Sanctuary of Ptah and Meretseger
The artisans who inhabited the village of Deir el-Medina during the New Kingdom worshipped a variety of deities, constructing many small shrines and votive chapels in the vicinity of the village. Most of the chapels were situated at the northern end of the site, in the area where the Ptolemaic Temple of Hathor stands today. There was also a small shrine dedicated to Ptah, close to the workmen’s stopover huts on the mountain path between Deir el-Medina and the King’s Valley.
The cobra-goddess Meretseger, sometimes identified as a form of Hathor or ‘Goddess of the West’, was a favourite among the workmen. Her name means ‘she who loves silence’ and she was believed to live in el-Qurn, the mountain overlooking the King’s Valley. Her realm encompassed the whole of the Theban necropolis, but the families of Deir el-Medina in particular dedicated many shrines to her, believing that she punished crime by blindness from the venom in her bite and hoped for atonement by erecting stelae in her name. One of the largest of her rock-shrines is situated to the south of the village on the mountain path to the Valley of the Queens and here many stelae were erected on behalf of kings and high officials of Dynasties XIX and XX.
The god Ptah originally came from Memphis and he was regarded as the patron of craftsmen. The sanctuary of Ptah and Meretseger appears to have been begun at the beginning of Dynasty XX, but fragments found there from Dynasty XIX suggest that it may have been used from an earlier date. It was first excavated by Ernesto Schiaparelli in 1906.
There were seven small shrines or chapels at the site, now mostly ruined. Large stelae were set up in the rear of the shrines and some of these can still be seen but the reliefs are very worn or damaged now and some are almost impossible to distinguish unless seen in the right light. Most of the stelae bear the cartouches of Rameses III, but in one of them which is better preserved, a depiction of the pharaoh Setnakht can be seen with the goddess ‘Mut of Asher’ and Hathor, receiving the heb-sed symbol from Amun-Re and Ptah. On one of the badly eroded walls is a large shallow relief of the goddess Meretseger with the head of a cobra. Some of the stelae, although in bad condition, still have remnants of their painted colours.
1 Stele to Meretseger, Deir el-Medina, Dynasty XVIII-XIX (Museo Egizio, Turin)
2 Statue of the goddess Meretseger with a human head and the body of a cobra. From Deir el-Medina, Dynasty XVIII-XIX. (Museo Egizio, Turin)
3 Limestone stela from Deir el-Medina, Dynasty XIX. (Museo Egizio, Turin)
4 Statue of the goddess Meretseger with a human head and the body of a cobra. From Deir el-Medina, Dynasty XVIII-XIX. (Museo Egizio, Turin)
A large cave-like shelter at the southern end of the site was used by hermits in the Coptic period and is locally (and ominously) known as ‘the snake-room’.
How to get there
At the southern end of the workmen’s village a narrow path leads over the hill to the west towards the Valley of the Queens. Concrete steps (leading to the military post on the mountain) have now been conveniently built on the steepest part of the hill. At the peak of the first hill the path forks in two directions – take the left fork which turns off to the south and slopes gently downwards towards the Queen’s Valley. The shrines can be found after a few minutes walk, halfway along the path.
For more pictures and information see Images of Deir el-Medina