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The Valley of the Kings is amongst the most important archaeological sites in Egypt. This is the resting place of pharaohs and princes during the New Kingdom, when pyramids were not used anymore as burial tombs. However, this place was considered equally sacred in ancient times and was chosen not by coincidence. Want to know why? Find out more now!
The Valley of the Kings is a royal necropolis, the burial tombs of kings and princes, but also of some queens and nobles. The valley is believed to have been used for about 500 years and it is considered one of the most important archaeological sites in the world.
What is the story behind the Valley of the Kings?
Pharaoh Thutmose I was the first to be buried in the Valley of the Kings. It is believed that that specific site was chosen because the top of that hill (the al-Qurn hill) resembles a pyramid. The pharaoh interpreted it as a sign the place was considered sacred by the goddesses Meretseger and Hathor. In addition, the hill was located in an isolated area, which should make looting by thieves difficult.
Other pharaohs followed Thutmose I and built their tombs in the valley. The place became the official cemetery of kings, although not all were buried there, as Thutmose II and Amenhotep I. The oldest tombs are higher up the hill , and as spaces became scarce new tombs were built further down. It was not uncommon "to bump" into an old tomb during the construction of a new tomb because, after all, they were supposed to be hidden. When this happened, workers had to change directions or abandon the work altogether to restart it up again elsewhere.
After many centuries, the valley finally was fully exploited, offering no more possibilities for the construction of new tombs. That was the beginning of the end, and the Valley of the Kings as a burial site began to decline.
Why were the pharaohs no longer buried in pyramids but in the Valley of the Kings?
The pharaohs of the Old Kingdom were the ones buried in pyramids. The construction of pyramids lasted until 2500 BC, but over time they became unpopular and materials were becoming scarce. During the New Kingdom, about 1000 years later, the pharaohs of the new dynasties belonged to another culture, in which the greatest worship was to god Amun. Amun was the god of the underworld and this fact justified the underground burial tombs, while during the New Kingdom the greatest worship was to god Ra, the sun god. The pyramid-shaped mountain found in the Valley of the Kings was the perfect answer to please both gods.
Tutankhamen is not amongst the greatest pharaohs of its time. In fact, he ascended to the throne while still a child and died very young when he was 19 years old. His tomb, however, is famous because it was the only one discovered intact - that is, with all his belongings, including the sarcophagus with the body of the pharaoh. About 5,000 items were found in the tomb, including King Tut's famous death mask.
How many pharaohs were buried in the Valley of the Kings?
To date, 63 tombs have been discovered. This does not mean that the same number of pharaohs were buried there. The tombs are divided into primary and secondary by archaeologists according to their importance and some were built to remain empty (to trick thieves or because of changes made to the initial project).
Since excavations in modern times began in the valley, only the mummies of Tutankhamen and Amenhotep II were found in their original locations. The most reliable theory is that the priests who protected the valley removed the mummies many centuries ago to avoid robbery.
Are there more tombs to be discovered in the Valley of the Kings?
Only time can answer. For a long time it was believed that all the tombs in the Valley of the Kings had already been discovered but then archaeologist Howard Carter discovered Tutankhamen's tomb in 1922. Rocks thrown by looters at the entrance of Tut's tomb contributed to make the place even more hidden, therefore there will always be a probability that this could be the case of other tombs yet to be discovered - if they exist.
What is known for sure is that there is still a lot of work to be done in the Valley of the Kings, as there are still 26 tombs about which experts know very little or nothing.
How to visit the Valley of the Kings?
The Valley of the Kings is located about 10 km northwest of Luxor. Visitors can be in tour or on their own. The advantage of being part of a tour is practicality, as well as having a guide to make the experience richer, and admission and transportation included. If on their own, visitors can take a taxi, but be prepared to negotiate prices. The best time to visit the valley is in the morning.
Note that your ticket entitles you to visit three tombs only. Although there are 62, many are closed for maintenance or are secondary tombs. The tombs available for visiting pass through a rotation system, so it is not possible to know which ones are going to be open during your visit too ahead of time. This system is necessary due to the humidity caused by the increasing number of visitors . Some tombs, such as Tutankhamen's and Ramses VI's, require an extra ticket.