On the Mediterranean coast of the northern Delta, about 45km to the west of Alexandria is the town of Abu Sir. Here lies the site of Taposiris Magna, an important town during the Ptolemaic Period. One of a series of Graeco-Roman sites on the north coast, Taposiris Magna had a harbour with a sea wall and quays. A 17m tall tower nearby still remains in situ. Built by Ptolemy II Philadelphus as a one-tenth size replica of the Pharos at Alexandria, the tower was actually a funerary monument. The structure reveals three stories, the first square, the second octagonal and the third cylindrical and has now been reconstructed with a wooden staircase up to the summit.
During the Persian Period in Egypt, the town, which may possibly have been inhabited since Predynastic times, became the capital of the petty kingdom of Marea. This name was derived from the ancient Lake Mareotis which extended to the south-east in what was at the time, fertile ground, in an area famous for its wine. The lake has been reduced in size since the 19th century, due to land reclamation.
Most of the remains of Taposiris Magna today, date from the Graeco-Roman Period. The mudbrick ruins of the town contain remains of public baths, built by the Emperor Justinian, as well as oil presses, other domestic structures and dwellings, some decorated with plaster and mosaics. The most important monument within the town was a temple enclosed within limestone walls, 84m square. The walls, although now in ruins still stand about 10m high in some parts, with recesses. A stone pylon was built into the eastern side, but the temple appears to be unfinished and uninscribed with the exact date as yet uncertain. Dedicated to Osiris and Isis, the temple was mostly destroyed when a Christian church was built in the courtyard during the Byzantine era.
The site was used as a fortress during the Arab invasion of Egypt, then as a quarantine station and part of the coastal caravan route.
The site has been excavated by a Hungarian team directed by Gyozo Voros between 1998 and 2001. Recent finds include gold coins and a gold bracelet dating to the Byzantine Period (4th century AD). A well preserved black granite bust of the goddess Isis, depicted in the Greek style with a wig of curls has also been found in the temple area. The site which had previously been somewhat neglected is now undergoing preservation by the Supreme Councl for Antiquities.
In April 2009 a press release from the Supreme Council of Antiquities stated that a radar survey of the Temple of Taposiris Magna, named as a Temple of Isis, has now been completed and more excavation will be carried out. Dr Zahi Hawass of the SCA and Dr Kathleen Martinez from the Dominican Republic, are looking at the possibility that the Tomb of Cleopatra and Mark Antony may be located at the site. Dr Hawass states that a beautiful head and coins depicting Cleopatra as well as many other interesting objects have been found by the expedition. Another development from the radar survey is the discovery of a previously unknown cemetery outside the temple enclosure. More information and pictures can be seen in the Press Release.
Nearby remains include the city of Philoxenite, which was founded on the southern side of Lake Mareotis, to the south-east of Abu Sir. The site is large and impressive and dates to the fifth and sixth centuies AD.
How to get there
Abu Sir is around 45km from Alexandria on the western road, which passes between Lake Mariut and the sea. Taposiris Magna is on the southern side of the road.