Father of Ramses the Great
Tomb of Seti I: The Mighty Pharaoh
For preservation purposes, the tomb is closed to the general public and visiting requires special permits. Please book at least 60 days in advance.
Our tour includes special and private access to Seti I ’s tomb, the largest and most exquisitely decorated of the 62 sepulchers in the Valley of the Kings. Although famous for being the father of Ramses II, Seti I was considered a great leader during his 11 year reign, known for his military achievements and cultivation of the arts. Despite Seti I’s short life, his tomb is the most completely decorated, preserved and finished in the valley. Every inch of the passageways and chambers in the 446 foot long tomb are not just painted, but are also fully decorated with highly refined bas-relief. The quality and extensiveness of the design set the standard for all the Pharaohs that came after.
The discovery of this spectacularly preserved tomb in 1817 by the circus strongman-turned-Egyptologist, Giovanni Battista Belzoni, made headlines that ignited Egypt-mania throughout Europe. Excitement for Seti I’s tomb struck again in 2007 when further excavation by Egyptian antiquities chief, Dr. Zahi Hawass found a 570 foot passageway descending from the tomb. Entering into Seti I’s tomb, we will capture the spirit of discovery of these archeologists as we explore one of Egypt’s most treasured and rare experiences. Our touring done, we return by air to Cairo, and your hotel, where dinner awaits you.
The Discovery of the Most Enchanting Tomb of Seti I Father of Ramses the Great (Ramses II)
By Giovanni Battista Belzoni (published 1820)
On the 16th October, 1817 I recommenced my excavations in the valley of Beban el Malook (the Valley of the Kings), and pointed out the fortunate spot, which has paid me for all the trouble I took in my researches. I may call this a fortunate day, one of the best perhaps of my life; I do not mean to say, that fortune has made me rich, for I do not consider all rich men fortunate; but she has given me that satisfaction, that extreme pleasure, which wealth cannot purchase; the pleasure of discovering what has been long sought in vain, and of presenting the world with a new and perfect monument of Egyptian antiquity, which can be recorded as superior to any other in point of grandeur, style, and preservation, appearing as if just finished on the day we entered it; and what I found in it will show its great superiority to all others.
I caused the earth to be opened at the foot of a steep hill, and under a torrent, which, when it rains, pours a great quantity of water over the very spot I have caused to be dug. No one could imagine, that the ancient Egyptians would make the entrance into such an immense and superb excavation just under a torrent of water; but I had strong reasons to suppose, that there was a tomb in that place, from indications I had observed in my pursuit.
The local peasants who were accustomed to dig were all of opinion, that there was nothing in that spot, as the situation of this tomb differed from that of any other. I continued the work however, and the next day, the 17th, in the evening, we perceived the part of the rock that was cut, and formed the entrance.
On the 18th, early in the morning, the task was resumed, and about noon the workmen reached the entrance, which was eighteen feet below the surface of the ground. The appearance indicated that the tomb was of the first rate: but still I did not expect to find such a one as it really proved to be.
The local peasants advanced till they saw that it was probably a large tomb when they protested they could go no farther, the tomb was so much choked up with large stones which they could not get out of the passage. I descended, examined the place, pointed out to them where they might dig, and in an hour there was room enough for me to enter through a passage that the earth had left under the ceiling of the first corridor. I perceived immediately by the painting on the ceiling, and by the hieroglyphics in bas-relief, which were to be seen where the earth did not reach, that this was the entrance into a large and magnificent tomb.
At the end of this corridor I came to a staircase twenty-three feet long. From the foot of the staircase I entered another corridor, each side sculptured with hieroglyphics in bas-relief, and painted. The ceiling also is finely painted, and in pretty good preservation.
The more I saw, the more I was eager to see, such being the nature of man: but I was checked in my anxiety at this time, for at the end of this passage I reached a large pit which intercepted my progress. This pit is thirty feet deep, and fourteen feet by twelve feet wide. The upper part of the pit is adorned with figures. The passages from the entrance all the way to this pit have an inclination downward of an angle of eighteen degrees.
On the opposite side of the pit facing the entrance I perceived a small aperture two feet wide and two feet six inches high, and at the bottom of the wall a quantity of rubbish. A rope fastened to a piece of wood, that was laid across the passage against the projections which form a kind of door, appears to have been used by the ancients for descending into the pit; and from the small aperture on the opposite side hung another, which reached the bottom, no doubt for the purpose of ascending. We could clearly perceive, that the water which entered the passages from the torrents of rain ran into this pit, and the wood and rope fastened to it crumbled to dust on touching them.
At the bottom of the pit were several pieces of wood, placed against the side of it, so as to assist the person who was to ascend by the rope into the aperture. I saw the impossibility of proceeding at the moment.
The next day, the 19th, by means of a long beam we succeeded in sending a man up into the aperture, and having contrived to make a bridge of two beams, we crossed the pit. The little aperture we found to be an opening forced through a wall, that had entirely closed the entrance, which was as large as the corridor. The Egyptians had closely shut it up, plastered the wall over, and painted it like the rest of the sides of the pit, so that but for the aperture, it would have been impossible to suppose that there was any farther proceeding; and any one would conclude that the tomb ended with the pit.
The rope in the inside of the wall did not fall to dust, but remained pretty strong, the water not having reached it at all; and the wood to which it was attached was in good preservation. It was owing to this method of keeping the damp out of the inner parts of the tomb, that they are so well preserved. I observed some cavities at the bottom of the well, but found nothing in them, nor any communication from the bottom to any other place; therefore we could not doubt it being made to receive the waters from the rain, which happens occasionally in this mount
When we had passed through the little aperture, we found ourselves in a beautiful hall, twenty-seven feet by twenty-five feet, in which were four pillars three feet square. In the front of this first hall, facing the entrance, is one of the finest compositions that ever was made by the Egyptians, for nothing like it can be seen in any part of Egypt.
It consists of four figures as large as life. The god Osiris sitting on his throne, receiving the homage of a hero, who is introduced by a hawk-headed deity. Behind the throne is a female figure as if in attendance on the great god. The whole group is surrounded by hieroglyphics, and enclosed in a frame richly adorned with symbolical figures. The winged globe is above, with the wings spread over all, and a line of serpents crowns the whole. The figures and paintings are in such perfect preservation, that they give the most correct idea of their ornaments and decorations. At the end of this room, which I call the entrance-hall is a large door, from which three steps lead down into a chamber with two pillars. This is twenty-eight feet by twenty-five feet. I gave it the name of the drawing-room; for it is covered with figures, which, though only outlined, are so fine and perfect, that you would think they had been drawn only the day before.
The tomb of Seti I (KV17) is famous for being the largest and one of the most spectacularly decorated sepulchers of the New Kingdom pharaohs. Hidden in the Valley of the Kings, the ancient, royal burial ground near modern day Luxor, Seti I’s tomb set the precedent for the tomb art of subsequent pharaohs. The quality of the work is fitting, as Seti I was thought to have reined during the high point of Egyptian art.
Although he is now overshadowed by the fame of his son, Ramses II, Seti I was considered a great king during his time, known for his cultivation of the arts and his military achievements. Extensive building began during his short rein, including Karnak and the Hypostyle hall in the Temple of Amun. A majority of his military campaigns were victorious and during his 11 years in power he reclaimed most of Egypt’s disputed territories. Examination of Seti I’s well preserved mummy show that he died around the age of 40 from unknown causes. There is no evidence of violence and experts believe it may have been related to heart failure.
Unlike the other kings of the New Kingdom, Seti I’s tomb was nearly completed during his lifetime, which is particularly impressive because his rein was so short and the work was so extensive and exquisite. While tombs of previous kings only decorated the sarcophagus chamber, Seti I was the first to have colorful paintings and bas-relief covering the walls of every passageway and chamber. The artwork includes the most complete depictions of the Underworld Books, including the Amduat and the Book of Gates. The layout of Seti I’s tomb was architecturally based on Horemheb’s tomb, but it was the first to have a burial chamber with a high, vaulted ceiling.
When discovered in 1817 by the circus strongman-turned-Egyptologist Giovanni Battista Belzoni, most of the tomb’s treasures were already plundered. However the spectacular bas-relief artwork and the sheer size of the tomb ignited a fascination for Egyptian art and antiquities that spread across Europe.
KV17 was most likely looted relatively shortly after completion, probably during the late New Kingdom. To prevent further looting and desecration, Seti I’s actual mummy was moved by the Twenty-first Dynasty priests to Deir El-Bahari and was not found until 1881. His mummy is now housed in the Cairo museum.
Another fascinating aspect of Seti’s tomb is the tunnel leading down from the burial chamber. The passageway was originally discovered in 1960 but recent excavation performed by Egyptian antiquities chief, Dr. Zahi Hawass found that the tunnel is much longer than originally thought. The purpose of the tunnel is unknown, but it is speculated that it was either built as a passageway to the “true” burial chamber or as “an attempt to reach the mythical waters of the primeval ocean Nun.”
During the three years it took to excavate the passageway, archaeologists found shards of pottery and pieces of statuettes. They also discovered the walls of the tunnel were marked with preliminary sketches for decoration. In 2010 Zahi Hawass’s team hit a dead end in the excavation of the tunnel. He believes construction of the tunnel stopped because of the Pharaoh’s death.