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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 Aug 15, 2013 12:21 AM History
Mareia is a Late Antique settlement in Egypt, with remains of harbor and industrial installations, baths, shops, a funerary church, and a large basilica.

30.99482, 29.656394

settlement, port

Barrington Atlas: BAtlas 74 B2 Mareia

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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A. Bernand, R. Talbert, Jeffrey Becker, Nicola Aravecchia, Iris Fernandez, Tom Elliott, DARMC, Anne User, and Sean Gillies, 'Mareia: a Pleiades place resource', Pleiades: A Gazetteer of Past Places, 2013 <> [accessed: 26 March 2017]

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