The rulers of the Eighteenth, Nineteenth, and Twentieth Dynasties of Egypt’s prosperous New Kingdom (c.1550–1069 BC) were buried in a desolate dry river valley across the river from the ancient city of Thebes (modern Luxor), hence its modern name of the Valley of the Kings. This moniker is not entirely accurate, however, since some members of the royal family aside from the king were buried here as well, as were a few non-royal, albeit very high-ranking, individuals. The Valley of the Kings is divided into the East and West Valleys. The eastern is by far the more iconic of the two, as the western valley contains only a handful of tombs. In all, the Valley of the Kings includes over sixty tombs and an additional twenty unfinished ones that are little more than pits.
The site for this royal burial ground was selected carefully. Its location on specifically the west side of the Nile is significant as well. Because the sun god set (died) in the western horizon in order to be reborn, rejuvenated, in the eastern horizon, the west thus came to have funerary associations. Ancient Egyptian cemeteries were generally situated on the west bank of the Nile for this reason.
The powerful kings of the New Kingdom were laid to rest under the shadow of a pyramid-shaped peak rising out of the cliffs surrounding the valley. The selection of even the specific valley in which the royal tombs were excavated was not left to chance. The pyramid was a symbol of rebirth and thus eternal life, and the presence of a natural pyramid was seen as a sign of the divine. This entire area, and the peak itself, was sacred to a funerary aspect of the goddess Hathor: the “Mistress of the West”.
The isolated nature of this valley was yet another reason for its selection as the final resting place of the pharaoh. Tomb robberies occurred even in ancient times. The Egyptians were aware of this, having seen the a fate of the Old and Middle Kingdom pyramids, so they opted for hidden, underground tombs in a secluded desert valley. The first New Kingdom ruler that is confirmed to have been buried in the Valley of the Kings was Thutmose I (c.1504–1492 BC), the third king of the Eighteenth Dynasty. According to Ineni, the high official who was in charge of the digging of his tomb: “I oversaw the excavation of the cliff-tomb of his Person [the king] in privacy; none seeing, none hearing.”