Many people have witnessed the fabulous treasures that were recovered from King Tutankhamun’s tomb. Some of those artifacts have gone on traveling exhibitions that toured the world beginning in the 1970s (just ask Steve Martin); and the collection — including the famous gold funerary mask — is permanently housed in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo.
It’s comparatively rare to stand in the presence of King Tut himself. Unlike the stuff that was buried with him, the most legendary of all Egyptian monarchs still remains (in mummified form) in the subterranean chamber in which he was deposited following his death in 1323 B.C. That tomb can be found in the area known as the Valley of the Kings. My wanderings through Egypt in September 2012 included a visit to that valley, and the unique chance to gain an audience with King Tut.
A really upscale (and really old) cemetery
The Valley of the Kings is a sprawling necropolis on a desert plain on the west bank of the Nile River, near the city of Luxor and about 300 miles south of Cairo. In ancient times, the full name of the site was “The Great and Majestic Necropolis of the Millions of Years of the Pharaoh, Life, Strength, Health in The West of Thebes.” (Thebes, one of the largest and wealthiest cities in the Bronze Age world, was a precursor to Luxor.) This particular burial ground was quite exclusive; the only people laid to rest within its confines were kings and select noble personages. (Nearby is a separate Valley of the Queens, in which wives and children of pharaohs found eternal repose.) Its clients received accommodations befitting the stations they had occupied while alive; most of the tombs are voluminous and elaborately decorated.
The first corpse to be interred in the Valley of the Kings was probably that of Thutmosis I, who perished around 1500 B.C. The last tomb constructed at the site was built for Ramses XI, who passed away in 1078 or 1077 B.C., but it’s believed that he wasn’t buried in it.
Like the pyramids in Giza, the tombs were a tourist draw even in antiquity. Continue reading