– Name of site – Abu Mena
– Location today – Egypt, just south of the city of Alexandria
– Year of inscription to the World Heritage Site list – 1979
– Criteria for addition as a World Heritage Site – IV, “to be an outstanding example of a type of building, architectural or technological ensemble or landscape which illustrates (a) significant stage(s) in human history”
– Total number of Cultural or Mixed Heritage Sites located in Egypt – 6
Basic Archaeological Site information:
– Time period represented – End of 3rd through mid 7th century
– Cultural period – Late Antique period
– Cultural group association – Early Christian holy city, Christian Pilgrims
Abu Mena was built in the late 3rd century as a commemoration to an Alexandrine soldier, known as Menas, who was an officer in the Diocletian’s army after his death in 296 AD. This soldier refused to kill any Christian, as directed to by his leadership, thus publicly declaring his own Christianity. By 600 AD, this site became a destination for Christian Pilgrims, who thus turned this memorial site into a booming city. Archaeologists have found buildings from pilgrim barracks, to homes, to cemeteries and even individual businesses (specifically, and exciting find was the town’s potter’s home, including flasks, toys, lamps and all that is included in their business).
Unfortunately for these Christian pilgrims, their city, which began as a memorial to the martyr, St. Menas, was destroyed in the mid 7th century by the Muslim Conquest, which imposed the Muslim religion on non-Arab people after the death of the Muslim prophet, Mohammed. It wasn’t until the early 1900’s before this site was found, first being excavated between 1905 and 1907. This first excavation uncovered a basilica church, which simply refers to the architecture of the building, meaning a large-roofed building intended for public use, as well as a nearby church believing to have contained the actual remains of the Alexandrine soldier. The site was further and extensively excavated in 1998, uncovering the extensiveness of the city that has been previously discussed.
– “The local soil, which is exclusively clay, is hard and capable of supporting buildings when in a dry state, but becomes semi-liquid with excess water. The destruction of numerous cisterns, disseminated around the city, has entailed the collapse of several overlying structures. Huge underground cavities have opened in the north-western region of the town. The risk of collapse is so high that the authorities were forced to fill with sand the bases of some of the most endangered buildings, including the crypt of Abu Mena with the tomb of the Saint, and close them to the public.” Coming directly from the UNESCO’s List of World Heritage in Danger, this quote entails the threat toward this anthropological site because on the increasing water table level and the fact that the majority of the soil upon which the site is placed is clay based. The Abu Mena site has been on this list since Dec 12th of 2001.