Journal: Tuesday 15 July 1997
Up at 5.00am for another day on the West Bank, this time in a taxi from Luxor crossing by the car ferry. Sam and Eve were going somewhere else, so Robin, Jan and I had arranged with one of our friendly taxi drivers to spend the morning at the tombs. Our first stop was to be the tomb of Ay, in the Western Valley, only opened as recently as 1994 after its restoration. Just before the entrance to the King’s Valley, we turned right onto the road through the wadi and collected a sleepy guard from his hut at the entrance, driving on up through a steep, rock-enclosed, barren valley, where the morning sun had not yet reached. On the way, we stopped to have a look at the entrance to the tomb of Amenhotep III, which has since been re-excavated, but at that time looked very derelict and we also saw the tomb thought to have been begun for Amenhotep IV (Akhenaten) but never completed. At the head of the Western Valley the taxi stopped outside the tomb of Ay and the guard went to open the door. The generator used to power the electric lights would not start, so after about 20 minutes the guard produced a couple of torches and led us down the staircase into the pitch-black tomb. At that time I had not seen the tomb of Tutankhamun, but I had seen enough photographs to presume that the decoration in Ay’s tomb was very similar. The wall-paintings were quite damaged, but the most unusual scene in the tomb depicted the king hunting in the marshes with his queen, an image which is unique in a royal tomb, being more common in the tombs of the nobles. Ay was Tutankhamun’s successor and it is often suggested that this tomb may have originally been intended for Ay before he was king, or for Tutankhamun himself. Ay’s large restored granite sarcophagus dominated the centre of the burial chamber. The tomb was very atmospheric by torchlight. Only the burial chamber was decorated and we could only see small sections at a time, but in my imagination I could picture how it must have been in ancient times when the artisans were working there.
We had a short break for a cup of tea in Hatshepsut’s restaurant, with its rooftop terrace giving an excellent view along the edge of the cultivation. Our next stop was at el-Khoka, where we saw three nobles tombs from the Ramesside Period, Neferonpet, Nefersekheru and Djutmose, whose burial chapels share the same courtyard on a hill between Deir el-Bahri and Sheikh ‘Abd el-Qurna. Armed with my trusty reference, Porter and Moss, my notebooks and camera, we spent a long time looking at the paintings in these well-decorated tombs. The ceilings were especially beautiful.
Our taxi driver then suggested we stop at his cousin’s house nearby. The cousin invited us in for a drink and we had a long and very interesting talk. The old man, like his cousin our taxi driver, was a descendent of the the Abd er-Rassul family, three brothers who attained notoriety in the early 1880s after the accidental discovery of the Deir el-Bahri cache of royal mummies. Only after certain antiquities turned up for sale did the authorities discover the existence of the famous treasure. Other members of the Qurna family later worked with the Antiquities Service, but tomb-robbing must have been in the blood. The old man brought out a large box of bits and pieces, some broken pottery and jewellery – the family’s antiquities collection! I was convinced that some of them at least were genuine. He also showed us some old photographs of Howard Carter with the Abd er-Rassul brothers taken in the 1920s. I felt privileged to meet one of Luxor’s most notorious historical families. Another family member owned a hotel on the West Bank, at the time known as Sheikh Ali’s, where we later stopped and had a drink in the lovely shady garden. This is now the Marsam Hotel, next to the Temple of Merenptah.
By this time it was mid afternoon and very hot on the West Bank as we headed back over the Nile on the car ferry. The breeze on the river was wonderfully refreshing and I felt we had had a very satisfying day.