During the 18th to 20th Dynasties of the New Kingdom of Egypt (ca. 1550–1080 BCE), Deir el-Medina, or Daiyr el-Madinah, was an ancient Egyptian workmen’s hamlet that was home to the artisans who worked on the tombs in the Valley of the Kings. Set maat “The Place of Truth” was the settlement’s original name and the workers who resided there were known as “Servants in the Place of Truth.” The temple of Hathor was transformed into a church during the Christian era, giving it the Egyptian Arabic name Deir el-Medina (“town monastery”).
While the world’s attention was focused on Howard Carter’s discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb in 1922, a team led by Bernard Bruyère began excavating the site. This research has resulted in one of the most comprehensive descriptions of communal life in the ancient world, spanning over 400 years. There is no other site that allows you to study a community’s organization, social relationships, working, and living circumstances in such depth.
On the west bank of the Nile, across the river from modern-day Luxor, the site is located. The town is set in a tiny natural amphitheater, with the Valley of the Kings to the north, funerary temples to the east and south-east, and the Valley of the Queens to the west all within easy walking distance. Because of the delicate nature of the work done in the tombs, the settlement may have been established away from the rest of the community in order to maintain concealment.
The tombs’ wall murals, which differ in style from those that cover the kings’ tombs and are a colorful picture of ordinary Egyptian life, are definitely worth a visit.
The Tomb of Sennedjem, a 19th-dynasty artist, is a must-see. It features a domed burial chamber with religious reliefs and paintings, including a beautiful depiction of a funeral supper. The tomb’s contents, found in 1886, are presently on exhibit in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo.
After seeing the tombs, go up the cliff behind them to Deir el-temple, Medina’s which lies atop the ruins of the workmen’s hamlet. The tiny temple, which dates from the Ptolemaic dynasty and is devoted to the deity Hathor, is a considerably newer addition to the site.