High on the hill overlooking Luxor is the village of Qurna. Upon first glance it appears that nobody lives here. Brightly painted ramshackle houses greet you as you climb to the top. The view is magical, overlooking the Nile Delta and the vast array of temples a mere wave away.
The first written accounts of this village date back to the 1600s, when two missionary brothers travelled throughout Upper Egypt documenting their experiences. What they describe can still be seen today but not perhaps for much longer.
The village sits upon dozens of ancient tombs that form part of the huge necropolis of Thebes on the west banks of Luxor. Since the 1960s, local authorities have gradually relocated the villages to enable the recovery of the tombs. Tales of pilfering are well circulated with fears that much of their treasured content is long taken.
Many of the 3,200 residents have already left to a new settlement a few kilometers away. The housing provided is vastly different from their hilltop life, with small close knit units they say put them on top of each other and cut them off from their traditional way of life.
I visited the women of a family who would like to stay. Over tea they shared their laughter and home. Their brightly painted walls give way to rooms filled with straw and livestock.
At the back of the house is a bright blue door which leads into the rock face. Inside its instantly dark and cooler. They tell me it's their storeroom. It's hard to tell how deep it goes. Locals tell of stories where houses are linked directly to the temples through a series of tunnels. I could well believe it as I looked into the dark endless distance.
It’s uncertain how long they will be able to stay with most of the village already bulldozed. It’s a sad reflection of what is occurring across the region with thousands of families displaced in order to preserve the past and modernize the future. I walked away feeling this family was just as much an Egyptian treasure as any of the tombs and galleries I've visited. Their smiles and giggles still very much in my thoughts.