Valley of the Kings

Wednesday 9 January 2008: Another morning up bright and early at 0500. Very much worth it, to see the Valley of the Kings in solitude. Except for the guards at each grave, we have the place to ourselves.

Valley of the Kings at dawn

Valley of the Kings, Thebes Valley of Kings, Thebes

Look at these two photos. I couldn’t decide which one to use. The second is much more appealing, isn’t it? It’s a nicer landscape, a place one might like to visit.

The first is how the Valley of the Kings actually looks in the early morning: stark, hostile even. The same, but different.

The girls and I are all alone in the first tombs we visit. Exciting – and just a little eerie. The idea of the door shutting behind us, of being stuck for any length of time… frightening, thrilling.

Valley of the Kings is a remote, inhospitable limestone canyon in the desert. It probably looked much the same 3 000 years ago and in this silent dawn it’s easy to picture an ancient funeral party walking up the hill. Can’t say I feel particularly welcome – neither in my imaginary funeral party nor in this desolate valley on this 21st century morning.

The valley was likely chosen for that reason: an unwelcoming place, easy to guard and even seal off, thus discouraging grave robbers. It didn’t help much. Local families lived on top of graves for generations, dipping into the cellar now and again for a piece of gold to sell.

Tomb of Seti II

Tomb of Seti II

Is that so bad, really? A scientifically blasphemous thought, perhaps, and yet…: Priceless treasures, yes – particularly from an archaeological standpoint. But from a human point of view? The pharaohs obviously didn’t take their things along to the afterlife, so isn’t it just as well someone got some use out of them? There are still heaps left at the excellent Egyptian Museum in Cairo and at numerous museums around the world, often acquired through theft.

64 tombs in the Valley of the Kings are currently known, but only a small number are open to visitors. The basic entrance ticket includes three graves. We choose Ramses III, Thutmoses III and Seti II’s graves.

To see the richly decorated double-grave of Ramses V and Ramses VI – and Tutankhamun’s grave, we buy separate tickets.

Entrance to tomb of Tut Ankh Amun, Thebes

Entrance to the underworld, Tutankhamun’s grave

Can’t leave Luxor without seeing Tutankhamun’s grave. Especially now, as his mummy is recently returned to the grave. Cat ponders long and hard whether she wants to see this grave because of said mummy. A pretty scary thing, even though it’s just remains: mere bones, a container of sorts, left thousands of years ago. I tell her the mummy is not capable of moving as no one lives in it any more. It works. Kind of.

She knows she’ll be angry with herself if she backs out. That’s how she is. She also really wants to see the fabulous golden sarcophagus of the boy-king. An internal compromise then: she’ll descend the slightly spooky stairs, enter the tomb and look only to the right, where the sarcophagus is.

Of course, once there, curiosity wins. She simply must peek, ever so quickly, to the left, at the mummy. Turns out it isn’t quite as scary in real life. Only the head and feet are visible. The rest is covered by a sheet.

Valley of the Kings, three hours later

Valley of Kings, Thebes

Valley of Kings at 9am


It is getting on towards 9 o’clock and becoming crowded. Much more difficult now, to try to visualise this barren valley 3 000 years ago. I’m pushed from every side by camera-wielding visitors and a large group of teenagers loudly proclaiming they’d rather be in bed. Might as well leave.

On to Hatshepsut’s death temple.

unesco logo

Valley of the Kings is part of the UNESCO World Heritage site Ancient Thebes with its Necropolis.

Here are more UNESCO World Heritage sites around the world.



39 Responses to “Valley of the Kings”

  1. Salika Jay 10 June 2013 1541 #

    Seems you’ve picked the best time to see the tombs…at least as far as crowd is concerned 🙂 It’s always nice to see a place when there aren’t too many tourists, although seeing tombs alone is kind of scary.

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 13 June 2013 1555 #

      A little scary, but exciting still.

  2. Marcia 11 June 2013 1333 #

    I prefer the second shot as well, much more inviting.
    Clearly the best time to go was early a.m. when you had the place to yourself and you could imagine what it might have been like…would you believe I started writing ‘not a place you’d want to be caught dead in’? Hahahaha!

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 13 June 2013 1556 #


  3. Jarmo 11 June 2013 2310 #

    Yep, many sights are a lot better if you get yourself there just when it opens, and especially if that requires you to get up at 4am in the morning. I did that for Tikal in Guatemala, it was definitely worth the 4am bus ride to get on top of one of the pyramids to watch sunrise with only a few other worthy souls 😉

    But Egypt still is high on my list of places I really should visit 🙂

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 13 June 2013 1556 #

      Would love to see Tikal at sunrise.

  4. budget jan 13 June 2013 1338 #

    You had the very best of both worlds, seeing the valley deserted and crowded, and seeing the tomb after the mummy’s return. A surreal thing I imagine!

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 13 June 2013 1557 #

      Surreal in a way – and very real in another. Odd that.

  5. Life Images by Jill 13 June 2013 1537 #

    yes I must say coming early to some of these places is the only way to see them. I thought this when we visited Cathedral Gorge in Purnululu in the Kimberley of Western Australia.
    Yes, I think you second photo is more appealing – the colours are warmer.
    Thanks for taking us on your tour. Have a wonderful weekend, and thank you for stopping by my blog today.

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 13 June 2013 1557 #

      Thanks for popping over, Jill.

  6. Muza-chan 13 June 2013 1705 #

    Great article 🙂

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 16 June 2013 1128 #

      Ta 🙂

  7. Marisol 13 June 2013 1724 #

    Hi Sophie, I like that you used both photos. It’s like a comparison of an early morning shot and a sunset shot:)
    “The pharaohs obviously didn’t take their things along to the afterlife, so isn’t it just as well someone got some use out of them? ” – Very interesting insight.
    It’s great that Cat conquered her fear and let curiously wins. My kind of girl!

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 16 June 2013 1129 #

      Yeah, she’s a tough one. 🙂

  8. Lisa Goodmurphy 13 June 2013 2025 #

    Much better to get up early and have the site all to yourself than to share with crowds of tourists later – this is a lesson that I’m trying hard to get my teenager to learn! 😉 I’m glad Kat was able to talk herself into descending into the tomb – I think I would have been just a wee bit hesitant myself.

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 16 June 2013 1130 #

      teenagers and sleep… 🙂

  9. I’d love to visit this valley but didn’t realize you needed to get there quite ‘that’ early! I’m usually an early bird anyway but that is pretty crowded for 9 am. Thanks for sharing your story.

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 16 June 2013 1130 #

      At 9 everything is in full swing here.

  10. [email protected] 13 June 2013 2301 #

    Getting up early certainly pays in this case. How fabulous to have had the temples to yourselves! I too love that you used both photos…an interesting comparison!

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 16 June 2013 1131 #

      It really was worth getting up early for.

  11. Krista 13 June 2013 2344 #

    I’m like you. I would happily get up ridiculously early for the sheer pleasure of wandering in peace and tranquility with my luvs. 🙂 Beautiful.

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 16 June 2013 1132 #

      It’s a very different atmosphere at that time of day.

  12. denise 13 June 2013 2353 #

    It’s not the mummy which would stop me going down there, it’s well….having to go down there.

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 16 June 2013 1135 #

      Even if one doesn’t go down into the graves, it’s still a special and interesting place to see, I think.

  13. Jessica 14 June 2013 0555 #

    It’s amazing what getting up early will get you! Definitely worth it. P.S. I like the picture on the right best.

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 16 June 2013 1136 #

      I often get up that early wherever I am, especially when I’m on my own. The light, the sounds, everything is different before dawn. Almost like a different, secret place.

  14. Mary {The World Is A Book} 14 June 2013 0742 #

    I like the contrast with those two pictures. What great timing you ladies had. It’s worth getting there early to have all that to yourselves. I’m glad Cat was able to get down. I would have been a bit apprehensive too. I’d want to see the golden sarcophagus too.

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 16 June 2013 1137 #

      The eternal conflict between fear and curiosity…

  15. Leigh 14 June 2013 2238 #

    You are a very wise woman getting up so early Sophie! What a difference a few hours makes. I like the lighting in the photo on the right too.

    So hard to get up early in the summer in the north with sunrise around 5am.

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 16 June 2013 1139 #

      Yeah, but it’s as if I need less sleep during these wonderfully long, light Northern summer nights.

  16. Nancie 16 June 2013 0018 #

    I remember the starkness. The photo on the left is probably more accurate, but I like the one on the right more. I was there when it was busy. Would love to go back in the early morning before the crowds.

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 16 June 2013 1139 #

      A world of difference it makes.

  17. Jackie Smith 16 June 2013 0026 #

    Oh, I love reading back over the notebooks of travel. . .they tell the most interesting stories, don’t they?

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 16 June 2013 1141 #

      They do. Slightly difficult-to-decipher, hand-scribbled notes…

  18. Andrew Graeme Gould 16 June 2013 0638 #

    That’s a place I haven’t been yet, but would like to. Great to read your notes from the past, Sophie…

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 16 June 2013 1121 #

      Thanks 🙂

  19. Thomas 17 June 2013 1545 #

    I love the contrast of the 2 photos at the start of this article, look how the rock turns red in as the sun sets, amazing!

  20. Iain Mallory 20 June 2013 1936 #

    I’d always wanted to visit the Valley of the Kings, fuelled by watching the History Channel, it was as fascinating as anticipated though a shame cameras weren’t allowed when I visited. Interesting to see how the place changed during the course of a few hours.

  21. Andrea 22 June 2013 1642 #

    Crazy how just a little time makes so much difference in the crowds

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