The Valley of the Kings

The pyramid tombs of the Old and Middle Kingdom kings are the most readily recognized monuments of ancient Egypt. It was this visibility, however, that prompted the rulers of the New Kingdom to adopt a new form of tomb, hidden in the remote cliffs of western Thebes. In the early 18th Dynasty, Thutmose I was the first to build a tomb (KV 38) in the territory that would be known as the Valley of the Kings.

The Valley, called by the ancient Egyptians the "Great and Majestic Necropolis of the Millions of Years of the Pharaoh," or also simply "the Great Place," contains 62 tombs, of which 24 are royal. The tombs are spread throughout two areas: the east, or main, valley holds 58 tombs, while only three burials are located in the western section, known as the Valley of the Monkeys.

In use for nearly 500 years, the Valley was the resting place of the kings of the 18th, 19th, and 20th Dynasties, as well as a small number of royal relatives, officials, and priests. Although the Valley of the Kings was intended to protect the royal burials, looting became rampant during the late Ramesside Period, even involving the workers responsible for constructing the tombs. Criminal activity and political upheaval led to the decline of the 20th Dynasty and the Valley, whose final royal occupant was Ramesses XI.

Beginning in the 19th Dynasty, another valley became the resting place of the wives and children of the king, known to the Egyptians as "the Place of Beauties." The area modern scholars have designated the Valley of the Queens was first used in the mid-18th Dynasty for the interment of high-ranking officials. Satre, the wife of Ramesses I, was the first queen to be interred in the Valley that would ultimately contain more than eighty tombs. Of these, only 21 were inscribed or decorated, the most famous being the elaborately painted tomb of Nefertari, the primary queen of Ramesses II.

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