History of the Valley of the Kings:
Soon after the defeat of the Hyksos and the reunification of Egypt under Ahmose I, the Theban rulers realized the need for a new royal necropolis.The idea of pyramid tombs was abandoned, robberies being one principal reason. A valley on the west bank was chosen as an appropriate area where the new tombs could be excavated underneath in the limestone and protected from ransackers. This valley, presently known as the Valley of the Kings is under the shadow of impressive cliffs and the tallest peak, Al Qurn, is shaped naturally as a pyramid. The area is both attractive for its natural beauty and the sheer quantities of archaeological wonders discovered there and yet to be found.
The Valley of the Kings was used for royal burials from approximately 1539 BC to 1075 BC, and contains at least 63 tombs, beginning with Thutmose I (or possibly earlier, during the reign of Amenhotep I), and ending with Ramesses X or XI.
The official name of the necropolis in ancient times was The Great and Majestic Necropolis of the Millions of Years of the Pharaoh, Life, Strength, Health in The West of Thebes.
Despite the name, the Valley of the Kings also contains the tombs of favorite nobles as well as the wives and children of both nobles and pharaohs. Around the time of Ramses I (ca. 1301 BC) tomb construction began in the separate Valley of the Queens, although some wives continued to be buried with their husbands in the Valley of the Kings.
At the start of the 18th Dynasty, only the kings were buried within the valley in large tombs. When a non-royal was buried, it was in a small rock cut chamber, close to the tomb of their master. The Nineteenth and Twentieth Dynasties saw an increase in the number of burials with Ramses II and later Ramses III constructing a massive tomb that was used for the burial of his sons (KV55 and KV3 respectively). There are some pharaohs that are not buried within the valley or whose tomb has not been located.
The tombs were constructed and decorated by the workers of the village of Deir el-Medina, located in a small wadi between this valley and the Valley of the Queens, facing Thebes.
The quality of the rock in the Valley is inconsistent, ranging from finely-grained to coarse stone. Builders took advantage of available geological features when constructing the tombs. Some tombs were quarried out of existing limestone clefts, others behind slopes of scree, or at the edge of rock spurs created by ancient flood channels.
A number of archaeological excavations continue periodically within the Valley of the Kings to the present day. The Theban Mapping Project has been officially granted the permit to map the entire Theban Necropolis, a project now well advanced.
Valley of the Kings Guide:
The tombs are officially given a KV number, standing for “King’s Valley”. The tomb of Tutankhamun, for example, is also known as KV62. The tombs are numbered in the order of discovery by egyptologists, from Ramses VII (KV1) to KV63, discovered in 2005. Many of the tombs, however, have been open since antiquity, and KV5 was only rediscovered in the 1990s after being dismissed as unimportant by previous investigators. The West Valley tombs often have the “WV” prefix, but follow the same numbering system.
Most of the tombs are not open to the public and officials occasionally close those that are open for restoration work. The number of visitors to KV62 has led to a separate charge for entry into the tomb. The West Valley has only one open tomb, that of Ay, and a separate ticket is needed to visit this tomb. The tour guides are no longer allowed to lecture inside the tombs and visitors are expected to proceed quietly and in single file. This is to minimize time in the tombs, and prevent the crowds from damaging the decoration. Photography is no longer allowed in the tombs.
The usual tomb plan consists of a long inclined rock-cut corridor, descending through one or more halls to the burial chamber. The majority of the royal tombs are decorated with religious texts and images. The early tombs were decorated with scenes from Amduat (That Which is in the Underworld), with describes the journey of the sun-god through the twelve hours of the night. From the time of Horemheb, tombs were decorated with the Book of Gates, which shows the sun-god passing through the twelve gates that divide the night time, and ensure the tomb owner’s own safe passage through the night.
Late in the Nineteenth Dynasty the Book of Caverns, which divided the underworld into massive caverns containing deities and the deceased waiting for the sun to pass through and restore them to life. The burial of Ramesses III saw the Book of the Earth, where the underworld is divided into 4 sections, climaxing in the sun disc being pulled from the earth by Nun.
The ceilings of the burial chambers were decorated, from the burial of Seti I onwards, with the Book of the Heavens, which again describe the sun’s journey through the twelve hours of night.
Guide information within the Valley has been vastly improved in recent years. The Theban Mapping Project, in association with the Egyptian Supreme Council of Antiquities has provided engraved metal signs detailing the history, architecture and decoration of each tomb, together with detailed plans and diagrams.
A new Visitor Center at the Valley of Kings features a large acrylic glass maquette of the valley showing the location of the tombs. Visitors get to see three dimensional models of the tombs and their relationship to each other under the ground. There are also two film displays of a short film taken at the time of the discovery of Tutankhamun, 1922, by Harry Burton. In addition, there are numerous laptops where you can explore the Theban Mapping project website and explore individual tombs in detail. The Metropolitan Museum of Art and National Geographic Society have donated display and educational material.
Consider hiking back over the surrounding hills to Deir el-Medina or Deir el-Bahari for a spectacular view of the Nile valley below. Although a relatively short hike, the views are well worth the physical exertion. Do bring plenty of water, especially in the summer.