Saturday, February 21, 2009


Our journey began with ancient pyramids that were largely devoid of ornamentation. We then visited Greco-Roman temples covered in hieroglyphics telling the stories of kings and queens, gods and goddesses. Those hierogylphics were once colorful, but the several millennia of exposure have left only the carvings, not the color (see, for example, the carving of Horus, the falcon god).

There have been occasional exceptions. At the Temple of Karnak, for example, some hierogylphics had been shielded from the elements and thus retain some color (second photo). Still, the predominant theme has been carving not painting.

That changed with our visit to the Valley of the Kings and the Valley of the Queens. Over the centuries, the kings and queens of Egypt had learned that pyramids were not a secure place for eternal rest. Indeed, building a pyramid was tantamount to hanging a "rob me now" sign over your tomb. So they innovated. And the key insight was that you could build your tomb into a mountain side, where it would be much better protected from tomb raiders and the elements. Hence, the Valley of the Kings and the Valley of Queens, which are located on the western side of the Nile at Luxor. (The Egyptians associated West with death because the sun sets in the West.)

We saw several colorful tombs, including those of Ramses II and King Tut. But the highlight was a private tour of the Tomb of Nefartari in the Valley of the Queens. Nefartari means "the most beautiful" and the tomb certainly lived up to its billing. It's amazing to see all the hieroglyphics -- Horus, Anubis, Ra, cobras, papyrus, and on and on -- come to life in vibrant reds, greens, blues, and yellows. Too bad we can't share the view with our readers (photography is forbidden in the tombs -- we even saw one tourist get his camera confiscated). But we did find one photograph over at Wikipedia.

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