The Rock shrine
The number of chapels and shrines dedicated to various deities by the community of workmen at Deir el-Medina indicates their devotion and need for public religious expression. Any individual chapel would have provided a local residence for the god or goddess to whom it was dedicated and an area for offerings to that deity. The chapels symbolise the community's recognition of both local and national gods.
On the narrow path leading northeast from the Valley of the Queens to the village of Deir el-Medina, rising from the desert is a low hill, into the slope of which a few reliefs and inscriptions of Ramesside kings have been cut. To the right of them there is a rock-cut sanctuary of deities, who guarded the Theban necropolis. Nowadays the chapels are numbered A-G. One shrine was dedicated in the New Kingdom to the goddess Meretseger, another one to Ptah. The sanctuary was probably begun during the Ramesside period.
Several large stelae from the time of the reign of Ramesses III (1182-1151 BC) were cut into the bedrock at the northern end of the shrine. They are decorated with scenes of individuals
before various deities.
Stone walls surround an irregular courtyard of the large cave-like shelter at the southern end. During Coptic period it was used by hermits. Nowadays it is know by locals as "the snake room".
They are damaged and worn but the inscriptions are legible and cartouches with the king's name are present.
Detail of a hieroglyphic inscription
- nsw-bity nb tawy -
"the dual king of the two lands".
Pharaoh Setnakhte (1185-1182 BC) with the goddesses Mut of Asher and Hathor receives the heb-sed festival symbol from Amun-Ra and Ptah.
Traces of original pigment are left on the walls of the shrine.
Ptah's original cultic association seems to have been with craftsmen. The High Priest of
Ptah held the title wr kheper hmw - "supreme leader of craftsmen".
This badly eroded wall show remains of a relief of the goddess Meretseger with the head of a cobra. She was the goddess associated with the pyramidal peak of al-Qurn and presided over the whole Theban necropolis. Her name means "she who loves silence". She was primarily worshipped by the workmen of the royal necropolis.
The site was first excavated by Ernesto Schiaparelli in 1905. Fragments found there date to the 19th dynasty. As the rock that once formed the roof of the sanctuary had collapsed in several places and the whole sanctuary was full of stones and sand, the French Institute conducted the clearing of the site in 1926. A special permission from the Egyptian antiquities service was needed, because the rock-cut shrine already lay outside the borders of the French concession.
"Only a small number of workmen sufficed for the excavation; most problematic were the large boulders which had to be either crushed by stones and carried away piece by piece, or pulled out of the sanctuary on ropes. After turning over of one boulder, which had once formed a wall of the sanctuary, a stela was discovered engraved with scenes and inscriptions. We decided that we could not leave the stela in its place. As the stone was too heavy to be transported into our house, the scene with inscription was to be cut off. But before we received the necessary tools - we were not equipped for work of this kind - the entire stone was stolen at night and no trace of it or of the thieves was ever found. Fortunately, we had taken photographs after the discovery, as well as a hand copy and a proof leaf, so at least for study the stone is not completely lost. The photographs were sent to all antiquarians with a warning not to buy the inscription, because is stolen but I think that after some years the thieves will nonetheless succeed to sell it and the stone will appear in a European or American museum."
The excerpts came from Jaroslav Černý's manuscript of his lecture called "Ten Months on Excavations in Egypt", which was held in Cairo on April 4th 1932.
View of the Theban hills in the west from inside the rock shrine
"Ptah of the Place of Beauty", term often mentioned in ancient sources, is Ptah from one of the sanctuaries at the rock cut shrine
near the Valley of the Queens ("the Place of Beauty").
The area opposite the Ptah's shrine where traces of small stone huts of Ramesside date have been found.
We found this ancient graffiti about 10 meters down the path towards the Valley of the Queens.
Vandalism in the form of modern graffiti
Photography on this page © Lenka and Andy Peacock
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