West Thebes is most certainly a formidable location in Egypt. Tombs here are dug out of the valley, within a labyrinth of rock faces. The pharaohs hoped they would remain protected in death within the Valley of the Kings. Pharaohs had abandoned the idea of erecting pyramids to be kept in after death and wanted to find an inconspicuous way to hide their remains.
One of the great tragedies of this ancient civilization, despite the efforts to conceal the tombs, was these graves (often utterly full of gold and other ornate gifts) were plundered, and plundered over a very long period of time, to the point where very little remained.
The location of all of the tombs were to be kept secret, but of the documented 62 that have been discovered, King Tutankhamun’s was the only one that had not been plundered for its riches. This was the King’s claim to fame, as his contribution to the ancient civilization was not particularly remarkable. His tomb’s whereabouts was not known as his name had been removed from royal lists, like other pharaoh’s from the 19th dynasty. In the 20th dynasty, the tomb of Rameses VI was being carved above his and the rubble from that work covered King Tut’s burial chamber. It remained hidden and undiscovered until 1922.
The Valley of the Kings is akin to the Pere Lachaise Cemetery in Paris (where Jim Morrisson and Chopin for example are buried) in terms of celebrity status. Rameses II, III, Tuthmose III, Horemheb, Ramesses VI and Queen Hatshepsut were all laid to final rest here.
While many of the Pharaohs seeking a burial place here chose very discrete and concealed tomb designs, there was one Pharaoh who erected a great temple in her honour, as big as a mansion – Queen Hatshepsut. She ruled after her husband died in 1504 BC, after proclaiming herself Pharaoh, denying the next man in line, Thutmose III (her infant nephew), his turn on the throne at that time. She challenged the tradition of male kingship, and erected an obelisk in her honour at the temple of Luxor. (When her nephew came into power he built a high wall around it as it was an easier way of removing it from view than knocking it down entirely). Women in Egypt did exercise the same legal power as men in society, but there remained relatively few female rulers throughout Egypt’s long early history.
There has been a multitude of mummies removed from the Valley of the Kings over the last 5 thousand years, and it is amazing to think that some of these remain in relatively good condition today. Mummification was a science that the Egyptians had apparently mastered.