The Valley of the Kings (Arabic: وادي الملوك Wādī al Mulūk), less often called the Valley of the Gates of the Kings (Arabic: وادي ابواب الملوك Wādī Abwāb al Mulūk), is a valley in Egypt where, for a period of nearly 500 years from the 16th to 11th century BC, tombs were constructed for the Pharaohs and powerful nobles of the New Kingdom (the Eighteenth to the Twentieth Dynasties of Ancient Egypt). The valley stands on the west bank of the Nile, opposite Thebes (modern Luxor), within the heart of the Theban Necropolis. The wadi consists of two valleys, East Valley (where the majority of the royal tombs are situated) and West Valley.
Nestled in the cliffs on the west bank of the Nile at Luxor, the isolated Valley of the Kings is home to the tombs of the great pharaohs of the New Kingdom (1550 – 1070 BC). They are hidden within a wadi (or valley) formed over millennia by rainfall and water runoff. The first known pharaoh known for certin to have built a tomb within the valley was Hatshepsut, although many Egptologists believe that Thutmose I was the first to locate his tomb here.
The Valley of the Kings is divided into two main branches: the more famous East Valley and the West Valley. Steep cliffs define the latter’s topography, in which only 3 tombs have been found including the Tomb of Ay (KV 23). The eastern valley, covering 2 hectares, resembles a hand with splayed fingers. To the south, towering over the valley, is a peak shaped like a pyramid, known as el-Qurn (the horn). Archaeologists believe that this natural feature influenced the choice of this site for the royal tombs.
There are 63 known tombs in the valley, 26 carved for kings and the others granted to royal family members or the highest of the elite. Of these, fifteen are currently open to the public: Ramesses I, Ramesses III, Ramesses IV, Ramesses V/VI, Ramesses VII, Ramesses IX, Seti II, Siptah, Merenptah, Thutmose III, Thutmose IV, Mentuherkhepshef, Tausret/Sethnakht, Ay, and Tutankhamun. They were carved out of the cliffs as long shafts, heading deep underground and terminating in elaborate burial chambers. The tombs are decorated from top to bottom with religious images and texts from the netherworld books, designed to aid the journey of the king to the afterlife.
Many famous adventurers and archaeologists have explored the valley, including engineer and circus strongman Giovanni Belzoni, and artist/Egyptologist Howard Carter, who is famous for finding the tomb of Tutankhamun in 1922. Recent discoveries in the valley include KV 5, which was re-excavated by Dr. Kent Weeks in 1995, found to be much more extensive than previously thought, and identified as the tomb of the sons of Ramesses II; and KV 63, a cache of late 18th Dynasty material, unearthed by Dr. Otto Schaden. Dr. Zahi Hawass is currently leading the first all-Egyptian team to excavate in the valley; he is exploring the tunnel in the tomb of Seti I and attempting to locate the missing tomb of Ramesses VIII.