Tombs & Temples

Art from the 15th century B.C.E. in a temple at Deir-el-Bahri in the Valley of the Kings

19 April 2002 - I awoke shortly before the wake up call and went down to the restaurant. Sayyed met us at 6:30.

What can one say when faced with 4,000 year old art? Like most people, I've been impressed by ancient Egyptian displays in museums; but that's nothing more than disconnected artifacts. Faced with the real thing in the place it was made leaves me speechless.

The Valley of the Kings is on the West Bank of the Nile. Historically, the Pharaohs and other royalty of Upper Egypt were buried there, as opposed to the Pharaohs of Lower Egypt who got pyramids near Cairo. Unlike the monuments in Lower Egypt, which served as beacons to thieves, the tombs in the valley were well disguised. Those who built the tombs were sealed inside so they could never tell anyone where the tombs were. As a result, few of the tombs were raided and it wasn't until the 1920s that most of the known tombs were found. According to Sayyed, historical records indicate there are hundreds of tombs in the Valley of the Kings yet to be discovered.

Sorry for the history lesson; but it sets the context for our visit. We saw three of the more interesting tombs in the Valley. To reach the sarcophagus we descended into caves that were steep and low ceilinged. Inside the burial chamber, the pillars, walls and ceilings were decorated with pictures and hieroglyphics that told about the pharaoh's life. Smaller rooms to the side of the burial chamber were for food and money to see the pharaoh into the "afterlife." Obviously the food and money are gone now; but the tombs we saw were amazingly well preserved. Many of the pictures I took inside the tombs are seriously out of focus because the Egyptian government has put sheets of thick, clear plastic about a foot in front of the walls to protect the art and the auto-focus feature of the camera latched onto the plastic rather than the picture behind it.

While in the valley, we visited three tombs. We were early enough in the day that temperatures were reasonable; but it was hot as soon as we started our descent into the burial chambers. We climbed up to see two of the least frequently visited tombs, those of Tuthmosis IV and the son of Ramses II who was killed in battle. The hoards of tourists began to arrive, so we decided to make our departure. Next stop was a temple built by Queen Hatshepsut, for whom I have a special place in my heart; she proved she was capable of doing anything a man could. There was more we could have seen but it was beginning to get hot. We returned to the hotel where we had lunch, then I went shopping. Afterwards, I napped for a bit then sat out on the hotel terrace reading and watching the Nile. Unbelievable.

Sayyed made a point of stressing that in Egypt, Christians and Muslims respect each others traditions and have been known to inter-marry. As he was talking, I realized once again that those outside the Middle East have acquired a distorted view of the region because the media only reports the bad stuff perpetrated by a few extremists. Middle Easterners want the same things everyone else does - food, clothing, a place to live, and a peaceful environment in which to raise a family.

As we would every night on the trip, JP and I met for dinner, then retired to our respective rooms for the evening. Perhaps because of my afternoon nap, I ended up getting very little sleep that night.