See a list of chapters.


The Valley of the Kings


Excerpted from La Mort De Philae
by Pierre Loti, 1924
At first in the darkness, after so much sunlight, the little electric lamps seem scarcely more than glow-worms. We expected a certain amount of chilliness, here there is only a more oppressive heat, stifling and withering. Instantly we long to return to the open air, which was burning indeed, but was at least the air of life.

Hastily we descend: by steep staircases, by passages which slope so rapidly that they hurry us along of themselves. It seems that we shall never ascend again, any more than the great pharaoh who passed here so long ago on his way to his eternal chamber.

Pharaoh Amenhotep I and his wife
by Ernst Weidenbach.

It was common for a tomb's owner to include
favorite scenes from his life in the wall paintings.
Here he remembers his beloved garden.
by G Angelli, 1832.

Winemaking in the Tomb of Nekht.
Hand colored photograph from the
"Book of the Dead and Elysian Fields".

All this brings us, first of all, to a deep well--as if to swallow up the desecrators. On one of the sides, behind a casual stone carefully sealed, the continuation of these funeral galleries was discovered.

When we have passed the well by a narrow bridge the stairs begin again, and the steep passages that almost make you run. By a sharp bend they change their direction. And still we descend, descend. Heavens! How deep down this king dwells! And at each step of our descent we feel more and more imprisoned under the sovereign mass of stone, in the center of all this compact and silent thickness.

Gods and Goddesses
by Salvador Cherubini.

Gods and Goddesses
From the Champollion expedition.

Gods and Goddesses
by Salvador Cherubini.

The little electric globes, placed apart like a garland, suffice now for our eyes which have forgotten the Sun. And we can distinguish around us myriad figures inviting us to solemnity and silence. They are inscribed everywhere on the smooth, spotless walls the color of old ivory. They follow one another in regular order, as if the better to impose upon our spirit, with gestures and symbols that are eternally the same.

Osiris, god of rebirth.
Osiris, from the tomb of Ramesses IX
photograph by Zangaki, c.1890.

AnubisAnubisThe gods, the representatives of Anubis, with his black jackal's head and his long erect ears, seem to make signs to us with their long arms and long fingers: "No noise! Look, there are mummies here!". The wonderful preservation of all this, the vivid colors, the clearness of the outlines, begin to cause a kind of stupor and bewilderment. You would think that the painter of these figures had only just quitted the day before.

All this past seems to draw you to itself like an abyss to which you have approached too closely. It surrounds you, and little by little masters you. It is so much at home here that it has remained the present. The descent into the secret bowels of the mountainhas awakened a kind of seizure with vertigo, which we had not anticipated and which has whirled us far away into the depths of the ages.

Funeral procession
by Salvador Cherubini.

These interminable, oppressive passages, by which we have crawled to the innermost depths of the mountain, lead at length to something vast. The walls divide, the vault expands and we are in the great funeral hall. The blue ceiling, all bestrewn with stars like the sky, is supported by six pillars hewn in the rock itself. On either side open other chambers into which the lamp permits us to see quite clearly, and opposite, at the end of the hall, a large crypt is revealed, which one divines instinctively must be the resting place of the Pharaoh.

What a prodigious labor must have been entailed by this intrusion in the living rock! And this tomb is not unique. All along the Valley of the Kings little insignificant doors lead to other subterranean places. Places just as sumptuous and perfidiously profound, with their snares, their hidden wells, and the bewildering multiplicity of their mural figures. And all these tombs this morning were full of people. If we had not had the good fortune to arrive after the usual hour we should have met here, even in this dwelling of Amenophis, their masses.

In this hall the frescoes multiply their riddles: scenes from the Book of the Dead, all the funeral ritual translated into pictures. On the pillars and walls crowd the different gods that an Egyptian soul was likely to meet in his passage through the country of shadows. Underneath are placed the passwords which were to be given to each of them so as not to be forgotten.
Excerpted from La Mort De Philae
by Pierre Loti, 1909, 1924

Drawing by Hector Horeau, 1841.
Entrance to the Crypt.

Anubis Anubis, the guardian

wings of the Sun.

Pharaoh Amenophis' tomb Part 1
This is Part 2
The Pharaoh's Crypt, Part 3

Countless beautiful 19th century images of ancient Egypt
and 75 pages of architecture, art and mystery
are linked from the library page:

The Egyptian Secrets Library

Grand Nile Tour