Living in the XIXth Dynasty (c. 1295-1255 B.C.), her full name was Nefertari Merytmut, meaning
"Beautiful Companion, Beloved of Mut". She was the Great Royal Wife of Ramesses II the Great, one of the best known of the Egyptian queens, next to Cleopatra, Nefertiti and Hatshepsut. Her tomb, QV66, is the largest, most lavishly decorated and spectacular in the Valley of the Queens. Ramesses II also constructed for her a temple at , next to his own colossal monument. He even made the size of her statues, on its facade, to the same scale as his own.
Ramesside queens' tombs represent, for the first time, a separate, parallel "queenly" counterpart to kings' tombs in terms of both form and function. The cosmography of Ramesside royal women's tombs was of such a high order of complexity that, like contemporary kings' tombs, each served as a microcosmic representation of the deceased's personal netherworld and evoked the processes of re-conception, renewal, and rebirth that the deceased was imagined to have experienced in the afterlife. Consequently, each queen's tomb reflected the desired—and autonomous—afterlife experience of the royal female tomb owner.
Furthermore, enhancements made to Ramesside royal women's tombs were part of an overarching Ramesside aggrandizement of all royal tombs. This phenomenon was propelled by an interlocking set of ideological, historical, and religious circumstances specific to the Ramesside period, but with roots in the late 18th Dynasty: a mythologization and elevation of the queenly role, the reinstatement of the "god's wife" title for women, the Ramesside dynasty's need to establish its own political legitimacy in the wake of a post-Amarna succession crisis, and a complex Ramesside reaction to the religious and ideological changes wrought by Akhenaten during the Amarna period.
Nefertari's origins are unknown, but discoveries in her tomb, which include a cartouche of the Pharaoh Ay (found on a what was either a pommel of a cane or a knob from a chest), suggest she may have been related to rulers of the 18th Dynasty, included Tutankhamun, Nefertiti, Akhenaten and Ay. She married Ramesses at age of thirteen, who was himself only fifteen, before he became pharaoh. She was the most important of his eight wives for at least the following twenty years. She died sometime during the 25th regnal rear of the reign of Ramesses and the reason for her death remains uncertain.
Although she had at least four sons and two daughters, none of these succeeded to the throne. The heir to the throne of Ramesses II was Prince Merneptah, his 13th son by another wife, Isetnofret.
Not all of the names of the 100 plus children of Ramesses are known, and in many cases their mothers cannot be identified with certainty. The following children can be attributed to Nefertari:
Prince Amun-her-khepeshef, crown prince, commander of the troops.
Prince Meriatum, high priest of Heliopolis.
Princess Meritamen, chantress of Amun and priestess of Hathor.
There could be others.
• "King's great wife": this, and the following three titles, identifies Nefertari as pre-eminent among the eight known wives of Ramesses II.
• "King's great wife, his beloved",
• "Wife of the strong bull",
• "God's wife",
• "Mother of the king", this confirms that one of Nefertari's sons had been chosen to succeed Ramesses.
• "Hereditary noblewoman", this indicates that Nefertari came from noble stock.
• "Great of praise",
• "Mistress of charm, sweetness and love",
• "Mistress of Upper and Lower Egypt": this, and the next two variants, indicates that Nefertari exercised some role in state affairs.
• "Mistress of the two lands",
• "Mistress of all lands",
• "Pleasant in the twin plumes": this refers to her preferred twin-plumed headdress, the same as the one worn by the god Amun.
• "For whom the sun shines": a unique inscription from the façade of her Temple at Abu Simbel.
• "Great of favours": possibly indicating some judicial role which she held.
It is worth noting that in the many occurrences of her titles, there are two hieroglyphic spellings for the word "mistress" or "lady". These are (
(nbt) and (
(Hnwt). The word mistress does not, of course, have its more modern meaning of "illicit lover". Perhaps to the ancient Egyptians they had a specific difference.
Discovered by Ernesto Schiaparelli in 1904, the tomb of Nefertari (QV66) is situated at the bottom of the north side of the main wadi in the Valley of the Queens.
The limestone in the Theban area is not of very high quality and it is fractured by earthquakes; it also has bands of flint. All of this means that several layers of plaster were required to be applied to the walls before painting.
Because of the many serious problems, which affected its beautifully painted walls, the tomb was closed to the public in the 1950's. Repairs had been carried out to try to stabilise the serious cracks in the plaster, of with large areas had completely broken away. But it wasn't until 1986 that the first serious modern work was carried out in order to stabilise the paintings, which was undertaken by the Getty Conservation Institute of America. Later, in February 1988, a full restoration started, preceded by a various studies carried out by an international team of scientists.
It was found that the main culprit for the damage was not ancient tomb robbers, but nature itself. Even here it was not earthquakes but salt which caused the problem. The local limestone contains salt, as did the mud from the Nile, used to make the plaster. The seepage of water through the rock had created crystals, which had caused the plaster to crack and the paint to flake. These crystals, which can grow extremely large, often to centimetres in size, have forced large areas of plaster from the walls, many of which it was impossible to restore. Even since the time of Schiaperelli's photography of the tomb, the effect of the destruction has been progressive, as best seen in a of the condition after the recent conservation and a black and white photo taken by Schiaparelli.
Earlier attempts at conservation was done by pasting large strips of paper or thick gauze over the cracks. These had a detrimental affect and had to be carefully removed, and the plaster and paint secured, using more modern techniques, before cleaning and final conservation work could be completed.
The aim of the project was to stabilise and clean the tomb, not to restore it to is original state. Small missing areas were, however, filled with plaster. These were not painted to match the missing colour, but were painted in "trattegio" (straight lines) to produce an almost identical match of colour; water based paint was used, for easy removal if at some future date it found to be inappropriate. This, from a distance, gives the visual effect of solid colour, but allows the area to be identified by future historians and conservators as not being the original.
The conservation was completed in April 1992, but the tomb wasn't reopened to the public until November 1995. Admission was severely restricted, limiting the group size and number of daily visitors in order to try to preserve the fragile micro climatic. No form of photography was allowed.
In January 2003 it was once again closed to the public. Even the limited number of tourists have an effect on the surface of the paintings. Their moist bacteria-laden breath causes mould to grow on the surface; the tomb is after all a closed environment. It opened again in 2016, but at a very restricted level.
When discovered, Nefertari's tomb was found to have been badly damaged, plundered and left open to the elements of nature and mankind.
Among the remains found by Schiaparelli were several scarabs, pieces from the queens pink granite sarcophagus lid and fragments from a guilded coffin lid. More details about the sarcophagus follow below. There was also many pottery fragments and remains of about thirty (or ushabti) figures, plus the of a shabti box. In one of the burial chamber wall recesses was found the from a magic brick. As mention previously, was what was either a of a cane or a knob from a chest, which included a cartouche of the Pharaoh Ay. The only body parts were of legs; see below.
Some items of Nefertari's jewelry appeared on the antiquities market in Luxor, in 1904. These were purchased by the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. They included a large guilded silver plaque, a small plaque of embossed gold, a guilded bronze pendant and four figurines of servants. It is reasonable to presume that these items were part of the queen's burial equipment.
During the conservation by the Getty Institute, a gold fragment from a bracelet was found in one of the burial chamber annexes.
Last, but not least, were a pair of Nefertari's sandals, which somehow escaped the clutches of looters.
The remains of the pink granite lid found by Schiaparelli are in the Turin museum.
The sarcophagus was oblong. As usual with royal sarcophaguses of the 18th Dynasty, it combined both images and texts. These texts are produced in longitudinal and transverse bands, imitating a mummy fastenings. See
At the foot end, the figure of Isis is located between Nekhbet and Wadjet, which would therefore lead one to assume that at the head end would have been two squatting Anubis figures either side of Nephthys. On top of the lid, level with her face, can be recognised the goddess Nut, with expanded wings, kneeling on the hieroglyphic sign for gold.
The supplication of Nefertari is addressed to the great goddess:
"[…] Descend, mother Nut, spread yourself onto my body so that you can place me between the eternal stars which are in you, and that I do not die […] " and the goddess replies:
"[…] I spread onto my daughter's body, the Osiris, the king's great wife, mistress of the Two Lands, Nefertari, beloved of Mut, justified, in the very name of Nut, Ra himself has purified you. Your mother Nut will is pleased to lead you towards the horizon, you are justified by the great god".
(Based on the translation by Anna Maria Donadoni Roveri).
One mystery remains: where is the main body of the sarcophagus? Had Nefertari's, as with so many others, been removed and re-used for another deceased in the Third Intermediate Period?
A disturbing fact was recorded by Christian Leblanc: when he searched the tomb of queen Tuya, the mother of Ramesses II, he recovered fragments of a pink granite sarcophagus with the name of… Nefertari !
Leblanc proposes that these fragments came from the main body of the queen's sarcophagus, which had been dragged outside of her tomb, then smashed. These pieces were then reused by the new occupants of the tomb of Tuya for internal functions.
Regarding the mummy: Schiaparelli only found part of the two knees in the funeral chamber, among shreds of material coming from the mummification.
This was a very sad end for "the most beautiful of all".
Entered via an flight of eighteen steps in a roughly northern direction, the tomb consists of seven chambers and a secondary flight of steps. It is built on two levels: three chambers are located at the upper level and the main burial chamber and its three annexes reached via the secondary stairway. The burial chamber is divided into three across its width, with the central section being 0.6m lower than the front and rear levels. This chamber also has four pillars.
The tomb's roughly south-north axis is not straight, but turns eastwards at the descent to the lower chambers. This deviation was almost certainly due to the fact that the architect had to take account some now unknown obstacle. The tombs on either side (QV68 and QV80) do not appear close enough to have been this cause.
The antechamber has a bench structure on two of the sides (west and north) onto which offerings were placed. This has spaces between supports, all of which were decorated. The burial chamber has a solid bench on all of its sides, being interrupted by the accesses to the three antechambers and a small niche, cut into the middle of the west side bench. This probably held a canopic chest containing the Nefertari's embalmed viscera.
The tomb and its decoration are of an exceptionally high quality, with almost every surface being decorated in vibrant colours. It would been produced by workmen responsible for the Valley of the Kings, from the village of Deir el-Medina. Although Nefertari died sometime during the 25th regnal year of the reign of Ramesses, all the evidence shows that her tomb was finished in time for her burial.
The work of producing the tomb would have involved several different types of craftsmen, each specialised in his own task. The work would have been progressive, each skill following the one before; none waiting for the whole tomb to be completed before starting. The stone masons (the excavators) would have still been working progressively in the many chambers as their work was continued by the plasterers laying at least two layers, to render the poor quality limestone fit for decoration. The final layer being one containing a mixture of vegetable gums to make the colours adhere better. Next, the designs would be produced in outline and other craftsmen would then carve the sketch in relief. Finally, the actual painters would use a rich palette of colours to finally bring the walls to life.
The ceilings throughout are painted deep blue and decorated with yellow stars. The exception being the soffit (ceiling) of the entrance doorway to the first chamber, at the bottom of the entry stairs.
At the bottom of all of the walls is a black dado (or protective area), separated from the scenes above by a red (upper) and yellow-ochre band. The exceptions being: under the bench of the antechamber and burial chamber; although a less deep version does exist above the benches of the burial chamber
The walls contain no images taken from her daily life, but consist of a journey through the underworld, to be united eternally with Osiris. The journey then continues outwards, to the doorway at the foot of the stairs leading to the upper world. Here the queen emerges from the eastern horizon reborn in the likeness of a solar disc (), to immortalise forever her victory over the world of darkness.
Because Nefertari wasn't a pharaoh and because there were no scenes of daily life, the choice of texts used on the walls was somewhat restricted. The ones finally chosen, either by the architects, the priests or perhaps Ramesses himself, were taken from the "Book of the Dead".