Nefertari, whose name means "the most beautiful of them all "was not an ordinary queen. She was the beloved wife of the great pharaoh, Ramsses II who wore the crown of Upper and Lower Egypt for 67 years, probably starting in 1279 B.C. He was a king of both war and peace, and signed the world's first peace treaty. His popular title, Ramsses the Great, derived from his being a great builder who constructed many temples, statues and obelisks, leaving his stamp on monuments throughout Egypt.
Although Ramesses had several wives, Nefertari was his favorite and chief Queen until her death around 1255 B.C. They were married around 1279 B.C. and there is a shrine to Ramesses II at Gebel-El Silsileh with a stele from the first year of his reign and showing Ramesses and Nefertari performing religious rites before deities.
Nefertari gave Ramsses II his first-born son, the crown prince Amenhirkhopshef and at least three other sons and two daughters; in all Ramesses II had 92 sons and 106 daughters by his many wives. Nefertari had several titles shuch as (hmt-nsw-wrt) which means "great royal wife" (nbt-t3-wy) "Mistress of the Two Lands" (nbt-t3-w-nbw) "Mistress of all Lands", "beautiful of face" (nfrt-hr) and " sweet of love". (bnrt-mrwt).
Nefertari participated in both political life and affairs of state, and appeared beside her husband in festival ceremonies; Ramesses was eager to show her accompanying him. Because of her beauty and his love for her, he dedicated the small temple of Abu-Simble to her (Jointly with the goddess of love and joy, Hathor), an honor never granted to any other queen. There are six statues on the temple fašade, two portraying Nefertari in the same size as the king (33 feet high).
Ramesses II ordered that a beautiful tomb be built for his beloved wife in the Valley of the Queens which the ancient Egyptians called st-nfrw, "meaning place of beauty"; today it is known as "Biban-El-harim". It is located on the southwestern side of the Theban Necropolis.
The tomb of Nefertari is the most beautiful in the entire Valley of the Queens. It is an elegant structure with unusual decorative motifs and vividly colored scenes portraying Nefertari wearing long, transparent white garments and lavish jewels. She must have been a charming woman. She is shown with a beautiful face, slim-waisted body, delicate hand gesture and majestic posture which also reflect the skill of the artist. The ceiling of the tomb is decorated with yellow stars on a blue background, representing the heavens. The tomb was discovered by the Italian archeologist Schiaparelli in 1904. It consists of an entrance with a staircase leading down to a hall measuring 17 feet by 17.5 feet, where there is a rock-cut bench with niches and a cavetto cornice to hold funerary items. There is a side chamber to the right and a corridor with steps leading down to the burial chamber which has four pillars and three small side-chambers. The site of the sarcophagus is sunken slightly below the ground.
Unfortunately, the tomb was carved from poor quality limestone so that rainwater seeped through cracks and joints for several thousand years. Salts grew and crystallized behind the plaster layer with the paintings, pushing them outward and causing them to fall off.
The decoration on this tomb are religious-funerary and distinguished by fine detail and balanced composition; however, according to the opinions of some experts they are coldly academic. Visitors in general, on the other hand, are fascinated by the pictures. Schiaparelli had written that "the size of the figures, the variety of colors, the magnificence and firmness of style make this tomb one of the most important monuments in the Theban necropolis" It is important to highlight the profound symbolic meaning of the paintings on Nefertari's tomb which illustrate some chapters of a ritual the Egyptians called "Formulas for coming out into the day"; the title "Book of the Dead" was attributed to it relatively recently, in 1842, by the scholar R. Lepsius.
These paintings portray the Queen's long journey in the afterworld ("Duat" for the Egyptians). Alone, she comes before Osiris, Atum, Ptah, Thot and Ra, awaiting her "rebirth" on the eastern horizon of the heavens. Evidently, the queen had ordered her tomb to be decorated with illustrations relating to chapters 17, 94 , 144, 146 and 148 of the "Book of the Dead", as well as the unusual scene of the union of Ra and Osiris, a dominant theme in the ritual because she believed that those concepts and prayers would have certainly facilitated her rebirth.
The Wives of King Ramesses II
3. Bent-Anat, daughter of Isitnofret and wife of Ramesses II.
4. Meritamon, daughter of Nefertari and wife of Ramesses II.
5. Nebettaui, daughter of Nefertari and wife of Ramesses II.
6. Henutmira, the king's sister.
7. Maathorneferura, Hittite princess.
8. A second Hittite princess, name unknown.
Restoration and conservation works
Between 1934 and 1977, the restores of the Egyptian Antiquities Organization carried out several campaigns to stop the deterioration of the paintings and conserve the tomb. The treatments included removing part of the plaster layer and refixing it on new surfaces, but the method caused the colors to change; they also injected the cracks and fixed the edges of the plaster layer with gypsum, and covered the hanging parts with sheets of cotton cloth.
In 1986 the Egyptian Antiquities Organization, in cooperation with the Getty Conservation Institute agreed to undertake the challenge to save the tomb, in a major restoration project. The international team began to study the various aspects and problems in 1987: geological, chemical, biological, geographic, and conservation work. They recorded each area of damage, and analyzed pigments, plasters, salts and colors.
They found that the most deteriorated parts were in the deepest sections of the tomb, the burial chamber and its side-chambers.
Widespread deterioration, in the form of minute fractures, was found in the blue ceiling. Additional deterioration was found in the dark green color on the wall paintings and the worst type of damage was caused by the crystallization of rock salt, mostly sodium chloride. The restoration project got underway in 1988. The first phase was fixing the loose plaster flakes with Japanese paper to prevent them from falling. The dust was cleared away using dental instruments, the plaster layer was strengthened and Primal 3% that is a solution of consolidating acrylic resin in water was injected into the cracks: the joints were repaired with fresh mortar. The saltpenetrated parts of the plaster layer were separated carefully to clean the backs, and salt was removed from the rock by hand with surgical instruments, then the plaster layer was strengthened and replaced. The colors were cleaned with cotton moistened with Primal; the original colors came through and became bright without the need for any touch-ups. The work was finished in April 1992 and a staff of specialists kept the tomb under observation for three years.
The restoration and conservation project was indeed successful, and since November 1995, the tomb has been open to a limited number of visitors.