Sunday, December 12, 2010

And...back to Egypt

Today we went to the Valley of the Kings. Wow! We walked through the Valley of the Kings. We explored several tombs including King Tut’s. It was hot. It was dry. It was strangely normal. Last Saturday we were cross country skiing at the base of the Austrian Alps. Today we stood in the Valley of the Kings. That had me laughing somewhat hysterically at lunch today.

The Valley of the Dead was the driest place I think I may have ever been. The earth around us was composed of hills of stone covered with rubble. The hills were a warm beige and had a parched look about them. There wasn’t soil. There was dust. It coated our feet as we walked and blew in our eyes when the wind picked up. We saw no animals except flies. THEY got in your face and had the annoying persistence of a caleche tout. There wasn’t a green plant in sight. No scrub brush, no tree, no weed, nothing. We saw the remains of what looked like it used to be a plant as we drove out of the valley but within the area, it was, as its name implies, dead.

On our way, we stopped at Howard Carter's house. Howard was the archaeologist who discovered King Tut's tomb. His house is oasis in the middle of the arid rock. It was really neat being there, though, because I have read quite a bit about him and his discovery. Also, his last name comes in handy for interesting pictures.

We arrived around 8:30 in the morning but Ramses told us most of the tour buses arrived around 6 am. The valley wasn’t crowded because the tours mainly come on Friday at the end of their week excursions. Everyone normally arrives and leaves on a Saturday. We paid for our tickets, paid for the train, paid for a guide book, paid for more tickets, paid for water (it comes in bottles in this valley), paid the guards who pointed out little things we might not have noticed. None of it was overly expensive but it nickels and dimes you to death…heh, heh.

The guidebook turned out to be money well spent. It had a map and information about the tombs. There were no descriptions anywhere to describe anything, except for Tut’s tomb. There are over sixty tombs that have been discovered so far but your ticket allows you to see only three. You pay extra to see Ramses VI and Tut. We paid the extra. It is difficult to make a decision on which tombs to visit. Ramses, (the cab driver not the dead king), told us which ones to see but when we got in there none of us could remember his recommendations. The names don’t exactly roll off the tongue. It’s not like he said to go see Fred, Bob and Larry’s tomb.

Most of the names sound very similar because the pharaohs would assume a god’s name as part of their own to symbolize their godlike status. For example, Amun is the leading god in these parts so Tutankhamun and Amenotep both have Amun in them. Akhenaton changed his name to reflect his new belief in one god, the god of the sun, Aton. Akhenaton is the one Joseph visited. Joseph helped him interpret some difficult repeating dreams and saved Egypt from famine so Akhenaton decided to dump the old multiple god beliefs and follow Joseph’s one god theory. This didn’t win Akhenaton any friends and he was murdered some time later. Akhenaton was also married to Nefertiti.

It was wonderful entering the tombs. The entrances varied in length, width and height. One tomb had a metal staircase to climb up into the rock hill and then on entrance, you had to walk down, down, down into the hot stone. Many times you had to duck your head and it must have been quite something trying to get the sarcophagus in there. The tombs were surprisingly hot. I mean sweaty hot. The further in you went, the further it heated up. Only a few had fans inside and that just blew the hot air around. When a new pharaoh was crowned, an architect, chief stonemason and vizier would climb into the valley to select a spot for his tomb. This was a huge honour because only a select few knew the location of the tombs. The artists and craftspeople who designed the tomb’s interiors all lived in a village on the West Bank and did not fraternize with the general populace. Speaking out of turn meant certain death.

They must have discovered the other tombs in their selection process because many are very close together. Ramses VI is right overtop of Tut’s. Actually, Ramses VI is Ramses V/VI because the son decided just to usurp his dad’s tomb and they are buried together. Ramses II’s tomb is interesting as well, though we didn’t get inside of it. He is the one who had over 200 kids and being the family man he was, he had rooms for each of his sons added to his tomb. He’s the only one who did this as far as we could see. It is quite the complex, as you can imagine.

Paintings covered the walls of many entrances but some hadn’t been finished. The paintings showed images of the gods enacting various events from the Book of Gates, Book of Caverns, Book of Heavens, Book of Dead and so on. Well read bunch. Many of the paintings were not in very good condition but it HAS been three thousand years or so. One of my favourite paintings was the ceiling of the tomb in Ramses V/VI burial chamber. It showed Nut, goddess of the earth and sky covering the heavens.

We left the Valley of the Kings and went to see Hatshepsut’s temple. Hatshepsut was an interesting pharaoh because she was a lady. She was one of the only female pharaohs. Her father, Thutmosis I was a pharaoh. Her husband, Thutmosis II took over from him and when he died she took over. She ruled for 16 years quite successfully but she must have been one interesting character. When her son, Thutmosis III took over after her death, he began defacing her monuments. Her body disappeared from its tomb and was only discovered recently. Other pharaohs also dismantled monuments she had erected so there isn’t much left of her around. I don’t know if this says more about her personality or the male ego but when we get a good internet connection, I want to find out.

Ramses took us to a great café for lunch. It reminded me a lot of Turkey. The food was fabulous and similar to Turkey as well. The food has been unexpectedly delicious. We had no idea what Egyptian food was like but fear not! When you visit, the food is great! One nice thing is that when you order a meal here they bring all the accompanying foods with it. We ordered tagine, which is a stew made in a clay dish. It also came with pita and a curry flavoured humous-like dip called tahine, a plate of fresh salad vegetables with vinaigrette, fried eggplant which was surprisingly delicious and rice.

After lunch we visited the ghost town of Deir el Medina. It is where the artists and craftspeople I mentioned earlier lived. It was a bit of a disappointment because there wasn’t a guide. The best we got were the guards who would point to various pictures in the tombs and identify the gods. They each needed to be paid, of course. By the end of the day we had NO small change left and were forced to run when we saw the guards coming. The tombs we saw in the village were very well preserved. They belonged to the head artist. In his free time he would decorate his own tomb. It turned out very well. Obviously, the tomb artists and craftspeople did not lead a life of desperation.

You weren’t allowed to take any pictures inside the tombs so I have none to share. This one is from the Deir el Medina temple. You’ll just have to come see the tombs for yourself.


maryanncart said...

I'm glad things are "getting better" and that's a darling picture of Julia and I love tghe picture of RHys at the Carter desk. Is this giving you any ideas for my burial place? Love Mom

Holly said...

We have so MANY ideas for your burial place...

maryanncart said...