The West Bank of Luxor is where the royal tombs and mortuary temples lie. It can get quite hot and crowded in the morning so we visited in the afternoon. For the most part, we got the tombs to ourselves. Instead of driving to the West Bank, we went by speedboat from the cruise ship. The first monuments you will see from the river are this pair of statues which is what is left of the funerary temple of Amenhotep III, the Colossi of Memnon. The twin statues depict Amenhotep III who ruled in the 18th dynasty in a seated position with his hands resting on his knees and gazing eastwards towards the Nile. There are two shorter figures in the front next to his legs, one being his wife Tiy and the other his mother Mutemuya. On the sides are faded panels of Hapy, god of the Nile. The Egyptian pharaohs were worshipped as gods and all built mortuary temples for future worship. These statues originally stood guard at the entrance of Amenhotep III’s mortuary temple which was the largest and most opulent of its time, being even larger than the Tempe of Karnak. After an earthquake, the northern colossus was cracked and every dawn it would “sing”. Some described it as the snap of a breaking lyre string, while others said it sounded like striking brass. Apparently the morning heat would evaporate the dew in the statue’s crack making a series of vibrational noises. The statue “sang” until Emperor Septimius Severus repaired the statue thinking it will gain him favour with the oracular statue.
Valley of the Kings became the royal burial site during the New Kingdom (1593-1075BC). It is here in this desolate land that tombs were excavated from the rocky hills for the pharaohs and powerful nobles of Egypt instead of being buried in the pyramids of the Old Kingdom. Sixty-three tombs have been found here with all of them looted but still many of them decorated with scenes from Egyptian mythology and funerary rituals. Valley of the Kings, together with the rest of the Theban Necropolis, was made a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979. To prevent further damage to the tombs, only a limited number of tombs here are open to the public at any one time. The entry ticket allows you to visit three tombs and make sure you purchase a photographic permit (US$17) in order to take photos inside the tombs. The guards and caretakers do check for the permit and if you don’t have one, you can try to tip them but we overheard one accosting some tourists and making them pay quite a bit more.
The first tomb to be built here was that of Thutmose I and the last that of Ramses XI. Egytologists believe that Thutmose I may have chosen this location because of the mountain al-Qurn whose shape echoes that of the Old Kingdom pyramids as well as its isolated location making it easier to guard against potential raiders and looters. Most of the tombs have a long corridor with highly decorated walls leading to several chambers and false doors to the burial chamber. The entrance is decorated with text and drawings from the Book of the Dead, Book of the Gates and Irsquo and Book of Amduat. The three tombs we visited are the Tomb of Ramses IV, Tomb of Merenptah, and Tomb of Ramses III.
Unfortunately due to our tight schedule (because of the cruise), we did not manage to visit the Valley of the Queens and Valley of the Nobles. We did manage to visit the Temple of Queen Hatshepsut which is one of the most beautiful mortuary temples built for Queen Hatshepsut, stepmother of pharaoh Thutmose III, and the first known female monarch of Egypt. Hatshepsut was the daughter of Thutmose I by his Great Wife while her brother, Thutmose II was by a lesser wife. Following Egyptian royal tradition, she was married to Thutmose II. Thutmose III was the son of Thutmose II with his lesser wife and was named successor. She acted as regent for the young Thutmose III until in the 7th year of her reign, she crowned herself pharaoh. Egypt prospered under Hatshepsut’s rule and she ordered her mortuary temple to be built next to that of Mentuhotep II. Her temple was built in a valley considered sacred to the principal female goddess of the afterworld and it was built on the axis of the Karnak Temple. It faces the direction of the tomb that Hatshepsut had constructed for herself in the Valley of the Kings.
There are three layers of terraces connected by long ramps and follows the classical Theban architectural form with pylons, courts, hypostyle, sun court, chapel, and sanctuary. On the right of the ramp leading to the third level was the Birth Colonnade depicting Hatshepsut’s divine birth with Amun as her father. And on the left was the Punt Colonnade depicting her expedition to Punt considered the land of the gods and returning with an abundance of luxury goods. On the second level were two temples, one the Temple of Hathor dedicated to the primeval goddess Hathor with the head of a cow, and the other the Temple of Anubis dedicated to Anubis, the guide and guardian of the dead. Centered on the third level are the Royal Cult Chapel, the Solar Cult Chapel, and the Sanctuary of Amun which was cut from the cliff. Both chapels had scenes of the royal family making offerings to the gods including Hatshepsut kneeling before Amun-Ra. After Thutmose III’s victory at the Battle of Megiddo in 1457BC, Hatshepsut died and Thutmose III had her erased from history. He backdated his reign to the death of his father Thutmose II and took Hatshepsup’s accomplishments as his own. Not only did he erase her name, he also destroyed statues and monuments with her image, and he took her mortuary temple as his own. Archaeologists speculate that there was no enmity between them because Thutmose III did not destroy her mortuary temple in particular the Birth and Punt Colonnades. Instead, he was just upholding the tradition that the pharaoh is male and trying to eradicate any evidence of a strong and successful female pharaoh. Hatshepsut remained forgotten until excavation work of the mid 19th century and the subsequent studies of the hieroglyphics.
From Luxor, we venture north to visit my favorite and one of the best preserved temple complexes in Egypt: the Hathor Temple at Dendera. Stay tuned!
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