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Take a VR Tour of an Egyptian Queen’s Elaborate Tomb

The resting place of Queen Nefertari, the favorite wife of Ramses II, is largely closed to visitors, but it can now be explored virtually

A look inside the VR experience (Nefertari: Journey to Eternity - Trailer screenshot)
smithsonian.com

When Queen Nefertari died some 3,000 years ago, she was buried in an elaborate tomb adorned with beautiful, intricate wall paintings. Today, due to conservation concerns, the tomb, located in the Valley of the Queens, has been largely closed off to visitors. But as Owen Jarus reports for Live Science, a new virtual reality experience is opening the doors of Nefertari’s resting place to visitors from afar, who can explore the grandeur of the ancient site from the comfort of their homes.

Nefertari: Journey to Eternity is a collaboration between the streaming service CuriosityStream and the developer Experius VR, which sent three of its people to map the Egyptian tomb. Over the course of two days, the team captured the nuances of the tomb’s chambers and passages using 3D scanning technology and thousands of overlapping DSLR photographs, according to a CuriosityStream press release.

The VR experience, which can be downloaded on Steam and Viveport, not only lets viewers take a virtual tour through the tomb, but also features interactive elements that share details of the site’s history, art and construction.

Journey to Eternity is available for free, but you’ll need a Vive headset to enjoy the experience. Emma Tiernon, a spokesperson for CuriosityStream, tells Jarus that the team is aiming to make the tour compatible with other headsets.

Details of Nefertari’s life are scant, but she is believed to have married Ramses II while he was still the crown prince of Egypt. Ramses II had many wives, but he favored Nefertari. When she died, he ordered a rock-cut temple at Abu Simbel built in her honor, with enormous statues of the royal couple carved into the stone. According to the Getty Conservation Institute, Nefertari’s statue is “uniquely represented in the same size” as Ramses II, suggesting that she was not only a favorite of her husband, but likely a figure of political importance in her own right. An inscription on the temple proclaims that Ramses II built the temple “for his principle wife Nefertari … for whom the sun doth shine.”

The queen’s tomb was rediscovered in 1904. It had been looted in antiquity, but the beautiful decorations inside were still intact. According to Lonely Planet, the tomb’s ceiling is covered in painted gold stars, and various wall paintings depict Nefertari both in the company of the gods and as a divine figure, wearing a white gown and a golden headdress.

The Getty, in collaboration with Egypt's Supreme Council for Antiquities, undertook a restoration of the tomb between 1986 and 1992. Since then, the tomb’s doors have been opened only occasionally for small groups of tourists who pay £1,000 Egyptian pounds per person (around $56 USD) for the privilege of access, according to Jarus. But conservators worry that increases in humidity, which foster the growth of bacteria and fungi, will damage the wall paintings if the doors are opened frequently.

Fortunately, Journey to Eternity allows curious explorers to immerse themselves in the tomb while ensuring that the historic site does in fact stay safe for many years to come.

About Brigit Katz

Brigit Katz is a freelance writer is based in Toronto. Her work has appeared in a number of publications, including NYmag.com, Flavorwire and Tina Brown Media's Women in the World.

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