** Special permission needed for entrance
QV66 is the tomb of Nefertari, the Great Wife of Ramesses II, it is the largest and themost decorated spectacular tomb in Egypt's Valley of the Queens. It was discovered by Ernesto Schiaparelli (the director of the Egyptian Museum in Turin) in 1904. It is called the Sistine Chapel of Ancient Egypt.
Unfortunately by the time that Schiaparelli rediscovered Nefertari’s tomb it had already been found by tomb raiders, who had stolen all the treasure buried with the Queen, including her sarcophagus and mummy. Some pieces of the mummy were found in the burial chamber, and were taken to the Egyptian Museum in Turin by Schiaparelli, where they still reside today.
The limestone in the Theban area is not of very high quality and it is fractured by earthquakes; it also has bands of flint. All of this means that several layers of plaster were required to be applied to the walls before painting.
The tomb was closed to the public in 1950 because of various problems that threatened the spectacular paintings, which are considered to be the best preserved and most eloquent decorations of any Egyptian burial site, found on almost every available surface in the tomb, including stars painted thousands of times on the ceiling of the burial chamber on a blue background to represent the sky.
In 1986 an operation to restore all the paintings within the tomb was embarked upon by the Egyptian Antiquities Organisation and the Getty Conservation Institute; however, work did not begin on the actual restoration until 1988 which was completed in April 1992. Upon completion of the restoration work,Egyptian authorities decided to severely restrict public access to the tomb in order to preserve the delicate paintings found within.
It was found that the main culprit for the damage was not ancient tomb robbers, but nature itself. Even here it was not earthquakes but salt which caused the problem. The local limestone contains salt, as did the mud from the Nile, used to make the plaster. The seepage of water through the rock had created crystals, which had caused the plaster to crack and the paint to flake. These crystals, which can grow extremely large, often to centimetres in size, have forced large areas of plaster from the walls, many of which it was impossible to restore. Even since the time of Schiaperelli's photography of the tomb, the effect of the destruction has been progressive, as best seen in a comparison of the condition after the recent conservation and a black and white photo taken by Schiaparelli.
Earlier attempts at conservation was done by pasting large strips of paper or thick gauze over the cracks. These had a detrimental affect and had to be carefully removed, and the plaster and paint secured, using more modern techniques, before cleaning and final conservation work could be completed.
The aim of the project was to stabilize and clean the tomb,not to restore it to is original state. Small missing areas were, however,filled with plaster. These were not painted to match the missing colour, but were painted in "trattegio" (straight lines) to produce an almost identical match of colour; water based paint was used, for easy removal if at some future date it found to be inappropriate. This, from a distance, gives the visual effect of solid colour, but allows the area to be identified by future historians and conservators as not being the original.
The conservation was completed in April 1992, but the tomb wasn't reopened to the public until November 1995. Admission was severely restricted, limiting the group size and number of daily visitors in order to try to preserve the fragile micro climatic. No form of photography was allowed.
In January 2003 it was once again closed to the public. Even the limited number of tourists have an effect on the surface of the paintings.Their moist bacteria-laden breath causes mould to grow on the surface; the tomb is after all a closed environment.