Tomb of Queen Nefertari (QV66)
The tomb of Queen Nefertari was discovered in the Queen’s Valley by Ernesto Schiaparelli, Director of the Turin Museum, in 1904. Schiaparelli conducted extensive excavations in the Valley during the two years he worked there until he decided it was exhausted. Nefertari’s tomb is considered to be the most beautiful of all the queens’ tombs, both for its design and its brilliantly coloured painted decoration.
1 Model of the Tomb of Nefertari, (Egyptian Museum, Turin)
2 Djed Pillar from the Tomb of Nefertari (Egyptian Museum, Turin)
It’s recent fame is in its restoration, completed in 1992 by the Egyptian Antiquities Organisation and the Getty Conservation Institute. The restoration began as a rescue operation when it was realised that the paintings were badly deteriorating due to the effects of dampness. Many attempts at conservation had previously been made, then in 1988 an international team of expert conservators undertook the rescue of the tomb, studying the problems and implementing geological, chemical and other scientific methods of stabilisation. The plaster was strengthened and the damaged areas were painstakingly repaired, and finally cleaned, so that the tomb looks like it was painted only yesterday. Nefertari’s tomb did not open to the public until 1995, after being kept under observation for three years to ensure that the work had been successful.
Nefertari Mery-en-Mut, whose name means ‘most beautiful, beloved of the goddess Mut’, was the Great Royal Wife of Rameses II. Her tomb reflects the queen’s position in the eyes of her husband in the beauty of its construction, its vivid colours and unusual scenes, and the many favourable epitaphs which describe her beauty and her sweet and charming nature.
At the bottom of an entrance stairway, the outer lintel of the doorway has the usual Ramesside depiction of a sun disc between the goddesses Isis and Nephthys in the guise of kites. This leads to an offering hall decorated with scenes of the queen worshipping and offering to various deities, and scenes from the ‘Book of Gates’. An unusual feature in this hall are the stone benches supported by pillars which project from the north and west walls, presumably placed to contain offerings or funerary items for the deceased. Also on the western side, we can see Nefertari engaged in a game of senet while seated in a kiosk with her ‘ba’ in front of her perched on the shrine. A ‘benu’ bird represents the soul of the god Re and the queen’s mummy can be seen laid on a couch watched over by Isis and Nephthys. On the northern wall, partially ruined, the four Sons of Horus stood guard over a shrine of Anubis.
An opening on the eastern side of the offering chamber leads to a side-room, its entrance flanked by Anubis on the right and Osiris on the left. Inside the small vestibule Nefertari can be seen being led by Isis to the scarab-headed god Khepri (north) and by Harsiese to Re-Horakhty and the Western Goddess (south) after being greeted by the goddesses Selkis and Neith.
The inner chamber, with the goddess Nekhbet as a vulture on the lintel, leads into the side-room where the queen offers cloth to Ptah and a djed pillar on the left-hand western wall. The northern wall depicts her before the god Thoth, offering a palette and ink-pots as the text of Chapter 94 of the ‘Book of the Dead’ prescribes. The right-hand western wall symbolises the union of Osiris and Re, depicted by a ram-headed mummiform Re between the goddesses Isis and Nephthys. Following the wall round to the south with Chapter 148 of the ‘Book of the Dead’, Nefertari adores seven celestial cows and a bull together with the sacred oars from the four ‘Helms of Heaven’. The eastern wall contains a double scene of the queen making offerings to Atum and Osiris.
Back in the offering hall four squatting ‘Sons of Horus’, together with Neith and Selkis lead us through a short corridor to another flight of stairs showing funerary texts and offering scenes (Hathor, Nephthys and Ma’at on the left and Hathor, Selkis and Ma’at on the right). The stairs lead to the doorway of the large burial chamber.
Four large square pillars, decorated on each side with scenes of Nefertari with various deities, dominate the burial chamber and support its astronomical ceiling. On each pillar a mummiform Osiris is depicted on one of the sides, wearing the same red sash as worn by Nefertari, suggesting that the queen and the god have become one. The walls of the chamber are largely decorated with scenes from the ‘Book of Gates’ (Chapters 144 and 146 of the ‘Book of the Dead’) with the accompanying guardians for each Gate. Nefertari’s burial was destroyed in antiquity, the tomb plundered and left open, although several fragments of burial equipment, including fragments of a gilded wooden coffin and rose granite sarcophagus lid were found by Schiaparelli.
There are two lateral annexes and a rear inner room off the burial chamber, but the decoration in these rooms is poorly preserved compared to the main part of the tomb, with only a few fragments of the once brightly painted plaster remaining.
The ceilings throughout the tomb are beautifully decorated with yellow stars against a deep blue background.
Since its opening in 1995 there have been many restrictions placed on entry to the tomb of Nefertari. However, in January 2003 the tomb was completely closed to visitors for an indefinite period in order to investigate the condition of the painted walls which are thought to be deteriorating.