A Middle East Expedition Part 9: Valleys of Kings and Queens
Our last day in Luxor was spent on the west side of the Nile River usually called the Valley of the Kings and the Valley of the Queens, but this is a misnomer. The ancient Egyptians believed that since the sun rose in the east, that was where life began, and since the sun set in the west, that was where afterlife began. So, they lived in Thebes on the east bank of the Nile and buried their dead in the sandstone hills on the west bank.
This is the world's largest cemetery. There are no pyramids just lots of underground tombs of kings, queens, nobles, artisans, and anyone else with enough money to dig a hole and stuff in a mummy.
After the capital of Egypt moved north to Giza (Cairo), the tombs were lost to memory, desert winds, floods, bats, rodents, wasps, and, most regrettably, robbers. For thousands of years, the tombs were pilfered by local entrepreneurs. Then in 1881, the head of the Cairo Museum was taken to the site and Presto! The secret was out.
When archaeologist Howard Carter lifted the 3,000 pound lid of Tutankhamen's sarcophagus in 1924, the Boy Pharaoh's secrets poured out. King Tut's tomb was just as his followers had left it. Robbers had never found it.
Since then a profusion of digs has added to the list of famous Egyptians: the Ramses (I, II, III, IV, VI, IX), Amenhotep II, Seti I, Thutmose III, Nefertari, Hatshepsut, Memnon, and hundreds of others. Our four- hour visit, to say the least, only touched the surface of the antiquities.
Our bus crossed the Nile on a modern bridge protected by armed guards. (On my previous visit in 1983, we had to take a falucca across the river.) We stopped at the Colossi of Memnon and Amenhotep III. These 60- foot tall sandstone monoliths, framed by scaf- folding, welcomed us to the necropolis.
After three hours of crawling in and out of 3,000- year- tombs, we had lunch at a tourist trap restaurant. A nice buffet of Middle Eastern food. No beer, though. Outside a nice man showed me through an old, not ancient, outdoor museum while I waited for Ali's Group of 24 to reassemble.
Our last stop before boarding Air Egypt for Cairo was a perfume factory. This was one of the perfect examples of how tourism is Egypt's Number One Industry. Everyone has a gimmick and armed guards protect the proprietor and the tourist customers. We got the perfunctory lecture of the making of perfume and filed out with our purchases. Linda bought four bottles of essential oils for $60. Now she smells deliciously like a lotus
blossom. Next week:
The Egyptian Museum