The city of Luxor, which for centuries was the capital of Pharaonic Egypt, is home to some of the most impressive monuments of this ancient civilisation.
During my first day in Luxor, I explored the West Bank of the River Nile, where two of the most impressive funerary sites are located: the Valley of the Kings and Hatshepsut temple.
How to visit the Valley of the Kings and Hatshepsut Temple
The visit to the Valley of the Kings and Hatshepsut temple in Luxor was the second day of my Essential Egypt tour with Travel Talk Tours, which lasted for a total of 9 days and covered the main highlights of Egypt from north to south. You can find the entire itinerary in my post Essential Egypt in 9 days: itinerary, arrival and first impressions of Cairo.
If you’re not part of a group and have organised the trip yourself, both sites are located 25km (about 45 minutes away) from the city of Luxor. As usual in Egypt, the best option to get there is to get a taxi from your hotel, as they are quite cheap and a better option than figuring out public transport. You can probably agree on a good price for the entire day if you ask your concierge or even a drive on the street, bringing you to both sites and back to your accommodation.
Both sites require tickets: visiting the Valley of the King has a cost of 200 Egyptian pounds (approx. €10), with an additional fee of 300 Egyptian pounds (approx. €15) to take photographs or video inside. Guards are extremely strict about this, so make sure you buy and show the ticket if you want to take photos. Otherwise, they will not only threaten you with fines and reporting you to the police, but you may end up having to pay a bribe that will cost you the same or more than the ticket itself.
I had purchased my ticket but they saw me taking pictures both with my professional camera and my phone, and one of the guards tried to give me a very hard time. Thankfully I’m not afraid to argue and had to be quite firm with them. The ticket to take photographs is paid per person, not per device. At no point did anyone tell me that I could only use one device, as I was taking photos with the camera but videos with my phone. This happened when I was leaving from one of the tombs, so I ended up leaving the guard talking alone and just left.
Two of the tombs, Rameses V/VI and Tutankhamun, also require an extra ticket. The entrance fee for Ramses V/VI is 100 Egyptian pounds (approx. €5), while visiting Tutankhamun’s tomb costs 250 Egyptian pounds (approx. €13).
Visiting Hatshepsut temple has a cost of 100 Egyptian pounds (approx. €5), with no need for an additional ticket for photography.
Valley of the Kings
As it happened regularly during my tour, we woke up after having had less than 5h sleep to explore the West Bank of the River Nile in Luxor.
Thebes, the old capital of Egypt, was located on the West Bank of the Nile, and as such, the city of Luxor concentrates some of the most impressive tourist attractions of the country. The current city, however, is located on the East bank instead. Its name, Luxor, means ‘Palaces’, and for centuries it was the religious capital of the Middle and the New Kingdom of Egypt.
Our first stop that morning was the Valley of the Kings, an outstanding archaeological site that keeps the burial place of most of the pharaohs of Egypt.
The location of these tombs wasn’t a pure coincidence; the Pharaohs were buried on the West Bank of the Nile river, the same place where the sun goes each day, representing the end or death of the day. Pharaohs were brought there at the end of their days on Earth, just before starting their journey to the afterlife.
The admission, costing 200 Egyptian pounds (approx. €10), gives access to three tombs of your choice. If you want to visit Tutankhamun’s tomb, this is charged separately. You also need to purchase an additional ticket if you want to take photos or videos inside.
The first tomb that I visited was the tomb of Ramses II.
The tomb is beautifully decorated with grand coloured scenes that remain vivid. The decorations are varied between daily life scenes like food preparation, royal arbours, boats representations and the royal treasury, which includes some imported artefacts from foreign regions like the Aegean islands.
The tomb is also decorated with religious scenes and texts from the Litany of Ra, the Book of Amduat, the Book of Gates, the Book of the Earth, the Book of the Heavenly Cow, the Opening of the Mouth ritual as well as scenes of the king paying homage to various deities like Osiris and Ra Horakhty.
My second choice was the burial chamber of King Ramses III.
It contains 8 pillars showing the king giving offerings to different gods. The burial chamber contains four side chambers, whose walls are decorated with scenes from the Book of the Holy Cow. The walls of the burial chamber, however, are decorated with scenes from the Book of Gates and the Book of Earth. For some reason, the work wasn’t complete inside the burial chamber.
You might be wondering about the King’s sarcophagus and his mummy. The red granite sarcophagus of Ramses III was placed in the middle of the funerary chamber, now it is in the Louvre Museum while the lid of the sarcophagus is in the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge. The mummy of the king was found in the Deir el-Bahri cache and now is in the Cairo Museum, where you can visit it.
I decided to pay additionally to visit the tomb of Ramses VI, by far one of the most impressive.
The tomb was originally started by Ramses V, but after his death, his successor Ramses VI enlarged the tomb and replaced the previous cartouches (an oval with a horizontal line at one end, indicating that the text enclosed is a royal name) carved on the walls with his owns.
In the inside, you can find the sarcophagus of Ramses VI. Shattered in antiquity, it was reconstructed in 2003 from fragments found in the king’s tomb and elsewhere in the Valley of the Kings.
The stone is a hard green conglomerate, quarried in the Wadi Hammamat, 100km from Luxor in the Eastern Desert. The sarcophagus, originally painted blue, red, yellow and black, is stained by ointments used in the burial ritual.
Carved decoration tells of the afterlife of the king through symbolism connecting him with the sun god Ra and with Osiris. The face of the lid is a replica of the original, which has been in the British Museum since 1823.
This sarcophagus was placed inside a granite box, of which two huge fragments remain in the burial chamber.
The mummified body of Ramses VI was found in the nearby tomb of Amenhotep II in 1898 and now rests in the Egyptian Museum, Cairo.
I, unfortunately, didn’t have the chance to visit the tomb of Tutankhamon. Tickets are sold separately at the very high price of 250 Egyptian pounds (approx. €13).
I had just run out of Egyptian pounds and we didn’t have time to stop on an ATM on the way, so I had to skip the visit. However, I felt that the rest of the tombs had already given me a very good overview of what a Pharaonic tomb looked like.
We continued our visit of the West Bank of the Nile by exploring Hatshepsut Temple, a mortuary temple built for Pharaoh Hatshepsut, who was the first and one of the only three women who become Pharaoh in over 3,000 years of ancient Egyptian history. She is well known for her huge power, and it is said that she reigned Egypt like a man.
The temple is located not too far from the Valley of the Kings, under the cliffs of Deir el-Bahari.
Seen from the distance, the extreme restoration was quite obvious, but the inside of the temple still preserves its original grandeur.
Our visit took place right after midday, so the lack of shadow and the extreme temperatures of Egypt (above 45 degrees Celsius) made the visit to the temple very hard to bear with.
The temple used to be accessed by a sphinx avenue similar to the one in Karnak Temple, as well as multiple statues of the queen represented in different positions. Both were destroyed a long time ago.
The temple itself is formed by three layered terraces with a height of almost 30m, connected by long ramps that used to be surrounded by gardens. The sculptures in the temple tell the tale of the divine birth of a female pharaoh.
The building is a striking architectural masterpiece, using a style that can hardly be found anywhere else in Egypt, constituting the closest example of classical architecture that can be found in the country.
One of the most prominent parts of the temple is the main sanctuary of Amun-Ra, also known as the Bark Hall.
This axial sanctuary of Amun-Ra, accessible from a peristyle courtyard through a granite portal and limestone vestibule, was composed of interconnected rooms: the Black Hall, the Statue Room, two traversal chapels dedicated to the gods of the Great Theban Ennead, and finally the Innermost Sanctuary.
Usually, the complex was accessible only to the king and to the priests responsible for performing the rituals. The first room, roofed with a corbel vault, was one of the largest and most impressive all over the temple.
During Feast of the Valley (beginning of summer), it hosted the sacred bark of Amun, when the god came yearly from Karnak to Deir el-Bahari. Here, the final episodes of a religious liturgy were celebrated and the God spent the night.
The central motif of the decoration on both side walls of the Bark Hall was a nearly identical depiction of the processional bark of Amun in which the god’s statue was brought to Deir el-Bahari during the Feast of the Valley.
The God, who normally dwelt tin Karnak, left his lonely shrine, crossed the Nile and navigated through canals to the West Bank. Within the journey, Amun visited the Gods of Western Thebes and the temples of deified kings, as the festival was also in memory of the deceased pharaohs.
Colossi of Memnon
At the end of our visit to the West Bank of the Nile, we would continue driving south until we reached Aswan later that day.
But just before leaving Luxor, we stopped briefly at the Colossi of Memnon.
The Colossi are two massive statues of the Pharaoh Amenhotep III that used to stand in the Theban Necropolis of the West Bank of the Nile.
The two statues represent the Pharaoh in a seated position, resting his hands on his knees and looking towards the river. Their function was to guard the entrance to Amenhotep’s mortuary temple, a memorial built while the pharaoh was still alive where he was worshipped as a god on Earth before his departure to the afterlife.
Nowadays, both statues are severely damaged, with his facial features almost unrecognisable.
After exploring the West Bank of the Nile, we left Luxor and continued driving south until we reached Aswan, which took us about 4 hours. We would return to Luxor a few days later on our way back to Cairo.
Aswan belongs to the region of Nubia, where an early civilisation very different from the rest of Egypt emerged thousands of years ago. Nubia joined the rest of the country only after it was conquered by the New Kingdom of Egypt around 1500 BC.
This is also one of the poorest regions of the country, and the cultural shock from the bus as we were driving by was quite big.
We reached the luxury Helnan Hotel in Aswan in the early evening, and our Travel Talk guide offered us one of the optional activities of the tour (costing $20 or the equivalent): visiting a Nubian family for dinner to learn about their traditions. Although I was pretty tired from such a long day, I decided to join.
The visit was quite interesting, as we left the hotel on a boat that would bring us to the Nubian village. There, a huge Nubian family had prepared a delicious dinner in their traditional house. Nubian houses have huge open spaces with the floor covered in sand. They also showed us their crafts and art, which was a very interesting experience that I would certainly recommend.
Travel Talk Tours were kind enough to sponsor part of my trip, but as usual, all opinions are my own.