40 for 40: Day 14 – Valley of the Kings, Memorial Temple of Hatshepsut and Ramesseum

So, today, being on the West Bank has its advantages.

See, getting here from the East Bank is about a half-hour drive, and getting to the Valley beyond that is longer, so taking that 30 minutes out of the equation led to a bit of an easier wake-up this morning. When the place you’re visiting has been considered one of the hottest places on Earth, it’s good to be able to get going early and avoid the heat. So that was nice.

The same driver that was set up for us yesterday, Ahmed, was taking us around today, and he was able to give us a little bit of the lay of the land, pointing out old homes that were abandoned when the government decided tomb excavation should be a thing, and giving us some advice about photography, like telling us that there was a 300 LE charge for using your camera in the tombs at the Valley of the Kings (which would be important later for a few reasons). The Valley would be our first stop, and this time, the shopping gauntlet would be replaced by the ticket gauntlet.

So, the first ticket you buy is for the Valley of the Kings itself, which gives you access to three of the tombs. They have a list of the tombs that are open at any given time (tombs are given a chance to rest from the tourist loads, get refurbished, have excavations going on, etc.) and, wouldn’t you know it, all three tombs I wanted to see on the standard ticket (Thutmosis III, Amenhotep II and Horemheb, recommended by Lonely Planet and also interesting sounding) all happened to be shut this time around. The guy at the booth recommended Ramses IV, Merenpetah and Ramses III and, not having my LP available, I figured “why not, guy works here, probably knows what he’s doing.”

After buying those tickets, you buy the tickets for any “special” tombs you want to see, which include the Tutankhamen, Ramses VI and Seti I, which has just recently reopened at a massive price of 1000 LE per ticket. To put that in perspective, it’s about five times higher than any tourist site in Egypt. It’s supposed to have been beautifully restored and is huge, but without any advance notice, we weren’t bitting that potentially disappointing bullet. So, Tut and Ramses VI it was.

At this point, we asked about the photo ticket, and we were directed back to the first window, though as I was shuffling for the 300, the guy just had the first window shuffle it to him. Then, it was time to buy a ticket to a little tractor-train ticket that gets you to the site, for a cheap 4 LE each. After all that, it was time for the Valley.

Ramses IV – Features one of the largest sarcophagi in the Valley, below a beautiful painting of the Goddess Nut controlling the sky.
Tutankhamun – So if this tomb wasn’t archaeologically significant, it wouldn’t fetch the extra ticket price. It does have two things the other tombs don’t, a gilded wooden sarcophagus and Tut’s mummy on full display, but this definitely ranks as one of those “If I don’t do it, I’ll regret not doing it, but I’m not recommending it” type deals. Also, note to everybody that the photography ticket does NOT cover this one (more on that in a future post).
Merenpeteh – Maybe the least notable of the tombs today (still beautiful) but the first official “special” photo where a guard led me to a spot worth taking a picture from, as is tradition.
Ramses Vi – between the giant sarcophagus and the beautiful paintings, lots to choose in this one, and worth the extra 20 LE. Just know that, if you take pictures in here, you’ve officially gone through an unadvertised three-tomb photo limit.
Ramses III – Rare mistake in this tomb, as the builders tunnelled off in the wrong direction. More beautiful paintings, slightly larger scale than the picture suggests.

Once all the tombs that we could see and photograph could be seen, we were off to the West Bank’s #2 site, the Memorial Tomb of Queen Hatshepsut.

This temple has been (and is still being) reconstructed for over 100 years and is cut right into the cliffs at Deir al-Bahri behind it. It’s a gorgeous structure, in spite of several attempts at destruction by other pharaohs for various reasons (Thutmosis III was almost screwed out of his throne by his stepmother, any reference to Amun was removed, Christians used it as a monastery) but it still holds up today.

Have to say, it’s also one of the lazier temples for the “Hey, look at this” crowd, with many of the temple minders and guards pointing out the blatantly obviously, like “Look at the cliff!” Still, the tombs stairs, sculptures and carvings are amazing, including one of Hatshepsut drinking milk from the Goddess Hathor’s cow udder, so worth any dumb you might get there.

After making our way there, it was time for the last site of the the day, the Ramesseum. Ramses created this temple as his “Temple of a Million Years”, this is the temple made famous in Shelley’s Ozymandias. It’s a ruin, and a glorious one at that, with one of Ramses’ statues overturned right near the entrance, giving a scale to not only how it it was, but how time wrecks everything if you let it.

Two vast and trunkless legs of stone Stand in the desert. . . . Near them, on the sand, Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown, And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command… And on the pedestal, these words appear: My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings; Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!

After that (and a refreshing set of beers at a cafe next to the site), we headed back to the guest house for wine, a dip in the pool, lunch, blog writing and relaxation.

When you’re in one of the hottest places on earth, a pool is nice.

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