The village of Deir-el-Medina

3d model and reconstruction

The village of Deir-el-Medina

The reconstruction of this village shows what it must have looked like during the age of Ramesses, the time of its greatest expansion, with the wall surrounding it and two accesses: one to the north (the main entrance) and the other to the south; the main road divided the village into two, from north to south and the secondary roads joined its eastern and western sections.

The houses had three or four rooms; they were aligned along the main road. To the north you can see the reconstruction of the Temple of Hathor, still perfectly preserved, built by Ptolemy IV, whose structure also includes more ancient temples. In this case, as for many other Egyptian temples and sanctuaries, of fundamental importance was the graphic work in Description de l’Égypte, published in Paris between 1809 and 1829.

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Short history of

The village of Deir-el-Medina

The village of Deir el-Medina, which its inhabitants called Pa-demi, “the town”, was founded at the beginning of the New Kingdom by Thutmosis I, the first sovereign buried in the Valley of Kings. This is where the workers, artisans and artists lived who built and decorated the tombs of royals and their family members.

The site was undoubtedly chosen because of its strategic position, being isolated but at the same time central with respect to the worksites: the Valley of Kings, to the north, is about twenty minutes on foot and the Valley of Queens, to the south of the village, could be reached in just ten minutes. During the reign of Thutmosis I, the village, surrounded by a raw brick wall six or seven meters tall, included twenty houses with the same plan and aligned along the central road which connected, from north to south, the two village entrance points. Under Thutmosis III about a dozen houses were added. During the Amarna period the village was abandoned, its inhabitants followed pharaoh Akhenaton and went to live in a village similar to Deir el-Medina near Tell el-Amarna in Middle Egypt. With the XIX dynasty, Deir el-Medina started to thrive again and the village was expanded with a new quarter. A census of the XX dynasty lists a total of 120 households, about 1200 people.

The remains of the village visible today are the constructions of the Ramesses period, when the village enjoyed its maximum expansion. Indeed, the tombs of these sovereigns in the Valley of Kings became increasingly large and extended, requiring an increasing amount of labour. The settlement covers an area of about 5600 m2, it was surrounded by a wall with two gates, one to the north, the main entrance, and the other to the south. The village inside was divided into two quarters by a road which ran from north to south, while two smaller transversal roads connected the east and west sections. A total of 68 houses has been found, where workers lived with their families, all with a very similar plan. The community called “Tomb team”, which lived in the village, was a subgroup of a larger institution known as “The Tomb”. It was created to guarantee the protection and smooth running of the royal and princely necropolises on the western bank of Thebes. The Visir of Upper Egypt, who ran the institution on behalf of the king, entrusted the team with the work to be done and made sure it was completed; moreover he was in charge of worker procurement and of their wellbeing. The whole administrative, community and religious life of the village took place in the northern section of the walls. These included votive chapels built by the workers themselves who formed fraternities, where they met and worshipped their deities. Also to the north of the village there was a construction known as “Tomb checkpoint”; this is where workers received their supplies, service orders and once a month their salary in cereals with which they could make bread and beer, their staple food. The Tomb team generally consisted of 40 to 60 people, but the number varied from one kingdom to another. They were divided into two groups, “left” and “right” each of which worked on one of the two halves of the royal tomb which had to be excavated and decorated. Each of the two groups had a foreman, assisted by a deputy; a common scribe, working on the site, had the important task of keeping administrative records of the most relevant events every day: work progress, workers’ absence, supplies, etc. The work continued all the year round and there were two days of rest every eight working days. During these two days the workers were free to work on the construction of their tomb, pray in the fraternity chapels or take part in religious processions.