CAIRO TO LUXOR BY TRAIN I cycled to see Tutankhamun's tomb in Luxor - and wandered through the Museums in Cairo.

It’s a fantastic way to see Egypt.

The Cairo – Luxor train passes through that narrow strip of fertility on the edge of the desert beyond. The pace is sedate – and the schedule stretches hours beyond the timetable – but isn’t the journey part of the experience.

In Luxor I used a bike to get around – the terrain is practically flat – and the scenery so interesting.

Tutankhamun lived around 3,300 years ago – becoming ruler of Egypt in around 1345BC  & dying around 1335BC (other dates have been suggested). During his reign the religion of Egypt underwent a sea-change, the country again used military force to consolidate & expand its southern & northeastern borders and a substantial number of building projects were undertaken. Despite all these – it is his tomb that Tutankhamun is most remembered for.

Colossi of Memnon
Colossi of Memnon – Luxor

The Valley of the Kings lies just on the western edge of the Nile flood plain, at Luxor, that ancient town which was called Waset. It’s an easy 10km cycle ride from the town.

I set off, to be in the Valley before it became crowded with other tourists.

My route passed the Colossi of Memnon, a pair of statues of Amenhotep III, Tutankhamun’s grandfather.

Colossi of Memnon 1984 - and lamp-post
Colossi of Memnon – and lamp-post – 1985

The original entrance of Amenhotep’s, now-ruined, Mortuary Temple is guarded by them. On my first visit to Egypt, in 1985, these stood in an isolated situation, miles from Luxor. Today, a tongue of housing has reached out from the Nile and lies at their vast feet.

Golden City Luxor West Bank
Golden City Luxor West Bank

All my peddling took me along the length of the temple’s grounds, past the recently publicised ‘Golden City/Dazzling Aten’, built during Amenhotep’s rule. Then it was onto the valley.

On 4 November 1922 in Egypt, a stone step that was cut into the rock was found, possibly by a young water carrier (the eventual account of the find is nebulous). The step was in the valley known 1,300 years ago as “The Great and Majestic Necropolis of the Millions of Years of the Pharaoh, Life, Strength, Health in The West of Waset“. The possible boy ‘may’ have been Hussein Abd El Rassul, or possibly Mohamed Gorgar (mentioned by Karl Kitchen). An Ahmed Gerigar was a ‘Rais’ – a foreman at the site. As Arabic transliterations often vary – the 2nd name may be the same in Arabic . Or was it actually a ‘water boy’ who found it – Carter wasnt even in the valley when the step was found. His excavation team had many years experence excavating the valley and would surely have found a hidden step rather than a chance find.

Seals on Tutankhamun's tomb door - by Harry Burton
Seals on Tutankhamun’s tomb door – by Harry Burton

This step was one of a series that led down to a doorway that had been sealed with numerous cartouches, some stamped with the throne name of a Pharaoh, ‘Nebkheperura’.

The Entrance Stairs to Tutankhamun's Tomb Harry Burton via
The Entrance Stairs to Tutankhamun’s Tomb Harry Burton via Wikipedia

The door blocked the entrance into a tomb, that of Nebkheperura himself, more commonly known today as Tutankhamun and the valley is today called the Valley of the Kings.

On 26 November 1922 a viewing hole into Tutankamun’s tomb was made. It went through a 2nd sealed doorway.  However, life moved slowly 100 years ago. It wasn’t until 16 February 1923 that Howard Carter, who lead the excavations of Tutankhamun’s tomb, opened the doorway into the next room, which contained the shrines, 5 in all. Such was the style of life also that Hussein Abdel-Rassoul might have actually been a house boy in Howard Carter’s house.

They contained the coffins and the body of Tutankhamun. Remarkably, no further work was done before work finished for the ‘season’.

Tutankhamun’s body – the body was dismembered by the team to remove it from the sarcophagus so it’s good to cover it.

Work inside the tomb restarted on 19 November 1923 & by 22 November the first plans of the shrines were made and work on their removal could start within days. The politics of the period swirling around this excavation led to Carter calling a halt to work. It recommenced on 12 October 1925 – almost 3 years after the initial discovery.

Cairo Museum Tutankhamun statue
Cairo Museum Tutankhamun statue
Osiris welcomes Tutankhamun, as Tutankhamun's ‘Ka’ – his protective spirit personality – looks on; to the right Nut - the Goddess of heaven, the universe & sky – greets Tutankhamun into the world of the Gods.
Wall decoration in the tomb – Osiris welcomes Tutankhamun, while Tutankhamun’s ‘Ka’ – his protective spirit personality – looks on; to the right Nut – the Goddess of heaven, the universe & sky – greets Tutankhamun into the world of the Gods.

The 3 coffins were disassembled and eventually, on 28 October 1925, the now-famous mask of Tutankhamun was revealed.

Cairo Museum - Tutankamun
Cairo Museum – Tutankhamun

The Egyptian government is in the process of removing the artefacts found in Tutankhamun’s tomb from The Egyptian Museum, off Tahrir Square. They will be transferred into the new Grand Egyptian Museum, about 3kms from the Giza Pyramids.

Disassembling Tutankhamun’s outer shrine
Eid Mertah disassembling Tutankhamun’s outer shrine

This transfer is the situation I found on my visit. Here, Eid Mertah and his team of conservationists are literally wrapping objects in tissue paper for the move.  They are disassembling the outer shrine, made of wood gessoed (platered) , gilded with gold leaf and decorated with faience. The decoration includes Djed pillars and Isis knots – along with The interior has inscriptions from the Book of the Dead, with several spells, and the first know example of text from the Book of the Divine Cow (Hathor & the legend of the Destruction of Mankind)..
The shrine will be transported to its new home (Grand Egyptian Museum), of perhaps another few thousand years. The inner shrines had already disappeared from The Egyptian Museum.  Fortunately for visitors, Tutankhamun’s gold mask was still on display.

Tutankhamun’s outer shrine
Tutankhamun’s outer shrine

However, Tutankhamun’s image is not only found in these museums and his tomb.

Tutankhamun leads his army against Nubians – painted on a wooden chest
Tutankhamun leads his army against Nubians – painted on a wooden chest

In the relatively new National Museum of Egyptian Civilization is a granite statue of Khonsu, Waset’s God of the Moon. The statue was found at Karnak Temple and is said to have the facial features of Tutankhamun.

A granite statue of Khonsu with the facial features of Tutankhamun
A granite statue of Khonsu with the facial features of Tutankhamun

Irrespective of any resemblance, it’s a fantastic statue created by superbly skilled craftspeople.
With the 100th anniversary of Tutankhamun’s tomb’s discovery, perhaps part of the Grand Egyptian Museum will open in November. Hopefully, the authorities will also announce the opening date of this museum, for the general public, in 2023.

Author: Tony Walsh

Book author including the current Bradt guide to Oman