Egypt: An Overview of the West Bank at Luxor (Ancient Thebes)

An Overview of the West Bank at Luxor (Ancient Thebes)

Jimmy Dunn writing as Mark Andrews

Colossi of Memnonon the West Bank at Thebes (modern Luxor) in Egypt

The west bank at Luxor is one of the most important archaeological sites in the world. It is much more than what we refer to as the Valley of the Kings, though many have called the whole of the area by that name. In fact, many good books on the west bank at Luxor (ancient Thebes) are titled, "Valley of the Kings", even though they cover the entire area. It can be a bit confusing for the novice, particularly considering the actual conceptual scope of the religious concept. If one looks at just the Valley of the Kings, one only sees tombs, but the tombs were an integral part of larger mortuary complexes. Indeed, the whole west bank is honeycombed with tombs, not just of the ancient Egyptian Kings, but of their families and the noblemen who served them.

Layout of the West Bank

Map Depicting the West Bank As the Valley was in Egypt's Dynastic Period

As the Valley was in Egypt's Dynastic Period

The west bank necropolis can be divided into a number of zones and sub-zones, of which the Valley of the Kings is only one zone. The northern sector of the west bank closest to the Nile River is often referred to as the Tombs of the Nobles, but it can be divided into about five different sub-zones. Farthermost north is an area known as el-Tarif, where large, row tombs were dug during the late Second Intermediate Period and early Middle Kingdom.

Just south of el-Tarif is Dra Abu el-Naga, which is a hillside with about 80 numbered tombs most belonging to priests and officials of the 17th through 20th dynasty, including some rulers of the 17th dynasty. Just southwest of Dra Abu el-Naga is an area called El-Assasif, where there are 40 tombs, mostly from the New Kingdom and later. Just south of El-Assasif is El-Khokha, a hill with five Old Kingdom tombs and 53 numbered tombs from the 18th and 19th dynasty.

Directly west of El-Khokha is Sheikh Abd el-Qurna. This hill was named for a mythical Muslim sheikh, and has 146 numbered tombs, most of which are from the 18th Dynasty. Here one finds some of the most beautiful private tombs on the West Bank.

Just north of Sheikh Abd el-Qurna is Deir el-Bahari, well known for the northernmost temples in the Valley, including that of Hatshepsut and Mentuhotep.

Finally, south of Sheikh Abd el-Qurna and near the Temple of Merenptah is Qurnet Murai, a hill with 17 numbered tombs mostly dating to the Ramesside period. Where there are probably thousands of tombs in these areas, Egyptologists have only explored and numbered a total of about 800 of them.

Further west is the highest of the peaks in the Theban range of hills. This is Qurn, which can be translated in Arabic to mean "horn", or "forehead". At this mountains northern base, fairly well separate from the other burials in the West Bank, is the Valley of the Kings. Along with a number of unfinished tombs, 62 numbered tombs are known to Egyptologists. This was the final resting place of many of the New Kingdom rulers.

South of the Valley of the Kings, and closer to the Nile lies the Valley of the Queens. This area is inappropriately named, because it houses family members of the kings, including both males and females, and even some high officials. There are about 80 numbered tombs in this area, probably the most famous of which is that of Queen Nefertari.

Just southeast of the Valley of the Queens is Deir el-Medina, the ruins of a village that housed the craftsmen and workers who dug and decorated the tombs and other Theban monuments. It is a very important area to Egyptology, because it has revealed many of the facets of ordinary life in Egypt, and there are some wonderful tombs in its necropolis. All along the border between the fertile section of the Valley and the hills we find Temples and one palace. The southern most temple is that of Ramesses III located at Medinet Habu. The palace, one of the southernmost monuments in the Valley, is at Malkata, just south of Deir el-Medina, and belonged to Amenhotep III, but was probably also inhabited by a few of his successors. At one time, it was a huge complex. The northernmost temple is that of Seti I, which at one time also probably served as an administrative center on the West Bank.

Religious significance and the Temples of Millions of Years

The Mortuary Temple of Hatshepsut on the West Bank at Luxor in Egypt

The temples within the Valley, each built by individual kings or queens, were collectively known by the Egyptians as the "Temples of Millions of Years". Early Egyptologists referred to them as funerary or mortuary temples, but in fact they were temples built for the worship of the deceased kings, and were even used for his worship while he lived. There were originally many more temples then one finds today, and those that remain are in much ruin.

Amun was the principle deity worshiped at Thebes, and the Pharaoh was considered his son. Celebrating this union, each year a celebration was held called the Beautiful Feast of the Valley, where the royal power was renewed and strengthened. Also, on the 30th year of the pharaoh's reign, the sed-festival took place in order to renew the king's strength, as well as the vitality of all Egypt. These celebrations took place in the Temples of Millions of Years, and so activity on the Theban West Bank was centered around the Temples, while the tombs themselves were for the most part off limits.

The temples were meant to honor the dead king, perhaps through eternity. In fact, they might more resemble a modern foundation or trust. They were intended to keep the king's cult alive, guaranteeing him eternal deification, and not simply through festivals.

For example, the storerooms of the Ramesseum were capable of storing enough grain for 15 to 20 thousand people. In effect, the temples were endowed with property and assets by the king before his death, so that after his death, the temple could continue to fund exploits and building projects in his name.

The Big Picture

Typically, tourists to the West Bank will spend a day there, or even a half day. They are shown a few tombs, including several in the Valley of the Kings, and perhaps one in the Valley of the Queens, and they visit several of the temples, most notably those of Deir el-Bahri. To an extent, this provides something of an overall picture of the West Bank, but its complexity and size are often not realized.

See also:

General Topics

General Areas



Other Miscellaneous






Reference Number

Complete Valley of the Kings, The (Tombs and Treasures of Egypt's Greatest Pharaohs)

Reeves, Nicholas; Wilkinson, Richard H.


Thames and Hudson Ltd

IBSN 0-500-05080-5

Valley of the Kings

Weeks, Kent R.



ISBN 1-5866-3295-7

Valley of the Kings

Heyden, A. Van Der

Al Ahram/Elsevier