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Taposiris Magna was just another archaeological site in Northern Egypt, until a rumor arose that the famous queen Cleopatra and her lover Mark Antony may have been buried there.
Abu Sir (Abusir), also known by its Roman name as Taposiris Magna, is located 45 kilometers (28 miles) from Alexandria, Egypt. It's an ancient city that was called Per Usiri by Egyptians, meaning “Dwelling of Osiris.” The name of the city implies that it's a place of Osiris’ burial, and in the past it was considered to be one of numerous places where, according to Egyptian mythology, Isis looked for the parts of Osiris’ body that was dismembered by his brother Seth.
It was also a port on the Mediterranean Sea and one of the most important trade harbors in the late history of Egypt. To make it even more attractive, it had another harbor on Lake Maryut. Furthermore, the town may have been known since Pre-Dynastic times.
During the period when the Persians ruled Egypt, it was the capital of the kingdom of Marea. In Roman times, this region was a major source of the grain that was shipped to Italy to placate the potentially riotous plebs in Rome. It's also a place known for the oldest wine press and one of the oldest bridges in the world has been unearthed.
Knowledge of the site is mostly connected with the Ptolemaic period, and much of it proves that this was not just a regular town. The city also contains a lighthouse, which belongs to a chain of lighthouses from Alexandria to Cyrenaica (Libya), and once warned sailors of the abrupt change in the sea. Archaeologists believe that the lighthouse in Taposiris Magna is probably a one-tenth scale replica of the Pharos of Alexandria. This discovery was very helpful in the reconstruction of the shape of the lighthouse, which is one of the seven wonders of the ancient world.
The Lighthouse in Taposiris Magna. ( CC BY-SA 3.0 )
The Ptolemaic Soul of Taposiris Magna
In the heart of the city there is a great temple of the same name, which was probably established around 278BC by the Pharaoh Ptolemy II. However, some scholars say that it could have been built during the reign of Ptolemy IV. Plutarch of Cheronea claimed that the tomb of Osiris is located exactly in this temple.
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After Alexander the Great conquered Egypt in 332 BC, the city and the temple became the center of a religious festival called Khoiak. The temple was a very popular place during the reign of the Ptolemaic Dynasty. All of the kings and queens of the dynasty wanted to worship in Alexander’s favorite places, and it was the same case in Taposiris Magna.
Internal view towards South of the Osiris Temple in Taposiris Magna. (CC BY-SA 3.0 )
It seems that the city was forgotten, as many of the Egyptian treasures were, until the arrival of Napoleon Bonaparte in 1798. The famous Frenchman brought many researchers, including a specialist in ancient Egypt – Vivan Denon, from his country. During his stay in the land of Pharaohs, Napoleon conducted a survey of the architecture of the cities of Alexandria and Taposiris Magna. Artifacts discovered during his expeditions were taken to Europe, and perhaps most of them are found in the Egyptian collection of Europe’s museums.
In 1801, Mohammed Ali, the governor of Egypt, decided to rebuild Alexandria on top of the ruins of the old city, which had been destroyed during earthquakes and numerous invasions. Thus, the Alexandria of the pharaohs is now located a few meters underground of the modern city.
Unlike Alexandria, Taposiris Magna wasn't rebuilt, but instead became a site for excavations. The first person who officially dug there in the 20th century was the Italian Governor Evaristo Breccia. However, due to the location near Alexandria and Oasis Siwa (a famous temple connected to Alexander the Great), for many years Taposiris Magna wasn't a priority for researchers.
Archaeologists began to seriously excavate at Taposiris Magna in 1998. For the next few years, many expeditions rediscovered important parts of the city and its unbelievable artifacts. Most of them are connected with the history of Egypt, but not all. Archaeologists also discovered coins and other small artifacts related to the Byzantines and Romans. In 2010, a huge headless granite statue of a Ptolemaic king was discovered. Zahi Hawass believes that it probably belonged to Ptolemy IV and was dedicated to the god Osiris.