general information

OTHER NAMES: Mareia (Marea) - Mareotis - Palaimareia - Khastemehi - Kom el-Idris
COPTIC NAMES: ⲛⲉⲓⲡⲁⲉⲓⲁⲧ, ⲛⲓⲫⲁⲓⲁⲧ, ⲛⲉⲡⲁⲓⲉⲧ, ⲛⲓⲡⲁⲓⲁⲧ, ⲛⲏⲡⲁⲓⲁⲧ, ⲛⲫⲁⲓⲁⲧ
GREEK NAMES: Μαρεώτης, Μαρεώτος
AREA: Western Delta
PAThs ID:143
TYPOLOGY: Settlement
STATUS: completed
EDITOR: Serena Guidone
LAST MODIFIED: 10/06/2019



The archaeological site of Marea is located 45 km to the southwest of Alexandria, on the southern shore of a narrow outlet of the Mareotis lake extending westward at this point (fig. 1). In nineteenth century, it was identified by the astronomer Muhmud Bey el-Falaki as the ancient town with an important harbour cited by Greek and Roman literary source, like Herodotus, Thucydides, Diodorus, Sicilus and others (Mahmoud Bey 1872, p. 96; Szymanska, Babraj 2008, p. 11). The first plan of the harbour installation was drawn up by A. De Cosson in 1935 (De Cosson 1935). However, in the nineties of the last century the identification of the site as the city of Marea has been questioned. It has been proposed to identify the ruins recorded at the site with Philoxenite, the town established between the end of the fifth and the beginning of the next century by the praefectus Philoxenis, as a transfer point on the southern shore of the lake for Byzantine pilgrim on their way to the monastery of Abu Mina, about 20 km away (Rodziewicz 1993; Rodziewicz 2003; Rodziewicz 2010). However, despite this hypothesis, the extant ruins confirm the presence of a flourishing center existing on the spot prior to the Byzantine foundation. For this reason, P. Grossmann suggested that Phoenike may have been founded next to existing harbour installations that have been part of Marea before it was abandoned (Grossmann 2003).

The first investigation has been carried out by Fawzi el-Fakharani of the University of Alexandria, who in 1977-1979 identified some of the topographical elements of the Byzantine town (El Fakharani 1983). Since then, the excavations have been continued by several Egyptian, American, French, and Polish archaeological missions, which conducted surveys, excavations or reconstruction works in different parts of the ancient town and harbour.

According to the results of the Egyptian investigations, the town was built on a Roman plan, developed around two intersecting main streets (cardo and decumanus). Along the south side of the decumanus, which once roofed, was a series of shops raised of stone blocks (Szymańska, Babraj 2006). Nearby it has been investigated a double bath, initially believed to be a basilica (Haggag 2001), and a granary. The Egyptian archaeologists also traced the western and eastern town borders, which they believed were reflected in the extent of richly furnished cemeteries from the Saite, Ptolemaic and Roman periods. Regarding the Byzantine period, it was dug a huge three-aisled basilica, the plan of which was first drawn by P. Grossmann (El-Fakhrani 1983; Grossmann 1993). Since 2000 this monument, a Byzantine bath and other several archaeological testimonies are objects of research conducted on the site by the Polish Centre of Mediterranean Archaeology of Warsaw University and the Archaeological Museum in Krakόw (Szymanska, Babraj 2007; Szymanska, Babraj 2007);


Late Antique Period

The most important building of the Byzantine period is a huge basilica located on the hill near the longest harbour pier (fig. 2). It was discovered and first excavated in 1960s and 1970s, but the determination of its plan and dimensions are due to the studies of P. Grossmann in 1980s (Grossmann 1993). Since 2003 the investigations are carried out upon the direction of the Polish Archaeological Mission, which cleared most part of the church’s body. Surprisingly, none of the ancient written sources mentioned this church, which with its dimension (c. 49 m length and 47 m width) is the second largest building of its type in Egypt after the basilica of Abu Mina. For this reason and because of the presence of a living quarter for priest, gardens, bath and other facilities discovered in the immediate neighbourhood of the church, Polish researchers suggest to identify the basilica as an episcopal church (Szymanska, Babraj 2007, p. 164).

The basilica was a squat building divided by columns in to three aisles, furnish with a wide transept terminated in rounded arms and a relatively tiny apse (fig. 3). The foundation of the church’s apse reused the walls of a more ancient structure identified as a large amphora kiln, dated to the second and third century CE (Barbraj, Kogut 2015) (figg. 4-5). The transept wings probably presented twelve columns. The liturgical rooms (pastophoria) were not on the outside but inside, incorporated in the body of the church on either side of the apse (fig. 6). The baptistery with round baptismal font apparently remained from an earlier building, probably a small chapel that had preceded the great basilica. It belongs to the round piscina type, with descending flights of step situated facing each other on the eastern and western side, two steps of each side.

Two burial chapels (each 1,80 m deep), with more than 100 burials of men, women, and children, were discovered under the floor of the apse. They appear to have been buried during seventh century, probably in occasion of the invasion of Chosroes II in 619 CE.

Originally, the basilica has a rich interior decoration: during the fieldwork several fragmentary column shafts have been found in the fill inside the apse and between the walls of the pastophorium, along with polygonal and attic bases (fig. 7-8) and Corinthian capitals of different types (figg. 9-11), all of which made in marble of Prokonnesos, probably imported from Alexandria. The biggest shafts, with a diameter of c. 60 cm, must have originally stood in the nave, while the smaller ones, of 22 cm c. of diameter, presumably supported the ciborium above the altar. The Corinthian capitals belonged to the shafts of average size, of c. 30 cm of diameter. Moreover, the numerous acanthus leave of uncoloured stucco found during the excavations (fig. 12) testimony the presence in other parts of the church of columns of stone with Corinthian capitals of this material.

The interior decoration of the basilica also included wall mosaics and opus sectile floor made of different kind of marbles (like in Room 20) (fig. 13-14).

During excavations two phases of the sanctuary have been identified, based on the different sets of sockets cut for the posts of the altar barrier (cancelli) (fig. 15), remaining in the limestone base under the successive altar screens. The earlier altar screen enclosed small space (5,00x2,20 m) and was located close to the apse. Then, this space was enlarged enclosing an area of 9,80x9,20 m, closed by screens of cancelli (fig. 16) decorated with cross in a bejewelled wreath and with palmettes on either side. Few coinage weights have ever been found at the site (fig. 17). Pottery and numismatic evidence prove that in ninth century the basilica was already abandoned and in ruin.

Architectural elements not in situ

Marble column shafts of different diameter (c. 60, 30, 35, 24, 22, 8,4 cm); Attic and polygonal bases (Szymanska, Babraj 2010, fig. 6 and fig. 4); Corinthian capitals of three types: the first one, in marble, has two collars of acanthus leaves, and corner volutes springing from the upper collar of leaves; the second one, in marble, presents two collar of four acanthus leaves, corner volutes springing from the upper collar of leave; the third one, in limestone, is characterized by two collars of plain leaves and corner volute (Szymanska, Babraj 2010, p. 313, fig. 5, fig 10, fig. 2). A Ionian capital has been found outside the wall of the apse; it is characterized by eggs and darts carved between two half palmettes, typical of Ptolemaic period and probably imported at Marea from Alexandria (Szymanska, Babraj 2010, p. 313, figg. 12-13), screens of cancelli decorated with cross in a bejewelled wreath and with palmettes on either side (Szymanska, Babraj 2010, p. 309, fig. 8).


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