Journal: Wednesday 4 March 1998
Staying on the West Bank is very convenient – except there is always the occasion when you want to pop over to Luxor, which Robin and I did this morning on the public ferry. We met up with our English friend David and Delia, a friend of his, who both have homes in Egypt. Lunch at the Amoun Cafe near the bazaar is always a delight and today we sat outside and chatted to several ex-pats who seem to congregate here once or twice a week. Other than David, none of them seemed to be particularly interested in the monuments, more in swapping recipes or complaining about the weather, which seemed perfect to me. However, this was a nice interlude and it was good to make some new friends. We didn’t stay on the East Bank very long, as we needed our daily dose of monuments.
We were soon in Tayib’s taxi on our way back to the King’s Valley, where Hamdi the antiquities inspector was waiting at the ticket office for us. This afternoon the Valley was again completely empty and I must say we felt rather honoured to have our own inspector to fend off the tomb guards. Today we wanted to see the next three open tombs in the sequence – Tuthmose IV, Tutankhamun and Rameses I.
Tuthmose IV, whose throne name was Menkheperure, sited his tomb high in the southern cliff of the Kings Valley. Found in 1903 by Howard Carter, it is numbered KV43 in the sequence of discovery. We walked up the steep path which led right up to the base of the gebel and descended down into the depths of the tomb, down two flights of stairs and corridors until we came to the well-shaft, decorated with lovely painted scenes on the yellow walls, of Tuthmose before Osiris, Anubis and Hathor. These figures were much more rounded and lifelike than those in the tomb of Tuthmose III, though still quite crude, but the paint looked fresh and brightly coloured. Also this tomb was an entirely different shape. Looking up we saw again the deep blue ceiling painted with tiny yellow stars. A chamber set at right-angles to the well-chamber contained two square pillars but the walls were left unfinished, showing only the guidelines for the decoration, which I found interesting.
Down another staircase and a sloping corridor and we came to an antechamber with two of its walls painted in a similar style to the well chamber but there were also some interesting cursive hieroglyphs, ancient grafitti by Maya ‘Overseer of the Treasury’, and Djutmose, ‘Steward of Thebes’, that was a restoration text from the time of Horemheb. The burial chamber beyond was quite large with six pillars and several storage chambers leading off it. We were a little disappointed that it was undecorated, but the King’s lovely quartzite sarcophagus, in a sunken pit, made up for this, with the white-painted figures of Isis and Nephthys at either end. Hamdi pointed out to us that this burial chamber contained the first example of ‘magical niches’ in the Valley. We also saw a mummified body propped up against the wall of a side chamber, looking like it was waiting for someone to notice it. We were told that this is the deepest tomb in the King’s valley, (or was it the one with the most stairs?). As we began to climb back up the winding steps and corridors I could well believe it.
Next stop Tutankhamun, probably the most famous tomb in Egypt and also the most disappointing at first glance. I had seen the fabulous treasures in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo and had been very impressed. I had grown up with a poster of Tut’s golden mask on my bedroom wall and poured over books about the Valley of the King’s since I was a young girl, but I had never yet been into his tomb. The place that had been so evocative for me all my life was tiny and in a terrible state of preservation. It didn’t even feel like it was underground. There was a short corridor, a small undecorated antechamber and the sunken burial chamber, which we could not go into. A Procession of Gods and important figures paraded around the walls in the funerary procession on a drab golden background. Even the ‘Amduat’ was represented by only the baboons from the First Hour. The artistic style is very similar to the Tomb of Ay in the Western Valley. The King’s mummy was still in situ, displayed in the centre of the burial chamber in a gilded wooden coffin inside his sandstone sarcophagus. I was even disappointed by this as I don’t like to see mummies displayed. I kept trying to think about Howard Carter’s sensational discovery, the gilded shrines and the room full of treasures, but all I saw was this sad little tomb. I’ve been into the tomb several times since then and can now appreciate it much more. There are very many interesting points to be considered in both the decoration, which was unusually drawn to Amarna-style proportions, and the significance of the figures with the procession. But at the time I was ready to move on.
The next tomb we visited was that of the founder of the 19th Dynasty, Rameses I, which we found in a small branch off the main part of the Valley. Because the king’s reign was less than two years, this tomb was quite small for the Ramesside period with only two staircases and a descending corridor leading directly to the burial chamber and no well-room or antechambers. Much of the burial chamber was taken up with the king’s huge red quartzite sarcophagus, still in situ, and was the only area of the tomb which was decorated. The King obviously died before his tomb was anywhere near completion. The quality of decoration in Rameses’ tomb, however, made up for its abbreviated size with brightly coloured figures painted on a blue-grey background. I loved what little decoration there was. The goddess Ma’at flanked each side of the staircase doorway and beyond this the king was depicted before Ptah and a djed-pillar. On the south wall Rameses is welcomed into the Underworld by Anubis and Harsiesi, and scenes from the third division of the ‘Book of Gates’, the only funerary book depicted here. The wall behind the sarcophagus shows the king led by a priest to Osiris where he consecrates four boxes of coloured cloth (representing the funerary wrappings of Osiris) before Atum-Re-Khepri (the beetle-headed god who represents the transformation of the reborn sun). There were more passages from the ‘Book of Gates’ on the north wall showing the solar-barque’s journey through the hours of the night and the god Atum fighting the evil serpent Apothis. We spent quite a lot of time looking at the paintings and discussing hieroglyphs with Hamdi – we were impressed by how much he knew and I think he was a little impressed by our interest too. It had been very enjoyable.
We all went back to the cafeteria for a cold drink. We tried to offer Hamdi some baksheesh for all his trouble but he would not hear of it, only insisting that we come again next day as we had fully intended to do. An opportunity to see the king’s tombs empty and at our leisure and with the help of a tame inspector would never come again. We intended to make the most of it. It was almost dusk and our taxi driver Tayib was waiting in the car park to take us back to our hotel. It had been another lovely day.