Designation introduced by Champollion in the nineteenth century for a pact of the Theban royal necropolis situated on the west bank of the Nile, opposite modern Luxor. The necropolis lies in a Y-shaped ravine which runs east—west, about 500 meters (1,600 feet) west of Deir el-Medina. Its Arabic names are Bibân el-Harîm and Bibân el-Malekat. Referred to by the ancients as tʒ jnt ʿʒt (“the Great Valley”) and tʒ jnt ršy (“the Valley of the South”), the area was first utilized in the mid-eighteenth dynasty for burials of several high officials. Beginning in the nineteenth dynasty, it was used for the wives and children of the royal family.

Valley of the Queens

Valley of the Queens. Wall painting from the tomb of Nefertari. wife of Ramesses II, nineteenth dynasty. (Courtesy Donald B. Redford)

From this point on it was called t3 st nfrw “the Place of Beauties,” being described in the Abbot Papyrus as “the great (resting) places of the royal children, royal wives and royal mothers.” It continued to fulfill this purpose in the twentieth dynasty, but afterward gradually fell into disuse. There are more than eighty tombs in the valley, of which twenty-one are inscribed to some extent; the others, except for one, are nothing more than single-chamber or pit tombs. Near the end of the northernmost arm of the wadi are vestiges of a dam built in the Ramessid period to divert runoff from flash flooding. Less than 40 meters (128 feet) away, situated between tombs 57 and 80, are the remains of a living installation for artisans, which also dates to the Ramessid period.

The tombs of Ramessid royals are the most impressive monuments of the site. Thus far identified as the earliest of these is tomb 38, that of Queen Sat-re, the wife of Ramesses I, the decoration of which never progressed beyond the stage of the draftsman's outlines. Female relatives of Ramesses II occupy seven substantial tombs, situated almost in a line along the northern flank of the valley. The tomb of the king's mother, Queen Tuya (tomb 80), is very poorly preserved, with only small remnants of decorated relief still adhering to the walls. The tombs of five of the king's daughters—60 Queen Nebettawy, 68 Queen Meritamun, 71 Queen Bint-Anath, 73 Princess Henettawy, and 75 Queen Henumire—are strikingly similar in both design and decoration of religious motifs. The most important tomb of the group is that Nefertari (tomb 66), the king's principal wife for the first twenty-four years of his reign. Arguably the showpiece of the valley, the multi-chambered tomb is brightly decorated, with much of the color still pristine. Of the tomb's 520 square meters (5,600 square feet) of wall space, nearly 80 percent of the decoration is still intact. The wall scenes depict Nefertari's progression through the underworld, along with texts from the Book of Gates.

Along the far western fringe of the valley are five tombs (42, 43, 44, 53, and 55), and quite possibly a sixth (41), made for sons of Ramesses III. Four are outstanding in both decor and state of preservation: tomb 42, “First King's Son of His Majesty, Charioteer of the Royal Stable,” Pareherwenemef; tomb 43, “Eldest King's Son, His Beloved, the Charioteer of the Royal Stable,” Setiherkhopshef; tomb 44, “Sem-priest of Ptah, First King's Son of His Body,” Khaemwaset; and tomb 55, “Hereditary Prince of the Two Lands, King's Son of His Body, His Beloved, Born of the God's Wife and God's Mother, the Great King's Wife, King's Scribe, Overseer of Horses,” Amenherkhopshef. In all four of these tombs, the princes are depicted as adolescents, with similar features and costume, in scenes of ritual with their father, the king. Moreover, in the tomb of Amenherkhopshef (tomb 55) is a text which states, “Given by favor of the King.…for the principal royal children,” suggesting that tombs for the royal princes were commissioned in advance to be utilized when needed, with the name and titles of the recently deceased prince carved in just before burial.

There is indication that this was already the practice as early as the nineteenth dynasty to accommodate the female members of the royal family as well. Four tombs in the valley—31, 33, 36, and 40—were made for royal females, but except for one, the cartouches and titles were never filled in. These four lie along the southwestern fringe in proximity to one another. Tomb 33 was given over to Queen Tanedjmy, her name being painted in prior to her burial. Situated among the tombs of Ramesses III's sons along the western flank are tombs of two queens of the twentieth dynasty. Tomb 51 was made for “King's Mother, Isis,” the mother of Ramesses VI. Although a matter of some debate, it is generally held that she is identical with Queen Isis Ta-Habadjilat, principal wife of Ramesses III. The fairly well-preserved tomb 52 belongs to “King's Daughter, Great King's Wife and King's Mother, Tyti,” however, it is uncertain to whose reigns she is to be dated. A third queen of the period, “Great King's Wife and King's Mother, Tentopet,” occupies tomb 74. Although not certain, it is most probable the Tentopet was wife to Ramesses IV and mother of Ramesses V. This tomb is one of a series of tombs set in a line along the valley's far northern flank; the others of this group are assigned to female members of the house of Ramesses II (see above). In the case of tomb 74, the location and similarity of design compare favorably with the tombs of the daughters of Ramesses II. There are other indications that this tomb was originally built for another daughter but was instead later taken over for the burial of Tentopet. Apart from pillars in the burial chamber on which her name is carved, Tentopet's name is simply painted in cartouches on the decorated walls; moreover, one scene in the tomb depicts a queenly figure above which is carved, “King's daughter of his body, his beloved, the mistress of the Two Lands,” with columns for the name left blank.

The explorer and antiquarian Robert Hay first visited the necropolis in 1826, and he made extensive notes and plans, taking elevations of more than sixteen tombs. In 1828, John Gardner Wilkinson followed suit, copying twenty-four tombs. The following year, a joint French-Tuscan expedition brought Jean-François Champollion and Ippolito Rosellini to the site to carry out an epigraphic study of the principal monuments. Champollion published his drawings in Monuments del'Égypte et de la Nubie: Notices descriptives (1844–1845), and Rosellini in I Monumenti dell'Egitto e della Nubia, designati dalla Spedizione scientifico-letteraria Toscana in Egitto, I. Monumenti storici, III. Monumento del Culto (1832, 1844). Karl Richard Lepsius conducted a scientific expedition to the Valley of the Queens in 1844, and Heinrich Brugsch in 1854. Commentaries and drawings by Lepsius appeared in Denkmäler in 1849 and 1900. In 1903, Ernesto Schiaparelli from the Turin Museum obtained an archaeological concession for the Valley of the Queens and undertook a program of exploration and study in 1903, 1904, and 1905. From 1971 until 1988, the Center of Study and Documentation for the Egyptian Antiquities Organization, together with the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (C.N.R.S.), under the direction of Christian Leblanc, completed a study and survey operation of the entire valley and immediate environs. In 1988, the Getty Conservation Institute carried out extensive restoration of tomb 66, of Nefertari, which consequently was opened to public viewing.


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Susan Redford