is thought that this tomb may have been originally intended for Tutankhamun, Ay offed him, took his tomb, and threw him in a hasty, crappily constructed tomb.  He may have needed to properly inter Tutankhamun to legitimatize his rule, hence the tomb and the goodies Tutankhamun was buried with.
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Luxor from the air.
Luxor from the air.
Looking down on Hatshepsuts Mortu…
Looking down on Hatshepsut's Mort…
Hatshepsuts Mortuary Temple on th…
Hatshepsut's Mortuary Temple on t…
A Polish team is hoping to find th…
A Polish team is hoping to find t…
Conservation of the temple reliefs…
Conservation of the temple relief…
The famous journey to Punt.
The famous journey to Punt.
Looking down on Montuhotep IIs te…
Looking down on Montuhotep II's t…
Montuhotep IIs temple and burial …
Montuhotep II's temple and burial…
Overlooking the Valley of the Kings
Overlooking the Valley of the Kings
Valley of the Kings.
Valley of the Kings.
Approach to Tuthmosis IIIs tomb. …
Approach to Tuthmosis III's tomb.…
Next you have to climb the cliff w…
Next you have to climb the cliff …
Once up in the cliff wall, down yo…
Once up in the cliff wall, down y…
Tuthmosis IIIs tomb.
Tuthmosis III's tomb.
East Valley, aka Valley of the Mon…
East Valley, aka Valley of the Mo…
photo by: LadyMaja