Lying directly below the peak known as Meretseger at the modern village of Qurna is the Valley of the Queens, ancient burial place of the queens and children of the pharaohs of the New Kingdom.  The term Valley of the Queens was first used by J.F. Champollion in the 19th century.  To date, there have been eighty tombs discovered and numbered in the valley but only about twenty are decorated and of that number, only a few are open to be viewed.  Many are really not much more than pit graves of which very little is known.  The oldest seem to date from the Eighteenth Dynasty and with the exception of a few were private or anonymous in nature.  However, early in the Nineteenth Dynasty, it became fashionable to bury queens and royal children in this rather desolate valley which the ancients called ‘ the place of the beauteous ones.’  In the succeeding two hundred years it was the final stop for many important members of the court.  The northern part of the valley was favored by Ramesses II and contains his queens and daughters, and the southern section holds the sons of Ramesses III of the Twentieth Dynasty.

The valley contains some important and even famous queens of the Nineteenth Dynasty such as Sat-re, wife of Ramesses I; Mut-tuy, wife of Sety I; and most notably Nefertari, favorite wife of Ramesses II.  In several cases the tombs contain selections from chapters of the Book of the Dead.  This was usually the case in the tombs that were not those of a sovereign or king, but rather wives and children of the king.  The tomb decoration was more limited in nature as the scenes of the royal afterlife found in the tombs of the kings were deemed not suitable here.  In one case however, that of Amonherkhopshef (QV 55), a son of Ramesses III and a crown prince, scenes of the Book of Gates may be seen in an abbreviated way.  It should be noted however, that there are also scenes of a similar nature seen in chapter 146 of the Book of the Dead.  More will be said on this point later.  These texts or perhaps more correctly spells from the Book of the Dead, were designed to guide the deceased on the journey to the beyond and it was not necessary to have all the nearly two hundred texts inscribed in the tomb to be considered efficacious.  Certain of these seemed to carry more importance than others and we shall discuss the nature of these texts or spells.  It is true that the Eg
yptians felt that having a few representative examples of these texts was as good as having the whole body of work.

Perhaps the most famous tomb is that of Nefertari (QV 66), wife of Ramesses II.  An entire volume could be addressed to the design and symbolic significance of this tomb as it is without question the best that the Valley has to offer.  The tomb was discovered in 1904 by the Italian archaeologist Ernesto Schiaparelli who was the leader of the Italian Archaeological Mission in Egypt from 1903 to 1920.  The tomb consists of an entrance hall with recesses to the right that lead to a side chamber, a descending passage leading to a pillared burial chamber, and three side chambers off of this.  The halls, passages, chambers and side rooms are decorated with scenes of the gods and recitations, and parts of chapters 17, 94, 144, 146, and 148 of the Book of the Dead. 

The entrance chamber is almost a square that measures 5 x5.2 meters.  To the left side, upon entering, the depictions and text are from chapter 17 of the Book of the Dead.  This is one of the longest and oldest sections of the book and has several


Mummiform God

functions for the deceased.  The chapter affirms the identity of Re and Atum and draws on ideas as old as the Old Kingdom times.  It then continues in a much more esoteric way to help the deceased, here the queen, in her journey.  Here we read ‘Here begin praises and recitations to come forth and go down into the Necropolis, to be a spirit in the beautiful West, the coming forth by day in order to assume the forms among any form he (sic) desires to e, playing at senet, sitting in a booth, and going forth as a living soul by the Osiris, the great royal wife, mistress of the two lands, Nefertari, beloved of Mut, justified after he (sic) died.’  It is plain here that the copy scribe’s use of the masculine pronoun when referencing the queen was a problem.  This was most likely due to the fact that the honors accorded Nefertari were unusual for a woman.

The illustrations above the text (south wall) show the queen playing senet.  This was a popular board game of ancient Egypt.  The word itself is a verb with the meaning of ‘to pass’ someone or thing, and here it is applied to a game of thirty squares with movable pieces known as the ‘dancers.’  In many funerary depictions the deceased is seen playing this game against an unseen adversary who symbolizes fate and must be overcome to attain immortality in the afterlife.  This is followed by her transformation into a ba bird atop a shrine, this being her aspect which has the ability to leave the tomb for a short time, and finally adoring the earth god Akeru who is seen on the next (west) wall.  The text of this chapter would usually be inserted around these scenes, but here the artist separated the images from the text.  The result is that the images seen are not always in concordance with the text below and sometimes not close at all.  The scene of Akeru is actually a complex of images that are meant to evoke the morning sun which is an often used metaphor for rebirth in Egyptian art. 

Various scenes continue on the west wall with the benu bird (a ibis or heron, this bird possesses qualities akin to the phoenix and is at times identified with the soul of Re), a bed with a mummy upon it flanked on either side by Nephthys (at the head), and Isis in the form of kites (hawks) as is customary in such scenes. 

Following this is an androgynous water god and two damaged vignettes.  The scroll of the 17th chapter then turns again and follows to the entryway of the burial chamber.  As stated previously, there seems to be no relationship between the vignettes and the text below at this point, although the beings pictured do have a place in the 17th chapter.  Two seated mummiform figures seen just in advance of the doorway would seem to represent Re (falcon headed) and Shu, the form of air and light.  Above the door the four Son’s of Horus are seen; these are (right to left) Imseti, Hapy, Qebehsenef and Duamutef.  Of note here is that the scribe has mistakenly exchanged the names of the last two, Qebehsenef and Duamutef.  The facings on either side of the doorway identify Nefertari as ‘The hereditary noblewoman (princess), greatly favored, the Osiris, the great royal wife, lady of the Two Lands, Nefertari, beloved of Mut, justified true of voice.’

The adjoining wall shows Osiris in his shrine and identifies him around his head as ‘Osiris, formost of the Westerners (the dead), Wennefer, Ruler of the Living, the Great God, Ruler of the Ennead, Lord of Eternity, Ruler of Forever in the midst of the Holy Land.’   On the opposite side of the entry way is the figure of Anubis and he is identified above his head as ‘Inpu (the Egyptian name of Anubis), in front of the divine booth, who is in Wt (the place of bandages), Lord of Rostau, who is upon his mountain, Lord of the Holy Land.’  The entrance to the side chamber is directly in front and the entrance walls show the goddess Maat on the right and the goddess Selqet on the left.  Ahead on the right are Re-Harakhti, crowned with a sun disk and Hathor in the guise of the ‘Goddess of the West.’  On the left the queen is brought before Khepri by the goddess Isis.  Isis wears the cow horns with sun disk between them and the uraeus draped over the disk.  Nefertari follows in one of the most beautiful representations of the queen to be seen anywhere.  She wears a semi-transparent white linen gown, with her twin high plumed crown.  Look closely and notice that the queen has two left feet!  Below the hands of Isis we read: ‘Pray come, (oh) great royal wife, Nefertari, Beloved of Mut.  I have made a place for you in the necropolis.’

Linking the scenes of Khepri and Re-Harakhti on the lintel over the entrance to the side room is the vulture goddess of Upper Egypt, Nekhbet.  She holds the shen sign in her claws.  These are symbols of protection and are representative of the circular path of the sun.  The sign is also the basis for the cartouche which is an elongated version of the shen. The glyphs that appear just over the wings identify her as Nekhbet, the patron goddess of El-Kab and Hieraconpolis of Upper Egypt.  Those who pass beneath her are under her protection.  Once in the chamber, having passed under Nekhbet, the scenes are vivid in color and design.  On the west wall, to the left and behind, the god Ptah is seen with Nefertari offering a tray holding four forked objects on it.  This is the hieroglyph for cloth. And on the table in front of her is more cloth identified as linen.  The north wall shows the queen making a presentation to the ibis headed Thoth, god of writing.  Note the stand between them that holds a palette, water bowl and a frog amulet.  The frog may stand for ‘whm-ankh’ “repeating life”, which was a wish for long life. 

The eight columns of text behind the queen in this scene are the entire text of chapter 94 of the Book of the Dead.  ‘Chapter for requesting a water pot and a palette from Djhuty (Thoth) in the necropolis by the great royal wife, mistress of the two lands, Nefertari, beloved of Mut.’  The queen says: ‘Oh great one who sees the writings of Djhuty.  Behold, I am come as a spirit, with a ba, mighty, and equipped with the writings of Djhuty.  Bring me the messenger of Akeru who is with Seth.  Bring me the bowl, bring me the palette from that of Djhuty, the mysteries within them.  Gods, Behold, I am a scribe, bring me the corruption of Osiris that I may write with it, that I may perform the instructions of Osiris, the great god, perfect every day, being the good which you have decreed for me.  Re-Harakhti, I will do truth and I will attain truth.’

The south wall shows scenes from chapter 148 of the Book of the Dead.  The top register contains four cows and the middle three cows and a bull.  These are collectively known as the ‘seven celestial kine’ and the husband bull.  The bottom register shows the four steering oars that help the deceased to navigate between the stars.  These are dedicated to the four cardinal directions and each is named.  Moving from right to left the text tells us; ‘Arise well, g
ood steering oar of the northern sky’; ‘good steering oar of the eastern sky, the traveler, who guides the two lands’; ‘good steering oar of the southern sky’; good steering oar of the western sky.’   The text of this chapter tells that the cows have the ability to provide for the queen the foodstuffs shown on the offering table before them: milk, bread, and vegetables.  Nefertari can be seen giving praises to them just around on the west wall. 
The next scene is one of major theological importance as it shows the syncretism that often occurs with Egyptian gods.  Here the ram headed

Celestial Kine & Bull

(Ch. 148, Book of the Dead)

mummiform god (see photo above), who is identified as Re, is seen between Isis and Nephthys.  The texts that run down the sides between the god and the two goddesses tells that: ‘It is Osiris who rests in Re’ (left side), and ‘It is Re who rests in Osiris’ (right side).  This is indicative of the polarity and the fusing of the two most important deities for the deceased, showing again that in death there is life by the intermixing of the two.  This idea is the same as the one expressed in the sun god’s journey through the underworld that was seen in the books that decorated the king’s tombs which have been previously described in relation to the king’s tombs.

Moving down the descending corridor towards the burial chamber, another collection of goddesses are encountered.  These all receive offerings from Nefertari.  Hathor, Selqet and Maat are on the eastern wall and Isis, Nephthys and Maat are on the west.  Above the entrance to the burial chamber the goddess Maat is seen guarding over the doorway.  The line of glyphs here read: ‘Words spoken by Maat, daughter of Re.  I protect (my) daughter, the great royal wife, Nefertari, beloved of Mut, justified.’ 

The burial chamber proper contains texts from the Book of the Dead, chapter 144 on the left and chapter 146 on the right.  The compositions begin on the south wall with chapter 144 and showing a full length depiction of the queen with her hands raised in adoration.  She confronts a group of three gods.  There are seven gates to the domain of Osiris and five of them are shown on the walls here.  First we see the text that pertains to the individual gate, then the gate itself and finally the group of attendants.  The three attendants at each gate are the keeper, the guardian, and the announcer.  Here the group is always shown as a ram headed god first, an animal headed god second and a human headed god third.  In representations seen in papyrus examples this is not always the case.  By the speaking of their names the queen shows that she has power over them and may then approach the gate, make a recitation and proceed to the next gate.

At the first gate the queen speaks: “The first gate. The name of its keeper is’ Inverted of Face, numerous of forms’; the name of its guardian is ‘Eavesdropper’; the name of its announcer is ‘Hostile of Voice.’”   The second gate is the best preserved of the five with all of the text being easily readable.  Here Nefertari says: “Second gate.  The name of its keeper is ‘He who opens their foreheads.’  The name of the guardian is ‘Virtuous of Appearance.’ The name of its announcer is ‘Imsus.’”  Nefertari then continues: “Do not be weary when the old ones justify the living secrets renewed in their years.  The Osiris, the great royal wife, lady of the two lands, Nefertari, justified before Osiris, rich in offerings, who makes his (her) way with a flame, who defeats enemies.”  The text goes on but its meaning is somewhat obscure in nature.

The third gate is in very poor condition but the names of the attendants are readable: the keeper is ‘One who Eats the Putrefaction of his Posterior’; the guardian is ‘Alert of Face’; and the announcer is ‘He who Curses.’   The fourth gate is a complete loss.  The attendants are seen on the north wall and are damaged but one can still make out that they were male and a ram, an antelope, and a human headed deity.  At the fifth gate we see only the ram headed keeper due to space considerations.  The names are preserved in the text however as: the keeper ‘He Lives on Snakes’; the guardian ‘the Burner’; and the announcer is ‘Hippopotamus faced, raging with power.’

Chapter 146 contains the portals to the Osirian domain and the same ides applies.  It is of the greatest importance that the queen know and be able to name the portal and its keepe
r.  As before, twenty-one portals are indicated, with only ten shown in Nefertari’s tomb.  Again, the texts and the vignettes are integrated as seen in a papyrus version of the Book of the Dead.  The text appears following the illustration of the portal and is usually short.  Only one keeper is required at these portals. 

        The pillars of the hall stand at the corners of the space marked out as the sarcophagus area which rests some 40 cm. below the actual floor.  Two priests greet the visitor upon entering the chamber.  On the left is the priest Iunmutef, ‘The Pillar of His Mother,’ and on the right is Horendotes, ‘The Avenger of His Father.’  They both wear the leopard skin with the animals’ head seen resting upon the chest.  The speech of Iunmutef reads:  ‘Words spoken by Horus, the pillar of his mother.  I am your beloved son, oh my father Osiris, I have come to greet you.  Four times forever have I beaten your enemies for you.  May you cause your beloved daughter, the great royal wife, lady of the two lands, Nefertari, beloved of Mut, justified, to be at peace within the assembly of great gods who are in the following of Osiris, who all lords of the sacred land join.’

On the inner side of these pillars i


Avenger of His Father

s the image of Osiris in his booth facing the entrance to the tomb to welcome the deceased queen into his domain.  The djed pillars, symbols of Osiris and of ‘support,’ are seen facing each other on all four columns and the queen before various gods and goddesses decorate the remaining.  Three small storage annexes coming off the main chamber make up the remaining rooms of this tomb.  Of the three annexes, the one to the west is in the best condition and of most interest.  The doorway shows images of the cobra goddesses of Upper and Lower Egypt.  Somewhat hidden on the inner face of the doorframe of this room are two


scenes.  To the north is seen Osiris as the djed pillar holding was scepters and ankh symbols on this wrists.  To the south is a representation of the queen in mummy form with a wig, broad collar and the vulture headdress.  Her titles are inscribed around her.
While being undoubtedly the best, Nefertari’s tomb is by no means the only one of interest in the Valley of the Queens.  The tomb of prince Amonherkhopshef (QV 55), a son of Ramesses III who was a crown prince and died in childhood, shows a standard of workmanship of the highest level.  In this tomb the prince is seen being led by his father before the gods.  The scenes, which are well carved and painted, are shown against a background which is blue-grey in color.  The king is seen greeting Duamutef with his young son following behind his father and also offering incense.  The young man at times carries a slender fan which is symbolic of his honorary office as ‘Fanbearer on the right side of

Hathor, Mistress of the West

(Tomb of Amonherspshef)

the king.’  The next corridor is decorated in a like manner with scenes from the Gates of the Book of the Dead, chapter 146.  The burial chamber is incomplete and contains a small sarcophagus of red granite.

Much has been made of the fetus found in the tomb and now seen in the south-west corner of the burial chamber.  This cannot be the prince himself, as he is known to have attained a number of important positions before his death.  This could however be one of his stillborn children or an intrusive burial placed in the tomb at a later date.

The tomb of Queen Tyti (QV 52) is one of the finest in the valley and belongs to an obscure princess of the Ramesside period (Twentieth Dynasty).  The tomb does not record with which king she is to be associated.  Speculation is that she is one of the wives of Ramesses III and perhaps the mother of Ramesses IV.  Upon entering the first corridor, one is struck with the similarity in style of the royal tombs of the period in the Valley of the Kings.  Here we see the queen appearing before a number of gods and goddesses (Ptah, Thoth, Atum, Isis and Nephthys), in a low relief, lightly carved and finely colored against a white background.  The following room shows scenes painted against a gold background.  Here are scenes of the gods and goddesses from the Egyptian afterlife with images of the solar barques of the day and night on either side of the doorway on the south wall.  Here the queen is also seen holding a sistra in her hand and royal standards in front of the four sons of Horus and very informally seated on a cushion on the north wall, west corner.  A side room shows us the queen making offerings the goddess Hathor shown in her bovine form and emerging from the sacred mountain. 

These side rooms contained the grave goods, with the canopic chest placed in the west room.  In any case, it is here that we see the four jars shown on the south wall in the company of three demons.  The chamber at the back behind the large hall may be seen as the sanctuary.  The queen is seen offering to gods seated at tables on the side walls and at the back of the room the court of Osiris can be seen.  Here the god is seen in attendance with Selqet and Neith in front, Isis, Nephthys, and Thoth in the rear.  Traditionally, these four goddesses protect the body of the deceased.  The remaining chamber to the east has little to recommend it, with its floor collapsed into the shaft which is now blocked. 

Moving up the hill and behind the souvenir stands, the tomb of prince Khaemwaset (QV 44) is located.  This was the eldest son of Ramesses III.  Most of the murals still retain their bright colors and show the young prince with his father offering to the gods.  The plan is similar to what is found in Amonhirkhopshef’s tomb but is more elaborate.  In the first corridor once again we see the depiction of the prince with his father as Ramesses III offers to the various gods.
Side rooms off of this corridor show the prince offering to mortuary deities, Anubis and the four sons of Horus, on the side walls, with Isis and Nephthys greeting Osiris (perhaps Sokar, as the text is not clear on this) at the back. 

Once again, in the second corridor, we see the Gates from chapter 146 of the Book of the Dead.  The sarcophagus chamber is just following and is painted with a gold background.  It is almost identical with that found in queen Tyti’s tomb.  Here the king is seen appearing with protecting goddesses before Osiris.  The four sons of Horus can be seen upon a lotus flower just in front of Osiris.

The Valley of the Queens is usually not as

Gatekeeper of the 5th Portal

(Tomb of Khaemwaset)

well visited as the Kings and this is unfortunate since some of the most human reactions can be experienced by visiting these tombs.  Scenes of king Ramesses III leading his young sons by the hand into the presence of the gods can evoke feelings for these people that can not be found in anything seen in the royal tombs in the neighboring Valley of the Kings.  Scenes such as this help us link to these ancient people who lived so long ago, but who were in many respects quite similar to ourselves. 





Valley of the Queens