Al-Ahram Weekly Online   21 - 27 January 2010
Issue No. 982
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

A cat can look at a queen

Remains of a temple built by Queen Berenike and a vast collection of Ptolemaic statues have been unearthed at Kom Al-Dikka in Alexandria. Nevine El-Aref reports

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During routine excavations near the Roman theatre at Kom El-Dikka in Alexandria, an archaeological mission from the Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA) has discovered the remains of a temple built by Queen Berenike, wife of Ptolemy III (246-222 BC), along with a cachette of 600 Ptolemaic statues. The temple is believed to measure 60 metres by 15 metres and extends underneath the present Ismail Fahmi Street.

Zahi Hawass, secretary-general of the SCA, says the temple was much destroyed in later centuries when it was used as a source of worked stone, which led to the disappearance of many of its components.

Mohamed Abdel-Maqsoud, head of the antiquities of Lower Egypt, said the team, which comprises 18 skilled excavators and restorers, unearthed a large collection of statues depicting the cat goddess Bastet, the goddess of protection and motherhood, which indicates that the temple was dedicated to this popular Delta goddess.

The Bastet statues were unearthed in three different areas of the site together with other limestone statues of unidentified women and children. Clay pots as well as bronze and faience statues of various ancient Egyptian deities have also been uncovered, along with terracotta statues of the gods Harpocrates and Ptah.

Early studies on site, Abdel-Maqsoud says, reveal that the temple foundations can be dated to the reign of Queen Berenike, making this the first Ptolemaic temple discovered in Alexandria to be dedicated to the goddess Bastet. It also indicates that the worship of the goddess Bastet continued in Egypt after the decline of the ancient Egyptian dynasties.

An inscribed base of a granite statue from the reign of Ptolemy IV was also unearthed. It bears ancient Greek text written in nine lines stating that the statue belonged to a top official at the Ptolemaic court. Abdel-Maqsoud believes the base was made to celebrate Egypt's victory over the Greeks during the Battle of Raphia in 217 BC.

The mission also found a group of old structures, including a Roman water cistern, a group of 14-metre-deep water wells, stone water channels, and the remains of a bath area, as well as a large number of clay pots and shards that can be dated to the fourth century BC.

Abdel-Maqsoud believes that this find is the first trace of the real location of Alexandria's royal quarter.

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