Dayr Al-Bala‘Yzah



This monastery, of which nothing but vast ruins remain, was situated on the left bank of the Nile, about 11 miles (18 km) to the south of ASYUT. About 2.5 miles (4 km) from the DAYR AL- ZAWIYAH, on the cliff that carries the desert plateau, some ancient quarries were first fitted out as dwellings; then down the slope, a whole series of was constructed in tiers the length of the slope, the whole surrounded by an encircling wall that certainly exceeds a mile in length. The base of the wall is thick and made of large stones bound together with clay, while the wall itself is constructed of unbaked bricks. At the bottom, where the wall includes a large, deep tomb well (only traces of it remain), one can see in the southeast corner the remains of a small construction outside the wall. This was, then, a fortified monastery.

It was excavated in 1907 by W. M. F. Petrie, who was in search of papyri, but a plan was not drawn up (1907, Vol. 1, p. 9, pls. 38, 39; 1909, Vol. 1, p. 29, pls. 53, 54; see also: Archaeological Report, 1906-1907, pp. 29, 75). According to P.E. KAHLE (1954), it was ruined about 750 and abandoned thereafter, but the presence of a strong encircling wall would argue for a date of abandonment later than 750.


  • Archaeological Report, 1906-1907, ed. F. L. Griffith. Egypt Exploration Society.
  • Kahle, P. E. Bala’izah, 2 vols. London, 1954. Petrie, W. M. F. Gizeh and Rifeh. London, 1907.
  •             . Memphis, Vol. 1. London, 1909.



The dayr consists of an extended, walled area, inside which still stand the remains of many buildings, some rising to a considerable height. Remains of the site of a gate have been found in the side on the lower parallel slope. Because of the uniformity of the surrounding wall, there is no doubt that this monastery is not a laura but a cenobium, inhabited by a large community of monks. The are basically constructed of mud bricks and in places show evidence of several stories.

On the upper slope, are more numerous, disclosing also at the upper edge a row of large pharaonic quarry caves, used also for monastic purposes, as can be understood from the many representations of crosses preserved on their rock walls. Below, on the valley side, fewer buildings are preserved. Obviously, what remained has been more vigorously plundered.

Remains of a small church have been found in the lower southwest corner of the dayr. It has a that, in spite of its slight width of 26 feet (8.6 m), was very probably planned with three aisles, for the thin side walls (2 feet or 60 cm) are far too weak to bear ceiling beams of a span of almost 30 feet (9 m). The sanctuary adjoining the east end has a relatively deep apse, of which the inner curve shows a row of recesses. It is very likely that these once held a surrounding circle of columns.

The passages to the side rooms lay in the forward area of the apse. Beyond that, on the northern exterior, is a stair projecting over the whole frontage, an uncommon feature. From a later time dates a on the west side of the church, with a second stair to the south.


  • Grossmann, P. “Die Unterkunftsbauten des Koinobitenklosters “Dair al-Balayza’ im Vergleich mit den Evemitagen der Mönche von Kellia,” In Le site monastique copte des Kellia, Actes du Colloque de Gèneve 13 au 15 août 1984, pp. 33-40, fig. 2. Geneva, 1986.
  • Kahle, P. E. Bala’izah, 2 vols. London, 1954.
  • Meinardus, O. Christian Egypt, Ancient and Modern, pp. 286-87. Cairo, 1965.
  • Petrie, W. M. F. Gizeh and Rifeh, p. 30, no. 83, pl. 37B-38B. London, 1907.