Al-Ahram Weekly Online   7 - 13 February 2008
Issue No. 883
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

Flight of the Family

Egypt is considered the most suitable destination worldwide for a religious tourist visit of one of the most sacred relics of Christianity -- the sites visited by the Holy Family during their flight into Egypt. These sites were included on a map in a pamphlet issued by the Ministry of Tourism in nine languages in 2000 in coordination and with the approval of Pope Shenouda III.

According to Matthews Gospel, reference to the visit of Jesus to Egypt seeking safety is undisputed. And according to the map of Egypt, the only point of entry from the north from Bethlehem is through Farama (Pelousium) which is stated in the ministry pamphlet and its relics which exist until today.

There is also a report issued by a Polish committee for antiquities about this particular site which said that after extensive research and excavation on the site it was proved that these relics are indeed 2,000 years old.

Farama is the eastern entrance for Egypt near Arish in North Sinai governorate. Although the area is lifeless, it is a distinguished tourism location and contains the remains of an entire Roman city. It has a church that was built on the cave which the Holy Family stayed in during its visit to Egypt 2,000 years ago.

Farama was also a crossroads for three important routes -- a port on the Mediterranean, a port of the Pelousium branch of the Nile, and a road from the eastern side. It was the second city in Egypt after Alexandria.

Farama has been part of various historical phases: Pharaonic, Graeco-Roman, Coptic and Islamic. Evidence abounds about the passage of the Holy Family in this old city:

- The Greek traveller Epivanius in the ninth century said that the Holy Family passed by this site which is why a church was built on the spot in commemoration.

- Monk Bernard in 1870 saw a church in the spot named after the Virgin Mary in commemoration of the Family's passage in the area.

- Manuscript number 48 in Al-Mohrraq Monastery in Assiut shows the date of the arrival of Christ and his Family to Farama.

Farama is rich in interesting ancient antiquities including:

- The Church of Virgin Mary with its rounded design which is mentioned by Monk Bernard as being one of only five churches in the world with such unique and rare design.

- The oldest Abbasid relic to the east of the church.

- Roman baths.

- A fort and a Roman theatre.

- The Monastery of Virgin Mary to the east of Farama which included 5,000 monks under the leadership of Bishop Isozoros Al-Faramy.

- Several churches like Tel Al-Makhzan and the big basilica.

- Tombs of saints (above and underground).

- Big water reservoirs with unique construction designs, with tiles and covered with an impermeable material to water.

- A church west of Farama, Rotunda, one of the most unique in Egypt.

- A huge Baptize Mal Crypt, the biggest to be discovered northwest of the sacred cave where the Holy Family sought refuge.

Farama has become a destination for researchers from all over the world. A number of Polish researchers have drawn a map of the area using magnetic resonance.

Two integral plans have been recommended, one to restore the monuments of the region, and to establish a distinguished cultural tourist resort that goes in harmony with the region to encourage both domestic tourism and from abroad.

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