Journal: Friday 15 October 1999
Last night Jenny and I discussed what we would do today and decided that we would visit Deir el-Medina, so we were ready to go out early for another trip across the river on the passenger ferry. Once on the West Bank we caught an arabeya to the taftish and bought tickets as Jenny wanted to see the temple and the tombs, as well as the workmen’s village.
I never get tired of visiting the same sites over and over again. There is always something new to look at and it’s good to go with someone who hasn’t been before as I can see things through new eyes. Today we walked through the village site at Deir el-Medina, looking at the detail of the houses and trying to imagine what life would have been like here in the New Kingdom period. We were alone among the houses as there were no crowds of tourists this early. The silence of the desert seemed all around us, a light breeze blew sand in tiny dust devils around our feet. But I could picture those ancient people taking part in the absorbing rhythm of their daily lives, hear their conversations, their children squabbling, grain being pounded in a quern in a corner of a distant house or a donkey braying. I could almost smell the aromas of kitchen fires where women would be preparing the daily meal for their men returning home from a ten-day shift in ‘The Great Place’.
The workmen’s village at Deir el-Medina is fairly unique in Egypt because of the massive amount of information which has come to light from excavations here. The community of men, women and children, usually around one hundred at any time, lived in a fairly isolated seclusion and we know of many of their family relationships from textural evidence in the form of documents and ostraca which gave details of everyday life in the village. The men were mainly employed as artisans working on the construction and decoration of the royal tombs as well as tombs for the Theban elite and for themselves and their families. Each man had his own skills and would belong to gangs of similar professions. They were a highly organized community and many of its inhabitants were literate. The texts they left behind include everything from humorous satirical writings and sketches to laundry lists, wills and pious prayers carved on elaborate votive stelae.
After we had been to see the temple of Hathor, which I know well after several visits here, we walked back through the village to the tomb of Sennedjem with its brightly painted scenes and wonderful depiction of the ‘Fields of Iaru’ on the end wall. Next we went into the tomb of Inherkau where there is a lovely picture of the serpent Apothis fighting a cat, one of my favourite scenes in this tomb. Back outside in the sunshine we browsed the bookstall and I bought Jocelyn Gohary’s book ‘Guide to the Nubian Monuments on Lake Nasser’. Maybe one day I would get to see them.
Leaving Deir el-Medina in the late morning Jenny and I walked over the mountain towards the Queen’s Valley, stopping at the shrines of Ptah and Meretseger, where the artisans of the workmen’s village set up votive chapels to their local gods, Ptah, as patron of craftsmen and Meretseger, ‘She who loves Silence’, goddess of the Western Mountain. There were originally seven small chapels here where large stelae were set up to honour kings (mainly Rameses III) and several deities. The chapels are now ruined but many fragmentary reliefs can still be seen. I especially wanted to photograph Meretseger if the light was right, a relief which is very shallow and not easy to capture on film. She has the head of a cobra and a slim human body. We spent quite a long time looking at the shrines, trying to work out where each one was situated, with my trusty copy of ‘Porter and Moss’ in hand.
By this time it was very hot and we made our way down into the Valley of the Queens and walked along the road to Medinet Habu. The Rameses Cafe and a cool drink were beckoning.