Deir el-Medina, Egypt

Deir el-Medina - Valley of the Kings workers village on the west bank of the Nile, near Luxor

Deir el-Medina – Valley of the Kings workers village on the west bank of the Nile, near Luxor

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.

Egyptian Royal Cubit rod from the Louvre in Paris

Egyptian Royal Cubit rod from the Louvre in Paris

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.

small statue of Kha from his tomb, Egyptian Museum of Turin, Italy

small statue of Kha from his tomb, Egyptian Museum of Turin, Italy

objects from the tomb of Kha and Meryt, Egyptian Museum of Turin, Italy

objects from the tomb of Kha and Meryt, Egyptian Museum of Turin, Italy

objects from the tomb of Kha and Meryt, Egyptian Museum of Turin, Italy

objects from the tomb of Kha and Meryt, Egyptian Museum of 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.

wall painting from the tomb of Inerkhau, Deir el-Medina, Egypt

wall painting from the tomb of Inerkhau, Deir el-Medina, Egypt

wall painting from the tomb of Pashedu, Deir el-Medina, Egypt

wall painting from the tomb of Pashedu, Deir el-Medina, Egypt

wall painting from the tomb of Sennedjeu, Deir el-Medina, Egypt

wall painting from the tomb of Sennedjeu, Deir el-Medina, Egypt

Temple of Hathor from the Ptolemaic period, more than 1,000 years after Kha and Meryt lived in Deir el-Medina

Temple of Hathor from the Ptolemaic period, more than 1,000 years after Kha and Meryt lived in Deir el-Medina

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.

The Real House Wives of Ancient Egypt

Nefertiti

Nefertiti

Is there a reader on your Christmas list who is fascinated with ancient Egypt?
How about you? Here are three page-turners, full of real, historical intrigue and well-drawn, relatable characters – Michelle Moran’s historical fiction novels about three of ancient Egypt’s most famous women:

Nerfertiti
Nerfertiti was the wife of the iconoclastic pharaoh Akhenaten, best known for his monotheism. He worshiped the sun god Aten, to the exclusion of the many other Egyptian gods. Nefertiti is popularly known for her great beauty, based on the bust pictured above. There is no question she was at the center of one of ancient Egypt’s most interesting periods.

The Heretic Queen
This is the story of Nefertari, queen of Ramesses II (the Great), who reigned for 66 years and is widely considered Egypt’s most powerful pharaoh and possibly the pharaoh, Moses’ adopted brother, who refused to set the Hebrew slaves free in the Exodus story. Ramesses II’s love and respect for Nefertari is exemplified in the temple he built for her at Abu Simbel. Not only is it one of the few temples built in the name of a queen but it’s the only known instance in ancient Egyptian art where a queen is portrayed equal in size to the pharaoh. Nefertari’s tomb is spectacular, the most beautiful of all the royal tombs discovered in Egypt.

Cleopatra’s Daughter
Cleopatra was the last pharaoh of Egypt, although she was actually Greek and didn’t even speak Egyptian. She was a member of the Ptolemaic Dynasty that ruled Egypt from the conquest of Alexander the Great to that of Rome. Cleopatra’s daughter, Cleopatra Selene II and her twin brother Alexander Helios were the products of Cleopatra’s affair with the Roman officer Mark Antony. This book tells the story of Cleopatra Selena II after the death of her parents, when she was taken to Rome by her parents’ rival, Octavian, the future Roman Emperor Augustus.