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a Pleiades place resource

Creators: A. Bernand Copyright © The Creators. Sharing and remixing permitted under terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License (cc-by).
Last modified Jun 30, 2023 06:09 PM History
Immediately north of modern Hawwariya on the southern shore of Lake Mariout in Egypt, archaeological excavations have uncovered an extensive and evidently purpose-built settlement of the latter sixth century CE, with remains of harbor and industrial installations, baths, shops, a funerary church, and a large basilica. This site, probably to be identified as Philoxenite, catered to the needs of pilgrims travling to shrine of Saint Menas in Abu Mina. It expanded and replaced a site of at least Hellenistic and Roman date that is perhaps to be identified as Mareia.

30.99482, 29.656394
    • Less than certain: Mareia (Ancient Greek, 550 BC - AD 300)
    • Philoxenite (Ancient Greek, AD 500 - AD 599)

settlement, port

Barrington Atlas: BAtlas 74 B2 Mareia

The following original essay was contributed to Pleiades by Nicola Aravecchia in 2010. It should be read now in light of more recent published research not then available (see references, particularly by Derda and Gwiazda).

Marea is located ca.45 km to the southwest of Alexandria, along the south shore of Lake Maryut. The area where most of the ruins were identified is bounded on the north and east by water and on the west by a modern road leading to the Alexandria-Siwa highway. To the south lies the modern village of Hawariyyah.

Marea was strategically placed in an area famous in antiquity for trade and wine production. Indeed, considerable evidence of industrial installations such as wine presses was found in the region, testifying to a thriving economy based on agricultural exploitation and commerce. Canals connected Lake Maryut with the Nile River, which not only supplied fresh water to the lake but–quite significantly–allowed the transportation of goods from the Valley to Alexandria and the south-west Mediterranean region.

Considerable questions were raised by scholars about the identification of this site as the Marea mentioned in the historical sources, such as Herodotus. These provide evidence for the existence of the town (an important commercial and military post) well before the fifth-sixth century CE, which was considered–for a long time–the earliest dating offered by the archaeological data. For this reason, an alternative identification of the site was offered, according to which the ruins belonged to the late fifth century site of Philoxenite. The settlement was founded by Philoxenos, prefect of the emperor Anastasius, to provide accommodation and facilities to the disembarking pilgrims who were on their journey to Abu Mina. However, recent excavations allowed the discovery of evidence pointing to earlier occupational phases than the fifth-sixth century. The complete lack of glazed pottery on site suggests a date for its abandonment at the end of the eighth century, although the sources testify to an occupational history extending to at least the end of the fourteenth century.

Information about the site was recorded since the end of the nineteenth century, but the first scientific excavations of the site were conducted by F. el-Fakharani of the University of Alexandria–and by a Boston University team–in the late 1970s to the early 1980s. More recently, the site of Marea was the object of a Polish excavation project (still undergoing), under the direction of H. Szymańska. Since 2003, a peninsula about 100 m to the northeast of the town has been surveyed and excavated by the Centre d’Etudes Alexandrines.

Most of the visible remains are scattered on the shore and in the proximities of the harbor, which is divided into separate basins by four stone jetties (whose length extends up to 150 m ca.). The earlier excavations revealed the existence of two main street axes, the cardo and the decumanus, and of several buildings, including shops or laboratories–furnished with back rooms possibly for domestic purposes–opening onto a colonnade. The remains of an industrial installation (a press) were found to the east of the shops. To the west of the latter, el-Fakharani discovered double-bath installations. The buildings are symmetrically built and once provided separate facilities for men and women, including two double-apse apodyteria. Rooms were vaulted and had walls and floors covered with marble tiles, providing evidence for the existence of a wealthy community at Marea in Byzantine times.

Another double-bath complex, dated to the sixth century, was discovered by the Polish mission about 300 m south of the lake’s shore. It also consists of distinct facilities for men and women and bears evidence for water-heating installations. The baths were once richly decorated with marble slabs and columns. Outside the north wall of the complex are the remains of shops and a latrine. Evidence was also found for the system that supplied water to the baths. About five meters to the north of the complex are the substantial remains of a deep well, from which the water was raised through a saqiyah before being channeled to the baths.

A funerary chapel was excavated 110 m ca. to the southeast of the bath and well complex. It is a rectangular building measuring 9 by 7.70 m, with a small apse oriented to the east (ENE). Six small rectangular rooms, three of which with well-preserved stairs, are lined up along the east wall of the chapel. More to the west, are three larger spaces once functioning as grave chambers, in which several bodies were found in very disturbed contexts. The entrance is located in the middle of the west wall and leads into a vestibule, where the scanty remains of a centrally placed staircase are visible. The funerary chapel was dated by its excavators to the sixth century, on the basis of ceramic evidence found under the apse.

Particularly impressive are the remains of a large sixth-century basilica with transept, located in the proximities of the longest preserved pier of the harbor. The basilica was first discovered in the 1960s by W. Müller-Wiener, who carried out excavations at the site of Deir Abu Mina. In the 1980s, it was partially investigated by P. Grossmann, who also published the complete plan of the building. The Polish mission conducted intensive excavations in the area of the basilica since 2003, offering considerable evidence for different phases of construction and–quite significantly–of occupation of the site before the fifth-sixth century.

The basilica, whose entrance is located at the center of the west wall, is oriented to the east (ENE), where it ends into a relatively small apse. The building measures 49 m in length and 47 m in width, including the double-apse transept. Two rows of columns divide the main body of the basilica into a nave and two side aisles and continue along the inner walls of the transept. The columns create an ambulatory running around the building except for its west end, which does not have a return aisle. Although the basilica does not have pastophoria flanking the apse, two small rooms are symmetrically placed inside the transept, possibly as later additions. Two rectangular openings pierce the floor of the apse and lead to underground chambers, where several bodies were found. Remains of a round baptistery with side steps are visible west of the central apse, but they belong to a pre-existing church or chapel. There is substantial archaeological evidence to indicate that the interior of the basilica was once richly decorated with marble columns and wall mosaics.

Along the outer face of the church’s north wall, the excavators found remains of a small chapel and a row of rectangular rooms to the north of it. Other features include a latrine uncovered to the west of the church. Against the outer walls of the east apse and the transept are buttresses that may have been built at a later stage to support the building. Excavations carried out in the area of the apse–below floor level–revealed a pottery kiln with amphorae dated to the second-third c. CE, whose discovery allowed a re-evaluation of the site’s chronology.

Scattered in the area south of Marea are substantial remains of industrial installations–such as wine presses–and an unusual building complex. Its most significant features are two large perystyle courtyards, which once gave access to several rooms built along their sides. A chapel, with traces of a beautiful opus sectile floor, and a communal latrine are also part of the complex, which may have been in use as a hostel for travelers.

Nicola Aravecchia


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Babraj, Krzysztof, and Hanna Szymańska (2005). “Fünfte Grabungssaison in Marea, Ägypten: Basilika,” Kemet 14/3: 63-67.

― (2004a). “Körperpfelge mit Allem Komfort. Die Ruinen Eines Bades am Maryut-See in Ägypten Sprechen für Einen Hohen Technischen Standard in Byzantinischer Zeit,” Antike Welt 6: 21-26.

― (2004b). “Die Vierte Grabungssaison in Marea, Aegypten. Grabkapelle und Basilike,”Kemet 13/3: 61-64.

― (2003). “Die Fortsetzung der Archäologischen Forschungen von 2002 an Einem Badeanlagen-Komplex in Marea. Der Brunnen mit Einer Sâqiya,” Kemet 12/3: 51-57.

― (2002). “Marea am Maryut-See. Die Grabungssaison 2001,” Kemet 11/2: 63-68.

― (2001). “Marea am Maryut-See. Die Erste Grabungssaison im Herbst 2000,” Kemet 10/3: 65-69.

Bagnall, Roger S., and Dominic W. Rathbone, eds. (2004). Egypt from Alexander to the Early Christians. An Archaeological and Historical Guide. Los Angeles: The J. Paul Getty Museum: 74-76.

el-Fakharani, F. (1983). “Recent Excavations at Marea in Egypt,” in Das Römisch-Byzantinische Ägypten: Akten des Internationalen Symposions 26.-30. September 1978 in Trier. Aegyptiaca Treverensia, 2. Edited by G. Grimm, H. Heinen, and E. Winter. Mainz am Rhein: P. von Zabern: 175-186.

Empereur, Y.-J. (1998). Alexandria Rediscovered. London, British Museum Press: 213-239.

Gabel, Creighton, and Karl M. Petruso (1982). Marea: A Byzantine Port in Northern Egypt. African Studies Working Paper 62 (Boston University).

Grossmann, Peter (2002). Christliche Architektur in Ägypten. Leiden; Boston; Köln: Brill: 36; 108; 178-179; 489; plan 9.

― (1993). “Die Querschiffbasilika von Hauwarîya-Marea und die Übringen Bauten dieses Typus’ in Ägypten als Repräsentanten der Verlorenen Früchristlichen Architektur Alexandreias,” BSAA 45: 107-21.

― (1991). “Hawwariyyah,” in The Coptic Encyclopedia. Edited by Aziz S. Atiya. New York: Macmillan. Vol. 4: 1211-12.

Haas, C. (2001). “Alexandria and the Mareotis Region,” in Urban Centers and Rural Contexts in Late Antiquity. Edited by T. S. Burns and J. W. Eadie. East Lansing: Michigan State University Press: 47-62.

Haggag, M. (2003). “Two Religious Buildings at Byzantine Marea,” in Egyptology at the Dawn of the Twenty-First Century. Edited by Zahi Hawass and Lyla P. Brock. Cairo; New York: The American University in Cairo Press: 284-89.

Petruso, Karl M. (1981). “Marea: Excavation of an Ancient Port in Lower Egypt,” Context (Newsletter of the Center for Archaeological Studies, Boston University) 1/2: 4-5.

Petruso, Karl M., and Creighton Gabel (1983). “Marea: A Byzantine Port on Egypt's Northwestern Frontier,” Archaeology 36/5: 62-63; 76-77.

Rodziewicz, Mieczysław (1983). “Alexandria and the District of Mareotis,” Graeco-Arabica 2: 199-216.

Szymańska, Hanna, and Krzysztof Babraj (2007). “Marea on Lake Maryut,” in Seventy Years of Polish Archaeology in Egypt. Edited by Ewa Laskowska-Kusztal. Warsaw: Polish Center of Mediterranean Archaeology, University of Warsaw: 159-70.

― (2006). “Polish Excavations in the Basilica at Marea (Egypt),” Bulletin de la Societe d’Archeologie Copte XLV: 107-117; plates XI-XIII.

― (2004a). “The Ancient Port of Marea, Egypt. Four Seasons of Excavations by the Polish Archaeological Mission,” Minerva 15/2: 26-28.

― (2004b [2005]). “Fouilles Archéologique de Marea en Egypte. Saisons 2002 et 2003,” Archeologia LV: 119-130; plates XXVIII-XXXI.

― (2004c). “Marea: Excavations 2004,” Polish Archaeology in the Mediterranean 16: 43-54.

― (2002 [2003]), “Fouilles Archéologiques de Marea en Égypte. Saisons 2000 et 2001,” Archeologia LIII: 137-144.

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A. Bernand, Brady Kiesling, Sean Gillies, Jeffrey Becker, Nicola Aravecchia, Iris Fernandez, Tom Elliott, DARMC, Anne User, and R. Talbert, 'Mareia?/Philoxenite: a Pleiades place resource', Pleiades: A Gazetteer of Past Places, 2023 <> [accessed: 28 May 2024]

            {{cite web |url= |title=Places: 727153 (Mareia?/Philoxenite) |author=Bernand, A. |accessdate=May 28, 2024 10:37 am |publisher=Pleiades}}