Tuesday,25 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1261, (3 - 9 September 2015)
Tuesday,25 September, 2018
Issue 1261, (3 - 9 September 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Pharaohs at night

The tombs of the pharaohs Seti I and Ramses VI at Luxor are now open at night, following installation of a new lighting system, writes Nevine El-Aref

Al-Ahram Weekly

The Valleys of the Kings and Queens in Luxor offer visitors a magical atmosphere. This atmosphere has now become even more attractive with the opening of a new lighting system on the west bank of the Nile, providing a dramatic view of the famous monuments in the area.

Visitors to the historical Upper Egyptian city of Luxor can now see several illuminated sites, including Hatshepsut’s Temple at Al-Deir Al-Bahari, Habu Temple, the Ramessium, Amenhotep II’s funerary temple, the Valleys of the Kings and Queens and the Tombs of the Nobles.

The lighting, some of which was first installed in 2010, has cost some LE56 million, provided by the Ministry of Culture, Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA), now Ministry of Antiquities, Egyptian Sound and Light Organisation and the French lighting company Architecture Lumière, chosen by tender from various international lighting companies.

The consortium responsible for the design has now installed 922 lighting units in various locations on the mountains of the west bank, offering a new experience to Luxor visitors.

Minister of Antiquities Mamdouh Eldamaty told the Weekly that the project will help preserve the tombs and temples on the west bank. The huge number of visitors who flock there will now be distributed throughout the day, from 7 am to 11 pm in summer and 9 pm in winter. This will help reduce the level of humidity inside the tombs, which has a damaging effect on the mural paintings.

“The new lighting system will also provide a beautiful and dramatic scene at night for pedestrians walking along the Nile corniche on the east bank in Luxor,” Eldamaty said. He added that the lighting was carefully installed, using GPS to navigate the rocky area on Luxor’s west bank. The units can support high temperatures and high aridity and are designed to withstand corrosion.

The project included illumination of mountains on the west bank in the Valley of the Kings, Valley of the Queens, Tombs of the Nobles, the northern side of Al-Qurna and the Temple of Hatshepsut.

Eldamaty explained that the Al-Deir Al-Bahari Temple was the first monument to be illuminated at night, beginning in 2009, after which the whole area was lit in 2010. The project ended following the 25 January Revolution but was resumed in 2014, with lights installed at the Ramessium and the Tomb of Ramses IV.

This week a new lighting system was installed in the tombs of Ramses VI and Seti I in the Valley of the Kings, and these are now ready to welcome visitors at night. The tomb of Ramses VI is one of the largest in the Valley of the Kings and its walls feature a collection of some of the finest and best-preserved mural decorations in all the royal tombs.

These depict the texts and images believed by the ancient Egyptians to be necessary for the perpetual rebirth of the pharaoh. The vaulted ceiling of its burial chambers is decorated with a magnificent astronomical scene.

Scenes from the Book of Gates and Book of Caverns decorate the first, second and third corridors of the tomb, and scenes of the deceased making offerings to the deities Ra-Horakhty and Osiris are also shown. Passages from the Amduat and the Book of the Dead are painted in the fourth and fifth corridors.

The sarcophagus of the pharaoh is carved in the shape of a mummy from a single block of green conglomerate stone, one of the hardest materials worked by the ancient Egyptians. “It was originally placed within a massive outer sarcophagus of red granite, of which two huge fragments still remain in the tomb,” Eldamaty said.

Ted Brock, the archaeologist who led the conservation team, said both the inner and outer sarcophagi were broken up in antiquity by people intending to re-use the hard stone for other purposes. However, most of the pieces remained in the tomb, while others were found scattered elsewhere in the Valley of the Kings.

The face of the sarcophagus was removed and sold to the British Museum in London, where it has been on display since 1823.

It took the conservation team two years to collect, clean and reassemble the 250 fragments of the sarcophagus and its lid. “The cleaned fragments were then joined and glued together. Clusters of glued-together fragments were brought to the re-assembly site on a specially made limestone platform and added to the growing sarcophagus box,” Brock said.

Because many of the pieces were missing, groups of fragments had to be supported with stainless steel rods spanning the gaps in the sides. The face used in the reconstruction is a fibreglass replica of the original in the British Museum.

The tomb was probably constructed by Ramses VI’s predecessor, Ramses V, as the inscriptions for the latter were found in the first parts of the tomb. In antiquity, the tomb was known of, and in the Roman era it was called the Tomb of Memdon. During the Napoleonic Expedition at the end of the 18th century it was called the Tomb de la Metempsychose.

Sand covered the tomb until it was re-excavated by archaeologist Georges Daressy in 1888.

Ramses VI was the fifth ruler of the 20th Dynasty and the last of ancient Egypt’s New Kingdom. He was the son of Ramses III and ruled for eight years. During his reign, Egypt’s political and economic state declined.

The tomb of the 19th-Dynasty pharaoh Seti I represents a very developed example of a New Kingdom royal tomb and was discovered by the archaeologist Giovanni Battista Belzoni in 1817.

It is the longest, deepest and most complete tomb ever found in the Valley of the Kings. Its walls are painted with fine scenes in full colour and feature the pharaoh in various positions before the gods and with his family.

Inside the burial chamber, Belzoni found a calcite anthropoid sarcophagus and a fragment of a canopic chest that held the internal organs of the deceased. This is now on display in the Sir John Soane’s Museum in London.

The architectural design of the tomb is equally distinguished, comprised of a long corridor with seven unidirectional passageways connecting several decorative chambers. It has a special chamber dedicated to the god Osiris and another to the ritual of the opening of the mouth.

The vaulted burial chamber has a painted ceiling featuring astronomical scenes. In 1881, the mummy of Seti I was found in the cachette of Al-Deir Al-Bahari.

Eldamaty said that the most mysterious feature of the tomb, and one that has perplexed Egyptologists until today, is the long passageway found underneath Seti I’s marble sarcophagus.

Belzoni and his team concluded that the tunnel ran down to a depth of 100 metres into the bedrock. It was also theorised that the tunnel was an attempt to link the pharaoh’s burial chamber with the groundwater

 This conjecture stemmed from the existence of a natural spring in the Temple of Seti I at Abydos, which provided a pool of water within the structure to symbolise the primaeval waters of creation.

In 1961 a local man, Sheikh Ali Abdel-Rasoul, began to excavate inside the tunnel. He believed that the tunnel would lead to Seti I’s real burial chamber, where his treasure could be found. Abdel-Rasoul thought that the burial chamber previously discovered was a decoy to hide the real chamber from tomb robbers.

Abdel-Rasoul’s excavation did not, however, lead to anything except to reveal that the tunnel was 136 metres long, not 100 as Belzoni had believed, and it did not solve the mystery of the tunnel.

In 2007, Egyptian excavators cleaning the corridor under Seti I’s tomb unearthed a quartzite ushabti figure and the cartouche of the pharaoh.

Geological studies have revealed that the corridor was not carved inside the tomb as one single piece but was formed of separate parts, each with its own architectural features, as if it were a gate leading towards the afterlife.

Seti I was the son of Ramses I and followed in his father’s footsteps as a military man. He worked to restore the empire to the glory of the 18th Dynasty, led many military campaigns into Syria and Libya, and expanded Egypt’s territory to the east.

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