She was rewarded with her own temple at Abu Simbel and with a tomb in the Valley of the Queens, QV 66. It is a tomb of astonishing beauty.QV 66 was discovered in 1904 by Ernesto Schiaparelli (1856–1928) and it ranks as one of the great discoveries in Theban archaeology.
It was closed to tourists in the 1950s because of concern for its preservation, and from 1988 to 1995 it underwent a major conservation program by the Getty Conservation Institute. The tomb was reopened in 1995 to a limited number of tourists each day but, again, concerns for its safety forced its closure in 2003.
Now, only a few small groups willing to pay a very substantial fee will be allowed inside the tomb each year. Even with these restrictions, it is unclear for how long the tomb will survive.The problem is plaster. KV 66 was cut into a lowlying section of the Valley of the Queens where the bedrock is very friable. Unable to create a smooth surface, ancient artisans were forced to cover the rough-hewn walls with a thick layer of plaster before applying painted decoration.
But the weight of this plaster and the tendency for it to separate from the bedrock has caused the plaster to buckle. With no support from the stone behind, the plaster threatens to fall to the floor. The Getty Conservation Institute managed to slow the rate of buckling, but they could not completely stop it. The presence of sweaty tourists in the tomb adversely affects humidity levels and hastens the process of destruction.
One can only hope that in the future new conservation techniques will be developed and the serious problems faced by Nefertari’s tomb can be halted. Until then, one hopes that it remains closed and is regularly monitored. A steep flight of eighteen stairs leads down to the tomb entrance below a lintel bearing a plaque acknowledging Schiaparelli’s discovery. It is breathtaking to step through the doorway into the antechamber.
Brilliantly colored figures and elaborate hieroglyphs seem to jump out from a stark white background. The paint appears so fresh and bright it is difficult to believe that it is over three thousand years old. ANTECHAMBER The first scene to be noted is on the soffit of the doorway itself: a golden yellow solar disk rising between two red mountains in the eastern sky, flanked by two falcons wearing the headdresses of Isis and Nephthys.
On the thicknesses of the door it is still possible to make out the figure of the Upper Egyptian vulture goddess, Nekhbet, on the left, and the Lower Egyptian cobra goddess, Wadjet, on the right.On the right side of the antechamber’s front wall, above columns of a finely painted hieroglyphic text, a vignette taken from chapter 17 of the Book of the Dead shows Nefertari, wearing an elaborately pleated, almost transparent gown and a tight-fitting vulture headdress. She holds a scepter and sits beneath a woven reedcanopy on an elaborately painted chair on a reed mat, playing a game of Senet, a game rather like draughts.
She must defeat her invisible opponent in this game if she is to gain access to the netherworld. The text reads in part: “Here begins praises and recitations, going in and out of the realm of the dead, having benefit in the beautiful West, being in the suite of Osiris, resting at the food table of Wennefer, going out into the day, taking any shape in which he desires to be, playing at Senet, sitting in a booth, and going forth as a living soul by the Osiris Nefertari after she has died.” Farther right, the ba-bird of the queen stands atop her tomb and the queen herself kneels in prayer before the akeru, the horizon, defined by two mountains and two lions, shown on the adjacent wall. The painting of the two lions are worth looking at in detail. Rarely are so accurate and appealing drawings of lions to be found in Egyptian art. The delicate whiskers on their chins is a deft touch.On the antechamber’s left wall, to the right of the akeru, scenes from chapter 17 of the Book of the Dead continue.
The grey heron is a benu-bird, a sacred bird of Heliopolis associated with phases of the planet Venus and the soul of Ra. It faces a figure of Nefertari’s mummy that lies on a lion-headed bed beneath a canopy walled with elaborately woven and beaded cloth and flanked by falcons whose headdresses identify them as Isis (right) and Nephthys (left). The queen’s mummy is wrapped in white linen, bound with red strips, and she wears an elaborate pectoral collar and a bearded mask.
A black-skinned genie of the Nile, called a fecundity figure because of its pendulous breasts and protruding belly, holds a palm branch that symbolizes eternal time. He kneels before figures and a shrine that are now destroyed. A narrow ledge runs along the bottom of this wall and that to the right and is topped with a cavetto cornice.
Below are representations of small round-topped shrines, set inside recesses. Several hieratic graffiti of the Ramesside period can be seen on the sides of two of the recesses. They refer to the deliveries of the mud plaster needed by the artisans who worked on the tomb. Above columns of text and a doorway on the rear wall, two mummiform figures of Ra and Shu face left. To their right, Horus and Nefertari sit on thrones. Facing in the other direction, Horus sits with his four sons before him.
On the right wall of the antechamber, which frames a wide opening into the vestibule, stand figures of Osiris (left), surrounded by text and religious symbols in a curved-top shrine, and flanked by stylized leopard skins attached to inlaid poles. These are fetishes of Anubis. On the right, Anubis stands in an even more detailed shrine. Between them, cobras and blue ostrich feathers alternate on either side of a kneeling genie who touches two ovals each containing a wedjat-eye.
On the left side of the front wall, a very elegant figure of Osiris sits and holds a flail and scepter wearing the atef-crown. The flail is painted in considerable detail, and the tightly drawn cloth around the god’s waist makes a strong contrast to the simple white costume.
Most of the figures of Osiris in QV 66, especially the standing ones, show the god with almost feminine waist and hips. This is probably no accident: Nefertari was to be united with Osiris after her death, and these attributes are meant to suggest that this had already happened. The god sits in an elaborate shrine before figures of the Four Sons of Horus. To their right, Nefertari, equally well dressed, stands in adoration. VESTIBULE On the thicknesses of the wide gate into the vestibule, the goddess Serqet stands on the left with a scorpion on her head, and the goddess Neith stands on the right, wearing her symbol, a shield and arrows. The two deities are identically dressed in elaborate prints; only their headdresses differ.
Djed-pillars are carved on the pilasters immediately inside the next part of the vestibule.On the left side wall, Nefertari is led by the goddess Isis before the god Khepri, who sits on the rear wall of the vestibule. Isis is elaborately dressed in a tight-fitting dress and bejeweled with bracelets, arm bands, and tassles Khepri’s beetle-shaped head marks him as a manifestation of the sun god. His elaborate throne, like those on the other side of this wall has a scale-like pattern with the symbol of the unification of Upper and Lower Egypt on the lower back panel.On the other (right) side of the rear wall, RaHarakhty sits beside Hathor-Goddess-of-theWest, preparing to receive the queen. On the right wall, she is led forward by the god Horus-Son-of-Isis, called Horsiesi.
Above the doorway, the vulture goddess Nekhbet holds shen-glyphs in its paws; its wings are outstretched and covered with elaborately painted feathers. In all of these scenes, Nefertari presents an especially arresting figure. She has large almondshaped eyes heavily outlined with eyeliner, full lips, rouged cheeks, and pierced ears with elaborate earrings. In many scenes, she wears the vulture headdress typical of royal mothers. (In ancient Egyptian the vulture was called mwt, and those letters also spelled the word “mother.”) She is a shapely woman, her figure enhanced by the carefully draped gowns that she wears, the pleats carefully shown in shades of white and grey. SIDE CHAMBER Standing figures of the goddess Ma’at appear on the thicknesses of the doorway into the room.On the right side of the front wall of this 3 by 5 meter (10 by 16 feet) room, Nefertari stands before a table offering the hieroglyphs for “cloth” to the god Ptah. He stands in his small reed shrine with its shutters open.
Behind him is a large djed-pillar. On the left side wall, chapter 94 of the Book of the Dead tells how the queen asks the god Thoth to “bring me the water-pot and palette from the writing-kit of Thoth, and the mysteries which are in them.” Those instruments sit on a tall stand between the queen and the god.On the rear wall, Nefertari offers a huge pile of food offerings to a seated figure of Osiris and the Four Sons of Horus. The offerings include live cattle, haunches of beef, loaves of bread, baskets of grapes, vegetables, and smoking braziers. At right, another heap of food offerings is made to Atum. Like all the seated gods we have seen, these too sit on elaborately painted thrones.
In the right side of the chamber, the queen stands on the front wall in adoration before seven sacred cows and a bull drawn in two registers on the right side wall. This is a scene from chapter 148 of the Book of the Dead, which gives the cattle such names as the Much Beloved, Red of Hair, and Storm in the Sky That Wafts the God Aloft. The cattle have been deliberately selected for their special markings. Below, in a continuation of this chapter, stand the four steering oars of the four corners of the sky.
The queen is especially well dressed in this scene, thin limbs visible through her transparent dress, a large earring emphasized by her well-rouged cheeks. Behind Nefertari, a yellow vertical line separates this scene from that which follows. There, the goddesses Isis (right) and Nephthys (left) standwith a ram-headed god identified in two short columns of text as a fusion of two deities: “It is Ra who sets as Osiris,” “It is Osiris who sets as Ra.” INNER RAMP AND STAIRCASE This is a complicated piece of architecture, in which ramp and staircase are surrounded by gates, niches, and walls of different elevations and widths. Serpents wearing the crowns of Upper or Lower Egypt appear on the left and right thicknesses of the gate.
On the next thicknesses, the cartouche of Nefertari is flanked by two cobras. They, and the lilies or papyri below them, symbolize Upper Egypt, on the left, and Lower Egypt, on the right. On the upper left wall of the corridor, the queen stands before a wellstocked offering table presenting wine to Isis and Nephthys.
If you look closely at the queen’s face you can see that a senior artist has whited out paint where a junior artist had sloppily painted outside the outline of her mouth and chin. Such corrections are relatively common in the tomb and are indications of the careful work demanded by the senior artist. Behind the goddesses, Ma’at kneels with her winged arms stretched out protectively.
On the upper right wall, this scene is repeated but with the goddesses Hathor (“She Who isChief in Thebes”), Serqet, and Ma’at before a huge pile of offerings.On the next section of wall on both sides of the corridor, an elaborately drawn figure of the cobra-goddess Nekhbet is shown with wings protectively stretched toward Nefertari’s name. The ring-like hieroglyphs are shen-signs symbolizing “eternity.” Below the cobra on the left wall the god Anubis lies atop a chapel and, below it, the goddess Isis kneels on the hieroglyph for “gold.” The jackal wears a red cloth around its neck and has an elaborate nekhakha-flail beside its hind leg. In the accompanying text, thegod welcomes Nefertari into the netherworld. On the right wall, a similar welcome is offered by Anubis and Nephthys.
The hieroglyphs here, as generally throughout the tomb, are very finely drawn, with much internal detail.BURIAL CHAMBER This is a large chamber, 10.4 by 8.2 meters (33 by 26 feet). A shelf runs around its four walls, perhaps intended for storing burial equipment. The decoration in this large, pillared hall has two parts: the right half of the room is devoted to chapter 146 of the Book of the Dead; the left half of the room deals with chapter 144. On the right side of the front wall, Nefertari stands before nineteen columns of text from chapter 144, facing three genii who guard the first gate of the netherworld. The first genie, holding a leafy branch, is called He Whose Face is Inverted. He is followed by She with Ears of Fire, and the Shouter. Nefertari speaks to them: “I have paved theway, allow me to cross.” On the left side wall of the chamber, beyond a small doorway, the chapter continues and three genii guard the second gate. They are He Who Opens Their Foreheads, Virtuous Face, and the Burner.
The third of the five gates mentioned in chapter 144 is guarded by He Who Eats the Excrement of His Hinder Parts, Vigilant, and He Who Curses.The right side of the burial chamber is decorated with texts from chapter 146 of the Book of the Dead and vignettes show genii who guard the gates in the Field of Iaru, the domain of Osiris. One such genie, guarding the fifth gate in the middle of the wall, is the squatting, naked, knife-wielding, youth with an oddly- shaped head called Hentyreki, He Who Drives Away the Enemy.
On the rear wall, the queen pays homage to seated figures of Osiris, Hathor, and Anubis. In the middle of the left (west) wall, below the ledge, is a small, very plainly inscribed niche that housed the canopic chest and jars of the queen. The four pillars in the burial chamber display some of the best preserved painting in the tomb. Standing figures of Osiris, painted on the pillar faces closest to the tomb axis, are especially well done, with a complex iconography. Djed-pillars face the center of the room, where there is a depression in which the sarcophagus would have been placed. The front of each of the first two pillars show two forms of Horus wearing a panther skin. Other pillar faces are painted with figures of Anubis, Hathor, and Isis standing with Nefertari.
Three side chambers off the burial chamber have lost nearly all decoration and are closed to the public. Throughout the tomb, the ceiling is painted blue and covered with a myriad of fivepointed yellow stars.
From" The Illustrated Guide to Luxor" by kent R.Weeks ,published by the American University in Cairo Press. Copyright © 2005 White Star S.p.a