Valley Of The Kings

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 III.

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 pharaoh. 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.

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