The Valley Of The Kings, called by the Arabs
Biban el Muluk (that is "the gates of the kings")
because of the entrances of several tombs opening in the kings valley
rocky walls, is a deep erosion dug out in the limestones
of the Libyan range and directed mainly north west.
The ancient Egyptians referred to it in different ways such as
Ta sekhet aat "Great Field" or "the beautiful
ladder of the West", but its official name was "the great and majestic
necropolis of Pharaoh's millions of years Life Strength
Health in the West of Thebes". Today the access to
the valley of the kings, several kilometers long, is over a wide asphalted road
that follows the ancient track used in the pharaonic era and referred
to as the "road where Re sets". The valley is successively divided
into two branches: the western one is called the Western Valley,
as well as the Valley of the Monkeys and it shelters
four tombs, two of which are royal and belong to the Pharaohs
Amenophis III (WV no. 22) and Ay (WV no.
23). while the main branch, which is found on the extension of the
access road, is the one commonly referred to as "Valley of
the King" and encloses 58 tombs.
The Valley of The Kings is dominated by the Theban Peak, called
by the natives el Qurna "the Horn"
from its curious pyramid like shape, identified in ancient times with
the snake goddess Mertseger "She Who Loves Silence". It was probably
the presence of such a geomorphological element, clearly calling to
mind the pyramid, a peculiarity of the Old
Kingdom's royal burials, that prompted the first pharaohs
of the Eighteenth Dynasty to single out this imposing spot,
burnt by the desert sun, for the establishment of their eternal dwellings.
To this religious and ritual motive a more practical one is certainly
to be added: as a result of its position and its geographical conformation,
the access to this valley was difficult and in any case it could easily
be supervised by the Medjay, the special police corps
entrusted with the guarding of the necropolises.
It is hard to ascertain who really was the first pharaoh
who had himself buried in the valley, although apparently Tuthmosis
I, occupying KV no. 38, seems to be entitled to the priority.
This tomb, however, may have been arranged later, at the time of Tuthmosis
lll, who may have transferred there the sarcophagus
of the first of the Tuthmosides, as is indicated
by the objects found in it, which go back to the times of Tuthmosis
One of the most ancient tombs, if not the most ancient, is certainly
the gigantic and unusual one intended by Hatshepsut
for herself and her father Tuthmosis I (KV no. 20).
However, the possibility cannot be ruled out that the hypogeum was
originally indeed built for Tuthmosis I and that
Hatshepsut had extended the original plan.
In any case, starting from the times of Hatshepsut
and Tuthmosis III, the Kings Valley
became the Theban pharaohs' burial place and continued
serving as a royal necropolis until the end of the Twentieth
Dynasty, specifically until the times of Ramesses
XI, who was the last pharaoh buried in the Valley.
Contrary to prevailing belief, the entrances to the royal tombs were
not hidden but clearly visible and the necropolis
police, besides watching the road leading to the valley, regularly
inspected the entrances to the tombs to ascertain that the seals,
affixed at the moment of burial, were unbroken. Unfortunately quite
early all these precautions turned out to be useless. In fact, during
a difficult and insecure period of political and social instability
like the one that occurred at the end of Ramesses III's
reign and that worsened until the end of the Twentieth Dynasty,
the great amount of treasures heaped up in the tombs attracted ever
more frequent robberies and pillages.
It was therefore decided not to use that site any longer, since by
then it was too well known to the thieves and the pillagers. The priests
removed the royal mummies to safer and better concealed places, (such
as the Deir el Bahri cache) in order
to save them from profanation.
From the papyruses concerning the robberies
in the tombs at the time of the Twentieth Dynasty, such as "Papyrus
Mayer B", "Papyrus Salt 124" and "Papyrus
Abbott", we learn that already at that time many private
and royal tombs had been violated: the tomb of Tutankhamun
represents a happy exception, having been covered up with the debris
from the excavation of the tomb of Ramesses IV, located
above its entrance.
Silence fell on the Valley for many centuries, until
the Ptolemaic era when the first Greek and Roman
"tourists" arrived: the historian Diodorus Siculus,
who was in Egypt in 57 BC writes: "They say that these are the tombs
of the ancient kings: they are magnificent and they do not leave to
posterity the possibility of creating anything more beautiful" and
on the walls of the tomb of Ramesses IV, for exemple,
may be seen numerous graffiti left by the tourists of the Roman period.
Then, silence again descended on this sacred site, until the times
of the Jesuit Claude Sicard, who was in Egypt
between 1708 and 1712 and identified the site of ancient Thebes, rediscovering
the tombs in the Valley of The Kings.
Afterwards in 1734 the English clergyman Richard Pococke
visited the Valley and drew its first plan, in which eighteen
tombs appeared, only half of which were accessible. Later
on, the Scotsman James Bruce explored the tomb of
Ramesses III in 1769 and the scholars following Napoleon's
1798 expedition discovered the tomb of Amenophis III (WV
no. 22) in the Western Valley and undertook the first scientific survey
of the site.
Extract from Guide to The Valley Of The King book, Alberto Siliotti.
Published by Rotolito Lombardo, Italy. 2000.
So, Mr Pound. Thirty years ago, I was living in Egyptian Thebes and
entirely captivated by the Valley of the Kings. What had so fascinated
me was that most of its great tombs had been made by a few families
of craftsmen working side by side for centuries, yet every one was different.
You could see ancient people making living choices. Walking
through the tombs that they had made was like taking a trip back
into part of the ancient mind.
One windy evening as the branches of the palm trees rattled in the
darkness outside the windows of my studio, I drew out the plans of
some of those royal tombs on slips of tracing paper so that, by placing
them one over the other, I could compare the changes in their architecture.
Even as I watched the shapes of various tomb plans twist this
way and that down through the centuries, something unexpected
happened. Despite their differences, I could see an underlying constancy
in their design, a strict set of rules that had been most carefully
applied from one tomb to the next. It was profoundly moving.
had rediscovered something of the essence of those tombs, and for a
while I alone in all the living world shared that information with the
ancient people who had planned and made them. Later, I discovered
that the application of those rules had developed and expanded,
tomb by tomb, in a way that was so regular, so logical, that I could
predict the arrangement and shapes of parts of the later tombs by
measuring up the plans of earlier ones and making some simple calculations.
2 So although at first those ancient monuments had seemed
so full of individuality, in reality each one was a subtle variation on
its predecessor; the Royal Valley, a great fugue.
And once again, within these last few years, as I worked with the
plans of ancient Egypt’s early pyramids, I have experienced the same
thrill of discovery many times. That same eerie dialogue as, once
again, I stumbled through the thoughts of ancient tomb designers.
This time, however, I was working with the product of the geniuses
who had planned and built one of the greatest monuments on our
planet: the Great Pyramid of Giza. I’d started my pyramidological perambulations innocently enough,
with a ruler, a pair of compasses and a plan, trying to work out how
on earth the ancient Egyptians had managed to set a mysterious
block of limestone that lies in one of the Great Pyramid’s interior corridors
exactly at the height at which the area of the base of the
pyramid above the block is precisely half of the area of the base of the
entire pyramid (see fig. 0, and ch. 4 below). And then perhaps, once I
had solved that strange conundrum, I would discover why these
ancient people had set such specific mathematics within the tomb of
The first thing that I discovered was that, unlike the royal tombs of
Thebes, the combination of the Great Pyramid’s colossal size and
extraordinary precision – for the accuracy of its architecture can be
measured on occasion within fractions of an inch – easily defeats the
efforts of a modern draftsman. That the width of a line upon a scale
plan of the Great Pyramid will cover several feet of solid stone at the
Pyramid itself so that any such plan printed on the pages of a book
cannot prove that the Great Pyramid’s architecture is related to the
passage of the sun and stars, to Pythagoras’ Theorem or a map of the
Cairo subway system or a ticket to the moon. And so I turned to other
methods. From the beginning and in common with many other
people through the ages, I sensed that, like the royal tombs of Thebes,
the architecture of this Pyramid, both its dark interior and its celebrated
silhouette, was held in a cat’s-cradle of geometric harmonies
and contained a kind of hidden logic.