Ancient Christian Settlement in Egypt Shows Evidence of Town Planning | Smart News

Inscription mentioning the renovation of the colony hospital
Photos by T. Derda / Courtesy of the Polish Center for Mediterranean Archeology at the University of Warsaw

Polish researchers have discovered evidence of an early Christian settlement in the ancient city of Marea, Egypt. The discovery dates back to the 6th century AD, when Egypt was part of the Byzantine Empire. As scholars write in the journal antiquitythe site shows evidence of large-scale town planning – an “extremely rare” occurrence for the period.

“It was a big surprise for us, because at that time there were no new cities built in Egypt,” explains the co-author. Mariusz Gwiazdaresearcher at the University of Warsaw Polish Center for Mediterranean Archeologyquoted by Sebastian Kettley from Express.

Marea, located on the site of today’s northern Egyptian village of Hawwariya, existed as a bustling port city as early as 332 BCE, when Alexander The Great conquered Egypt, note Heritage Daily. The need for construction was limited by the Byzantine era, as significant infrastructural development had taken place in the region during the Greek and Roman periods.

Located 28 miles southwest of Alexandria on the southern shore of Lake Mareotis, Marea was probably used as a stopping place on the journeys of Christian pilgrims to Abu Menaan important monastic complex about 10 miles south of the city which also houses a shrine to Saint Menas.

The new probe technology allowed the team to look below the surface of the site and gain new insights into its history.

“In recent years, we have revolutionized our understanding of this ancient city, all through the use of non-invasive and geophysical methods in conjunction with excavations,” says Gwiazda, per Express.

Built atop the ruins of a Roman vineyard, the 32-acre complex differs from the few others erected in the late Byzantine period due to its lack of defensive walls. The fact that it dates from the second half of the 6th century “is clearly distinctive and suggests a different type of settlement”, write Gwiazda and co-author Tomasz Derda in the study. The site was probably one of the last urban centers built in the region before the Muslim conquest of Egypt in the middle of the 7th century AD

Latrines L1 and W1-1 connected to the artificial waterfront.  The location of the sewers is marked in blue.

Latrines L1 and W1-1 connected to the artificial waterfront. The location of the sewers is marked in blue.

Photos by M. Gwiazda / Courtesy of the Polish Center for Mediterranean Archeology at the University of Warsaw

As Nathan Falde notes for ancient originsthe settlement consisted of organized sections that included frontage stores and residential chambers.

“They are unlike any known building in the Mediterranean world,” says Gwiazda, quoted by ancient origins.

Two public baths and at least five latrines were located slightly outside the center of the settlement. Inscribed pottery fragments found at the site also indicate the presence of a public hospital. These facilities would have been accessible to people of all social classes.

“The toilets were… installed in a place away from the houses, which proves that the city was developed for its time,” historian and Egyptologist Bassam al-Shamaa told Abdulla Kadry. Al Monitor.

According to the study, the settlement housed one of the largest Christian basilicas in Egypt. Before its construction, the site housed a small church and, before that, a Roman vineyard amphoras workshop.

“We still don’t know much about the daily life and customs of ancient people in ancient Egypt and many are eager to learn more about it,” Shamaa says.

Hussein Abdel Basir, Egyptologist and Director of the Museum of Antiquities at the Bibliotheca Alexandrina, tells Al Monitor that promoting the site in the United States and Europe “would help attract tourists from those countries to learn more about the Christians who lived in Egypt.” Revitalizing tourism remains an important objective for Egyptian officials: in the first eight months of 2020, at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, the number of international visitors to Egypt fell by 69%, reports Abdi Latif Dahir for the New York Times.

The newly discovered settlement of Marea joins another ancient Christian community recently discovered in Egypt. Baharia Oasis. A vast monastic site, the complex was used between the 4th and 8th centuries CE, according to France Media Agency (AFP). Highlights of the find included three churches and a set of monks’ cells, or living quarters.