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Ancient Thebes, Egypt's Finest Archeological Site


Across the Nile from Luxor is Ancient Thebes, where pharaohs (like King Tut) lie in hidden tombs. Highlights include the memorial temple to Queen Hatshepsut.

Complete Video Script

Across the Nile from Luxor are hills rich with some of Egypt's most important ancient sights.

While most sightseers cross the river on a fleet of touristy shuttles, we're riding on the public ferry with the locals. It's early morning, and these people are heading to work. And we're heading for the Valley of the Kings and the ancient tombs.

To the ancient Egyptians, it seemed logical to live on the east bank, where the sun rises, and bury your dead on the west bank, where the sun dies each evening.

While the workers head off, nearby the tourists arrive. While there are a few independent travelers, Egypt favors group travel, and most follow their guides to waiting buses for their west-bank tour.

The valley is blanketed with yet-to-be-excavated ruins. Here, two lonely statues herald a long-gone temple. And here, burrowed into an arid mountain range, is the Valley of the Kings, where mummified pharaohs hide out with their treasures, awaiting the eternity express.

This valley was all about protecting royal tombs. And so were the great pyramids before it. It was to ensure that all those valuables made it safely into the afterlife. Ironically, rather than protecting tombs, the pyramids were actually attracting thieves. Again and again, pyramids were looted and pharaohs were waking up in heaven with absolutely nothing.

By about 1500 BC, pharaohs stopped building pyramids and began hiding their tombs instead. These tombs — buried deep in the folds of this valley — proved to be more secure than the intentionally high-profile pyramids. While around 60 tombs have been excavated in the Valley of the Kings, far more have yet to be discovered.

The tomb of Ramses IV was typical. It had a long ramp, intricately carved and painted, leading to the burial chamber. This massive granite sarcophagus was slid down the ramp. It protected the mummy of the pharaoh. Slathered in hieroglyphs — prayers and symbolism — it was all designed to boost the pharaoh into the next life. Jackals stand guard, and here, a god presents two ankhs — the symbol of life.

The burial chamber walls are remarkably vivid for their age. Sealed away dry, dark, and forgotten for over 3,000 years, they're beautifully preserved. Tourists can still clearly see ancient Egypt's elaborate spiritual world.

The most famous tomb in the valley is of King Tutankhamun — a.k.a. King Tut. Another long passage leads deep into a chamber, where you find more well-preserved paintings surrounding an empty stone sarcophagus. It was one of eight nesting boxes and coffins that protected the pharaoh's body.

Remarkably, Tut's actual mummy lies nearby. The ancient process of mummification ensured that the body was there for the soul to inhabit in the afterlife. And, you gotta admit, Tut doesn't look a day over 3,500.

While his reign was of no importance historically and only lasted a few years, Tutankhamun is the one pharaoh whose name we all know. That's because in 1922 this tomb was discovered with its treasures intact.

While pharaohs hid their tombs deep in the mountains, they built their memorial temples in public splendor — in the open for all to see, so they'd be remembered and worshipped through the ages.

This is the Temple of Queen Hatshepsut — the greatest woman pharaoh. In its day, around 1500 BC, Queen Hatshepsut's monument would have been glorious, surrounded by gardens and approached by a grand, sphinx-lined lane.

The challenges of being a woman politician are nothing new. Hatshepsut claimed to be the daughter of a god, but to prove her strength she had to declare herself "king." Determined to assert her authority, her propaganda even showed her dressed as a male ruler.

Statues show the queen wearing a beard — a symbol of royalty. This multi-level temple is fit for a god and surely must have inspired great awe and respect. With ranks of imposing statues of the queen, it's easy to imagine public adulation for centuries after her death. Her formidable army carried weapons, but also carried olive branches, the ancient symbol of peace. History's first great woman ruler is remembered for a 20-year reign of general peace and stability.