The Theban Necropolis is the sprawling, secluded cemetery located in the hills and wadis (valleys) of the Nile’s West Bank. The ancients called it ‘the place of truth’ and the ‘Western Lands’, where life’s journey ended and another, everlasting one, began. When French author André Malraux remarked that ‘Egypt invented eternity’, he spoke a poetic truth, since Egyptian civilization was based on a compelling belief in the afterlife. For the Ancient Egyptians, the sun’s daily transit from east to west, its night-time disappearance and its return at dawn, was a symbol of both inevitable death and eternal renewal.
At first, eternity was reserved for pharaohs; only those who could afford proper mummification and well-equipped tombs could achieve immortality. Over the course of several dynasties, however, funerary rites became available to a wider public, starting with high-ranking officials, but also eventually extending to funerary workers. The royals are buried in a rocky labyrinth, whose inaccessibility helped protect their remains. The vivid drawings and inscriptions of tomb interiors were not mere decorations, but prayers and incantations addressed to the gods, along with celebrations of the deceased’s familylife and achievements. Against the odds, and benefited by Luxor’s warm, dry climate, many are still intact. But the imprint of millions of annual visitors has taken its toll. Some tombs are under restoration, others allow only limited access. Check with your guide or ticket vendors for the latest information about which are open for viewing.
The Valley of the Kings, offering a plethora of splendid tombs, warrants return visits. Nearby lies the Valley of the Queens, once known as Ta- Set-Neferu, ‘the place of the beautiful ones’. The tombs of the royal ladies and their children are less in grandeur than the kings’, but equal in the artistry and mastery of their inscriptions. While the burial grounds of highranking officials, the Valley of the Nobles, was more accessible, and therefore more subject to raiding a few important examples remain.
This astounding necropolis suffered from tragic devastation as a fashion for everything Egyptian swept Europe in the early 19th century, and the resulting craze for artifacts was fed by unscrupulous tomb raiders long before the principles of modernday archaeology were developed. Visitors through the ages have left disfiguring graffiti scratched into walls and statues, destroying artwork that thousands of years had spared. The phenomenon is not new; people have always left their mark, and Luxor’s tombs and temples bear examples of ancient Greek, Coptic and Latin graffiti, as well as the flowery script of 19th century travelers. Today’s visitors, however, are able to enjoy these priceless treasures in the atmosphere of respect and reverence that the monuments deserve.