Deir el-Medina (also known as Valley of the Artisans) is the remains of a village near the Valley of the Kings, where the workers lived – architects, craftsmen and laborers – who designed and built the tombs that would usher their pharaohs to the world beyond.
This was extremely important work; a proper tomb helped ensure the pharaoh’s passage to the afterlife, as important for the people he left behind, his subjects, as it was for him. Although pharaohs were understood to be mortal men (and a very few women), they were believed to be a channel for divine power. Their actions directly affected whether Egypt was blessed or cursed by the gods. If pharaohs successfully entered the afterlife, they became fully divine and continued to represent their people as the sun god Ra and/or the god of the dead, Osiris.
Tomb builders and craftsmen worked in the oven-like insides of mountains by the light of small oil lamps. They carved long corridors and rooms out of solid rock with copper chisels. Rock walls were covered in plaster to make a smooth surface for the tomb paintings. Paints were made mostly from minerals. Blues and greens signified status because they were more expensive to produce.
The Egyptian Royal Cubit was the measurement used by the architects and engineers. It was approximately 52 centimeters, based on the length of the forearm from the elbow to the end of the middle finger. The cubit was subdivided into 7 palms, which were further subdivided into 4 fingers.
We know a lot about the architect and foreman of Deir el-Medina during the reigns of Amenhotep II, Tutmose IV and Amenhotep II in the 14th century BCE. His name was Kha and his wife was Meryt. Their exquisite little funerary chapel in the village is beautifully painted with scenes of their everyday life as a kind of prayer for what they hoped to carry into the afterlife. Even better, in 1906 their tomb was discovered in the nearby hills, INTACT. It’s one of the very few Ancient Egyptian tombs discovered that was not robbed of its contents many centuries ago. Kha and Meryt were quite well to do, probably noble, and they packed beautifully crafted objects to serve them in eternity. The contents of the tomb are in the Egyptian Museum in Turin Italy.
Deir el-Medina makes a good contrast to the grandeur of the Valley of the Kings. Clear footprints of the homes and the very human scale of the place, as well as the scenes of everyday life in tomb paintings give a good sense of how average Egyptians lived 3,500 years ago. A number of jewel-like little tombs have been discovered and are open to visitors. Admission tickets generally allow entrance to 3 tombs, which ones will rotate. Extra admission may be required for some tombs and chapels.
The path used by the workers to travel to work each day is still very usable and takes roughly an hour to walk.
Click here to see our tours to Egypt. Deir el-Medina can be added to fully private programs. Touring from Nile cruises may not include the site.