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Earliest ever civil Roman basilica found outside Alexandria

Marking a significant find, a Roman basilica constructed on the ruins of a Ptolemaic temple has been discovered, along with statues and other items

Nevine El-Aref , Thursday 7 Jul 2011
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At Al-Baron area in Semouha district, south of Alexandria, an Egyptian archaeological mission has discovered several significant monuments and artefacts that will help in the writing of the history of the area.

During excavations, archaeologists uncovered the earliest Roman civil basilica yet found on top of a Ptolemaic temple dedicated to the three Alexandria deities (Isis, Serapis, Harpocrates) along with a collection of terracotta statues.

Mohamed Mostafa, director general of Alexandria antiquities, said that excavations have also uncovered two parallel rows of granite and lime stones as well as parts of granite pillars that give the impression that these items were once part of a larger building that can be dated to the Roman period. Early investigations, said Mostafa, reveal that it could be a court, a club, or for trade activities.

For his part, Osama El-Nahas, head of the excavation mission, asserted that unearthing a number of terracotta statues onsite, featuring the goddess Isis breastfeeding her son, and the god Serapies, without religious objects surrounding them, suggests that such an edifice was a Roman civil basilica.

El-Nahas added that the Ptolemaic temple found underneath the basilica was one of two temples mentioned by historian Strabo when he was describing the area during his visit to Alexandria in 24 AD.

A collection of clay lamps decorated with human features and ancient deities were also unearthed. The most distinguished item is a lead statue depicting a knight riding his horse.

A collection of ovens was also found as well as a collection of clay vessels filled with human bones. Studies of the bones reveal that they date to the sixth century AD and are persons of an age ranging between 25 to 30 years.

“It is a unique discovery in Alexandria,” Minister of State for Antiquities Zahi Hawass told Ahram Online, adding that it is the first time that a civil basilica was found in Alexandria and that it confirms that the area of Al-Baron is the one mentioned by Strabo as Usis province. “Now is the time to expand excavations in order to uncover the Usis province,” said Hawass.

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