Al-Ahram Weekly On-line
8 - 14 February 2001
Issue No.520
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875 Current issue | Previous issue | Site map

Isis revealed near Alexandria

By Nevine El-Aref

 Early this week, while brushing away sand and dust in the temple of Osiris in Abusir, a Hungarian-Egyptian archaeological team unearthed a black granite bust of the goddess Isis, who was a major deity in the Graeco-Roman era.

The events leading to the discovery of the previously unknown bust began a year ago when the Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA) embarked on a programme in collaboration with various foreign missions to carry out excavation and restoration at Abusir. The aim was to upgrade and preserve the site, which was somewhat neglected.

The bust, which is in a remarkable state of preservation, features Isis as she was popularised in Greek legend, with a wig of tight curls but not wearing a crown. It is 18cm in height, 20cm in width, and 15.9cm . The SCA's general secretary, Gaballa Ali Gaballa, said the bust was being restored and could be on show soon.

Abusir is one of a series of Graeco-Roman sites on the north coast. The name is a corruption of Taposiris Magna, the town which in Ptolemaic and Roman times stood beside the ancient Lake Mareotis in what was then fertile ground. The town, which was possibly inhabited from pre-dynastic times, became under the Persians the capital of the petty kingdom of Marea. Most of the traces which remain date from later periods, including baths built by the emperor Justinian as well as oil and wine presses, roads, quays and jetties.

Nearby is a ruined lighthouse, one of a chain erected by Ptolemy II Philadelphus of which the greatest was the Pharos of Alexandria.

The temple of Osiris was used for popular worship, but appears to have remained unfinished. There are traces of a Christian church within its walls. It was later used as a fortress by the invading Arabs, as a coastguard station, and as a quarantine station on the coastal caravan route.

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