Michael Divine

The Valley of the Kings is where ancient Egyptians buried their Pharaohs to keep them safe from tomb raiders which seems like a silly idea really – since EVERYONE was buried there it was like having ALL of the treasure in one place and quite often the tomb was being robbed within a generation or two. The place is guarded at the entrance by a swarthy bunch of mustachioed gentlemen all sitting around smoking cigarettes with their machine guns in a big pile in the middle of a table. Like I said: sometimes it’s just best to be with a guide. Makes it easier for everyone. He brought us to the tombs of Ramses II, Merenptah, and one other. These were all spectacular – the colors in these caves were sharp. They all look like they were painted just recently, they are so remarkably preserved. When the tomb was dug, it was dug all the way to the end, where the final resting area was painted in. Then line upon line of writing was inscribed – spells and prayers and such – guiding the spirit on the journey to the afterlife. There was Nut and Osiris and Ra and the whole pantheon of gods and goddesses… the lines, the reliefs carved from the plastered walls were so sharp and clean and clear… it was truly remarkable. We spent a while down in the tombs.

From there we traveled to the Tombs of the Nobles/Workers

Up on another hillside overlooking the temple of Ramses II and away from the Valley of the Kings are the Tombs of the Nobles. We walked in and the guard – an old man in a long robe said no pictures and proceeded to smoke his cigarette in that smoky tomb. How the camera is going to be worse for the walls than his cigarette, I will never know (and Hassan suggested that I not ask). These tombs were notable because they depicted daily life amongst the nobles – offerings, taxes, all sorts of things. There were little illustrations that looked like Gauguin paintings. There was a ceiling that was all sort of lumpy with vines and grape clusters painted all over it to resemble a vineyard. There was just so much… That it begins to elude my grasp after a while.

Finally we headed to Medinat Habu – the final temple of Ramses III.

We arrived there late in the afternoon as the sun turned it all soft gold and the clouds made huge arcs overhead and no one but ourselves and the robed sometimes shady looking temple guards watched us in our little tourist bubble. Walking up to the temple, with it’s wide stone face, you first see these big relief carvings of Ramses III kicking ass. He is saying – look at me, I kick ass. Then you realize just how the size and scope of these temples were meant to inspire as much awe in the esteemed leader as in the gods. Such is power. Such is religion and government. Maybe I’ll get to some thoughts on religion and government later though because the temple is a beautiful work of ancient art which has been around for over 3000 years.

So eventually we left… and made our way back to the Nefertiti. But not first stopping at the Alabaster factory which we’d been taken to earlier. We’d stopped there between the different tombs, I think and we drank Turkish coffee and were told the story of this old alabaster carving family. We were shown the fine art of alabaster carving (some truly beautiful things get made – vases and tea sets and carvings) and were shown around the shop. Then we were given the hard sell. You see – tour guides 50% commission for pieces that are purchased there by the tourists they bring (this is the case with all tours and gift shops). Violet and I found a nice vase but he wanted $40 for it and we’ve paid less for nicer work from a Laguna Beach potter – and that guy lives in Laguna Beach where it’s EXPENSIVE! Later we found a nicer and larger hand hewn alabaster vase in a shop in the souk in Luxor for $12.

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