Nefertari’s tomb, a tribute to love – World Meanderings (n°109)
By Annick Dournes & Frédéric de Poligny
Queen Nefertari died 3,275 years ago and after all these years she still is a model of feminine beauty. Her slender silhouette, fine features, almond eyes and long dark hair are as attractive as ever today. Her magnificent portraits in her tomb of the Valley of the Queens are a living proof of this beauty… and of the love of her husband, Pharaoh Ramesses II
Nefertari was Great King’s Wife of Ramesses II and their love story is legendary. They were both teenagers when they got married, she was 14 and he was 16, and although he had several other wives during his very long reign (there were at least seven of them and he is said to have had one hundred children!), she remained his favourite. To him she was ‘the one for whom the sun shines”. Beside her beauty Nefertari was also well educated, able to read and write hieroglyphs and smart enough to be one of Pharaoh’s advisers.
Ramesses’ reverence for his first wife led him to deify Nefertari during her lifetime. She is to be seen in all major monuments built during Ramesses’ reign: She appears outside and inside Abu Simbel great temple while Abu Simbel small temple is entirely dedicated to her and to goddess Hathor. On the facade of this temple the two impressive statues of the queen are equal in size to those of the Pharaoh. A rare honour in history!
Her tomb in the Valley of the Queens is worthy of a goddess. With 520 square meters it is one of the largest ones in the valley and undoubtedly is the most beautiful one to be seen in Egypt. The tomb was re-discovered in 1904 by an Italian archaeologist, Ernesto Schiaparelli. Unfortunately, it has been robbed several times in Antiquity and only a few artefacts were found on the spot. But what makes her tomb unique are the amazing frescoes painted on the walls. They are a vibrant tribute to her beauty and if of course the painter or painters’ names are unknown they obviously were great artists.
It still is today a breathtaking visit. The two staircases and adjoining rooms are painted from floor to ceiling. The second staircase leads to the sarcophagus’ room supported by four pillars. This was the only room where Schaiparelli found a few remains of the tomb’s treasures. here were fragments of a pink granite sarcophagus, pieces of a wooden gold covered coffin, 32 ushabtis, small remains of the mummy, fragments of alabaster and terracotta vases, enamels and other broken grave goods. Ushabtis are small figurines supposed to carry out all low work that could fall upon the deceased after his death.
So why do people pay a £ 65 tag for a ten-minute visit? The answer is quite simple the tomb is simply mesmerizing. The frescoes depicting Nefertari’s life and the Book of the Dead are painted with vivid colours on a white background. Unlike many other tombs in the Queens or the King Valleys, Nefertari’s is very clear and luminous. Their colours are so vivid that it’s hard to believe that they were made almost 33 centuries ago. To protect the frescoes from humidity and germs the tomb has been closed for long periods of time during the last 30 years. This is also the reason why only a few dozens of visitors are allowed to see it each day and only for a short time. Let’s just hope we will soon be able to see them again.
Text ©Annick Dournes
Photos ©Frederic de Poligny