Journal: Saturday 16 November 1996
Although we had been in Luxor for two days, I was still staying on the cruise boat and on our last day aboard as part of a tour group, we had a lot to get through. At 7.00am we were already on board the tourist ferry bound for the West Bank, with its towering rose-tinted backdrop, magnificent in a mantle of mist. A tingle of anticipation hit me as the Theban Hills drew nearer and the secrets of immortality were about to be revealed again, the spirits of the pharaohs living forever in their painted tombs buried deep in the limestone slopes of the Valley of the Kings.
We were soon on a coach hurtling along the road at the edge of the cultivation, veering past trucks and donkey-carts with horn blaring, before taking the sharp left bend which leads into the barren wadi of the King’s Valley. In 1996 the entrance to the valley contained a small row of souvenir stalls, which could easily be bypassed, and a rather run-down rest house which sold warm fizzy drinks and rather dubious looking chocolate bars and biscuits of uncertain age. There was also a toilet – but the less said about that the better! We bought our tickets and walked up the road into the tomb area. I went into two tombs with the group and then decided to visit the tomb of Tuthmose III, the earliest open tomb in the valley. It was right at the southern end of the valley in an almost inaccessible cleft, its entrance reached by a steep climb up an iron ladder. Having almost worn myself out on the climb up, I found that there were now two steep flights of steps descending down into the tomb. My legs felt like jelly. At the bottom I crossed a well shaft (the first example of this structure in a royal tomb) and into a vestibule decorated with lists of divinities from scenes in the Amduat, one of the sacred ‘Books of the Underworld’. Down another wooden staircase and I was in the cartouche-shaped burial chamber, its walls covered with yellow stick-like figures and scenes from the Amduat depicting the sun’s journey through the twelve hours of the night. The tomb had been heavily plundered before the modern excavation but the beautiful cartouche-shaped sarcophagus could still be seen standing on its plinth at the far end of the burial chamber. The underside of the lid shows an incised relief of the sky-goddess Nut who is also seen on the base of the sarcophagus. Two square columns in the burial chamber are decorated with scenes from the ‘Litany of Re’, another first in tomb decoration, which shows the king’s union with the sun god. The face of one of the pillars depicts a unique rough drawing of the king being suckled by a goddess named as Isis in the form of a tree. Since then it has been my favourite tomb in the King’s Valley.
Back on the coach, we were soon heading towards Deir el-Bahri, to visit the mortuary temple of Queen Hatshepsut. I had been looking forward to coming here again with my little notebook of things to see and pictures to take. I had hoped that the third terrace might be open by now, but that visit would have to wait a little longer. One thing I wanted to have a look at was the temple of Mentuhotep which is on a platform next to Hatshepsut’s temple and although it was not open to the public, I was able to lean over the second terrace to take some pictures. Afterwards, on the coach, we had a quiz, but I was quickly disqualified as I had been doing too much homework! I did win a little alabaster head of Nefertiti though, which I still have (somewhere) today.
Another visit to the obligatory alabaster factory was next on the agenda, with a demonstration of carving the translucent stone into a paper-thin vase. This was at a large colourfully painted building near Deir el-Bahri, where many tour coaches stop. While the demonstration was fascinating the shop itself did not hold my attention for very long. I knew the routine by now! And I also knew that most of the objects for sale were not made in Luxor at all and could be bought for less in the Luxor bazaar. Am I sounding a little disillusioned? Well, it’s the way Egypt is – and I still love it! On the way back to the ferry we stopped at the Colossi of Memnon, this time still in daylight, so we were able to have a good look at the huge statues of Amenhotep III which once graced the entrance to his mortuary temple.
We were back in Luxor and on the cruise boat and it was only lunchtime! I felt like we had crammed a whole day’s visits into only a few hours. At least the afternoon meant time to relax and write up notes.