Theban necropolis

New Kingdom private tombs

The area which is commonly called the “Theban necropolis” lies opposite the modern upper Egyptian town of Luxor on the west bank of the Nile along the western foothills of the Western Desert. Private tombs are located in the following private cemeteries, geographically from north to south (1) el-Tarif, (2) Dra’ Abu el-Naga, (3) el-Asasif, (4) el-Khokha, (5) Sheikh Abd el-Qurna, and (6) Qurnet Murai and the cemetery belonging to the village of Deir el-Medina. The modern names designate the villages built within the pharaonic cemeteries.

The necropolis of Sheikh Abd el-Qurna (2)

The ancient term for the whole region opposite the capital of Thebes was imntt W3st or imntt niwt, meaning “West of Wose” or “West of the City.” This designation comprises all the cemeteries and the village of Deir el-Medina, as well as the royal mortuary temples of the New Kingdom along the edge of the cultivation. The name for the pyramid-shaped hill surmounting the whole area was t3 dhnt, “The Peak,” which is today called el-Qurn. The cemeteries today called el-Tarif, Dra’ Abu el-Naga, el-Asasif, el-Khokha, Sheik Abd el-Qurna, and Qurnet Murai.


The history of the Theban necropolis started with the occupation of the site in the late Old Kingdom and the First Intermediate Period, when a few rock-cut tombs were carved in the hillock of el-Khokha, belonging to local nomarchs and their officials. Furthermore, some ruined mastabas (mudbrick tombs) of this period on the plain of el-Tarif have been recorded by Dieter Arnold. The necropolis reached its first heyday in the 11th Dynasty when the region of el-Tarif was occupied. Here the huge royal saff-tombs of the Intef kings had been constructed, with the tombs of their officials nearby. In the second half of the 11th Dynasty under King Mentuhotep Nebhepetre, the cemeteries were transferred to the Asasif, Deir el-Bahri, the hill of Sheikh Abd el-Qurna and the northern slope of Qurnet Murai.

Dra’ Abu el-Naga

Lining the various valleys, the private tombs were usually situated on the hillsides and were oriented toward the causeways of the royal funerary temples. In front of these 11th Dynasty tombs were large walled courtyards. The tomb façades were constructed with either plain slightly sloping walls or with a pillared portico. The general interior scheme of these tombs consists of a long corridor leading to a chapel with a statue niche and the entrance to burial shafts or sloping passages.


The cemeteries today called el-Tarif, Dra’ Abu el-Naga, el-Asasif, el-Khokha, Sheik Abd el-Qurna, and Qurnet Murai.

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In the 12th Dynasty, the Theban necropolis lost its importance until the 17th Dynasty, when Thebes again became the center of political power. While the kings of the 17th Dynasty built their tombs in all probability near the top of the Dra’ Abu el-Naga hills, the private tombs were situated in front of them along the slope of the hills and on the plain to the east. The rock-cut tombs of the higher-ranking officials of this period and the very beginning of the 18th Dynasty were constructed in nearly the same manner as those of the 11th Dynasty, continuing as corridor and saff-shaped tombs. There are changes in the shape of the portico pillars, the shortening of the corridor, and the enlarging of the chapel to a kind of broad hall, as well as a preference for deep vertical shafts rather than sloping passages. The tombs of the middle high-ranking officials were built on the plain, consisting of a shaft in the middle of a somewhat trapezoid courtyard, which was surrounded by a brick wall.

The necropolis of Sheikh Abd el-Qurna (2)

By: Rodolfo Valverde

A cult chapel, also built of mudbrick, was placed within this court. Both Dra’ Abu el-Naga and Sheikh Abd el-Qurna served as cemetery sites at the end of the 17th Dynasty. Following the geographical direction of the 18th Dynasty royal funerary temples along the edge of the cultivated land, the occupation of Sheikh Abd el-Qurna began in the north during the time of Hatshepsut and Thutmose III and ended up in the southern part of this region about the time of Amenhotep II and Thutmose IV. From then on the tombs were distributed more or less evenly in the different parts of the necropolis. The typical 18th Dynasty tomb of the Theban necropolis is the so-called “inverse T-shaped tomb,” whose inner rooms consist of a broad hall followed by a longitudinal corridor. This scheme can be enlarged by constructing additional pillared halls or by adding rooms and cult chapels according to the individual needs and taste of the tomb owner, his social rank, and financial resources.


The courtyards of these tombs, when situated on the hillslopes, seem to be open terraces, protected and lined by side walls with a rounded top. The tomb façades were likewise protected by a plastered wall of limestone rubble above the entrance. Within these walls, above the tomb entrances, there were sometimes little niches for stelophorus statues of the tomb owner, praising the rising sun. The top of the façade walls was built with a different type of molded bricks, containing the so-called rows of “funerary cones” which contained the names and titles of the tomb owners. With the era of Amenhotep III a new kind of private tomb layout appears, which resembles for the first time that of a funerary temple rather than the usual private tomb plan. Such large tombs could only be realized in the best rock strata, which caused the tomb owners to construct their sepulchers on the plains of Sheikh Abd el-Qurna, elKhokha, and el-Asasif.

TT 255 Dra 'Abu el-Naga

By: kairoinfo4u

Though none of these colossal tombs was ever finished, they were conceived following a similar scheme, with a large sunken courtyard and a ramp or staircase leading down, framed at the entrance by a kind of pylon. The courtyard has colonnades on all sides and the inner halls were planned to be pillared halls with several rows of columns or pillars in various shapes. For the first time since the 11th Dynasty, sloping passages seem to be the obligatory type of access to the burial chambers, but they are now elaborate bending tunnels.


Asasif. Asasif Project

After the interim of the Amarna period, the reoccupation of the Theban necropolis took place mainly in the region of Qurnet Murai, but there are a few tombs of the time of Tutankhamen until Horemheb on the plain of Sheikh Abd el-Qurna, el-Khokha and on the “main hill” of Dra’ Abu el-Naga. In Ramesside times, the majority of the tomb owners belonged to the clergy of the temple of Amen at Karnak and the military administration of Upper Egypt and Nubia. While the small tombs of lower-ranking Ramesside priests are scattered all over the necropolis, the hill of el-Mandara at Dra’ Abu el-Naga seems to be the favorite place for the high priests of Amen and viceroys of Nubia. The plans of the larger Ramesside tombs resemble those of the large tombs from the era of Amenhotep III, having one or two courtyards surrounded by colonnades with pylon gateways. The entrance to these tombs is usually framed with funerary stelae on both sides. Elaborate sloping passages with a sequence of subterranean chambers and a brick pyramid as a superstructure complete the plan.

Ramose Theban Tomb TT55

By: kairoinfo4u

With the 20th Dynasty, when only a few rock-cut tombs were constructed, the period of reusing older tombs began to flourish. Some of the usurped tombs received decoration and inscriptions, mostly on still undecorated walls, but the majority of the tombs received only numerous intrusive burials until the end of the Third Intermediate Period. During the 25th and 26th Dynasties, the Theban necropolis had its last peak period of construction. The region of el-Asasif in particular was dominated by the enormous mudbrick pylons, walls, and superstructures of the huge tombs of the Late Period. These buildings represent the last stage of Theban tomb development, following the tradition of the Ramesside period, but are even more connected with the idea of the netherworld, which is realized in the subterranean chambers and tunnels.

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