HERE the Pharaohs of Thebes were entombed, in a narrow valley in the Lybian range of mountains which bound on the eastern side the valley of the Nile. Its traditional name, the “Gate of the Kings,” has been applied to the tombs themselves, but with far greater propriety it seems to have been derived from the narrow gorge at the inner entrance to the valley.

    This valley was always known to have been their place of sepulture, and many of the tombs were opened and rifled by the Persians and later conquerors of Egypt; but so ingeniously were some of them concealed that it was only after a laps of thirty-two centuries that the indefatigable Belzoni discovered some of them. His zeal and energy in Egyptian research were nowhere more remarkably displayed than in this retired valley. Here his intuitive perception of what the rocks around him concealed, led to his opening several of these sacred depositories, which had never before been visited or examined since the day when the priests closed them upon their inmates. These tombs were most costly in their construction, penetrating into the rocks to great depths, and enriched with the most elaborate appliances of art. It is difficult to conceive why such lavish expenditure was incurred in places ingeniously contrived for concealment.

    The most remarkable of these tombs, that which in the drawing is seen the second on the left, was discovered by Belzoni in 1817, and bears his name; this tomb, excavated in the living rock, is in its total horizontal length, to where the sarcophagus of Osirei, the father of Remeses, was found within it, three hundred and twenty feet; beyond this another long sloping passage descended, but the rock had fallen in and barred further progress; its perpendicular depth, below the level of the entrance, is ninety feet. The details of this discovery are fully given in Belzoni’s work.

    Warburton, who describes his visit to the Tombs of the Kings, says*: – “We started at daybreak. For a couple of hours we continued along the plain, which was partially covered with wavy corn, but flecked widely here and there with desert tracts. Then we entered the gloomy mountain gorge through which the Theban monarchs passed to their tombs. Our path lay through a narrow defile, between precipitous cliffs of rubble and calcareous strata; and some large boulders of coarse conglomerate lay strewn along this desolate valley, in which no living thing of earth or air ever met our view. The plains below once teemed with life, and, perhaps, swarmed with palaces, but the gloomy defiles we were now traversing must have ever been as they now are, lonely, lifeless, desolate, – a fit avenue to the tombs for which we were bound.

    “After five or six miles of travel, our guide stopped at the base of one of the precipices, and, laying his long spear against the rock, proceeded to light his torches. There was no apparent entrance at the distance of a few yards, nor was this great tomb betrayed to the outer world by any visible aperture until discovered by Belzoni.

    “We descended by a steep path into this tomb, through a doorway covered with hieroglyphics, and entered a corridor that ran some hundred yards into the mountain. It was about twenty feet square, and painted throughout most elaborately. One gorgeous passage makes way into another more gorgeous still, until you arrive at a steep descent. At the base of this a doorway opens into a vaulted hall of noble proportions, whose gloom considerably increases its apparent size. Here the body of Osirei, father of Remeses II., was laid about three thousand two hundred years ago, in the beautiful alabaster sarcophagus which Belzoni drew from hence as a reward of his enterprise. Its poor occupant, who had taken such pains to hide himself, was ‘undone’ for the amusement of a London conversazione.”


Belzoni’s Travels.                   Wilkinson’s Egypt.              *The Crescent and the Cross