The despairing cry of the tomb of Alexander the Great from the desert at Siwa Oasis
The following is an article written by Liana Souvaltzi, Archaeologist and Director of the Greek Mission at Siwa Oasis, who we invited to report on her research regarding the discovery of a large monument in the Siwa Oasis that she maintains is the tomb of Alexander the Great. It follows an earlier article about her discovery, which we would recommend reading first – Tomb of Alexander the Great already found, archaeologist claims, but findings have been blocked by ‘diplomatic intervention’ .
The decision to write this article is not an easy one to make because it hurts me so much… My aim is to give the public the opportunity to understand that it has been a crime against this unique monument from the political background of the year 1996, which dealt a fatal blow to this discovery and the scientific work.
The discovery of the Tomb of Alexander the Great, cannot be considered a chance event but it was the result of many years of study and research into a remote area, where no one had previously searched for his tomb.
It took around twenty years of study to find the magic key that would resolve the great mystery of the location of the site of the tomb; this was the wish of Alexander to be buried at the Oasis of Ammon. This wish and desire had been reported in the texts of the historians of the time of Alexander, such as Callisthenes, Aristobulus, Ptolemy and later writers such as Diodorus and Plutarch.
How would it have been possible for anyone not to carry out an order from the King or not to accomplish the wish of ‘the god’ Alexander?
Valuable information was also obtained from the ascetics of the desert, who reported the existence of the tomb at the oasis and the worship of Alexander as a god, together with Ammon, like Abu Sisoes in the 4 th century AD. Dorotheus, the Bishop of Tyre in the 5 th century AD, and Procopius, a historian of the 6 th century AD, also mention this information.
The excavations, which were purely financed by our team, started in 1989 and the work was stopped in 1996.
The archaeological site is 15 kilometers west of the Ammon Temple, which is in the town of Siwa. The area where the tomb is located is named El Maraki. The tomb complex covers an enormous area of 12,000 square meters, of which 5,000 square meters were excavated.
From the size of the tomb itself, which is 51m long and has an outer width of 10.25m, it is obvious that it could only have been destined for use as a burial monument for the worship of a very important person, such as a king.
The tomb sits on a rock, underneath which lies an enormous gold mine, the first found in the western desert. It consists of an entrance, corridor, and three chambers.
The presence of corner triglyphs reflects the Greek nature of the monument. The architectural features found in the area of the three chambers and the corridor, indicate that the corridor had been built on the inside and had been vaulted and that the roof on the third chamber had probably graded upwards in a form of a pyramid-like shape at the top of which a huge lion was standing.
Corner triglyph found in the monument at Siwa Oasis. Credit: Liana Souvaltzi
The decorative sculptures of the monument are unique and an excellent example of Classical Greek Art. Representative classical themes were present, such as the astragal, the egg and dart, the eight-petal rosette, leaf-like pieces, and open and closed anthemia.
The lintel from the burial chamber of the tomb showing the eight-petal rosettes, a symbol of Macedonian royalty. Credit: Liana Souvaltzi
The presence of special symbols denoting Alexander were also present, such as the hologlyph lions, the eight beamed star, the disk with the snakes, the acorn tree and the Macedonian shields.
Lion head found inside the tomb. Credit: Liana Souvaltzi
An important point was that many of the architectural features that were found, such as the triglyph and horizontal cornice with the mutules (rectangular block above the triglyph), had maintained their original colours – in this case, blue. Some of the metopes (spaces between two triglyphs on a Doric frieze) had maintained their terracotta colour. A few pieces of the friezes saved from the inside of the corridor maintained the colour on the green leaves and the blue on the anthemia which were similar to lotus flowers on a white background.
The corridor of the tomb revealed several new elements. The symbols and the ceremonial objects found in the corridor indicate that the area of the corridor was the telesterion (initiation hall), where mystical sacred and closed ceremonies were held in honour of ‘the god’, Alexander.
The enclosed long corridor, 31.32m long and 7m wide, extended from the gates at the main entrance of the tomb. The corridor had three diametrically opposite doors, all built-in, and there was a low parapet, with a height of 31cm and breath of 13cm, which divided the corridor into three zones where the various symbols and emblems were distributed. The central area of the corridor, 2.3m in width, was the main passage and ended in a T shape at the entrance to the three chambers. The symbols in this central area are the Eye of the Sun and the Fire. In the right and left area of the corridor were the altars with double funnels in front of the gates.
Cleaning up the corridor leading to the tomb. Credit: Liana Souvaltzi
The south eastern gate (No. 3 door), contains the symbol of the constellation of the centaur (nowadays the Southern Cross) and the altar. To the right and left of the entrance of the corridor were two small shrines and the area in between was enclosed by two diametrically opposite double doors, the thresholds and bases for the hinges of which have been preserved. This area was 3.24m long and 2.08m wide.
From the type of symbols found at the tomb, and the study of their mystic meaning, we concluded that particular rituals were practiced in honour of Alexander.
Finally, we found three different honorary inscriptions written in Greek uppercase letters. The first inscription could be dated from its text to between 290 and 284 BC. The first line of the inscription bore the name ΑΛΕΞΑΝΔΡΟΣ ΑΜΜΩΝΟΣ ΡΑ (ALEXANDER AMMON RA).
The second inscription can be dated between 108 and 115 BC and is an honorary inscription and was placed by the Emperor Traianus in honour of Alexander, whom he admired and respected as a god.
The third inscription is a fragment which indicates the number of the inhabitants of the oasis and the army, which was a part of the military forces assigned to guard the royal tomb of Alexander the Great.
The discovery of these inscriptions and their meanings was announced in the course of the Italian – Egyptian Congress in Rome on 15 November 1995.
When an archaeologist discovers inscriptions with a name, it leaves little room for doubt – Alexander was buried in his beloved oasis, as he wanted, near his ‘divine Father’, Ammon Zeus.
Symbol of Ammon Ra found inside the tomb, the sun with the cobras. Credit: Liana Souvaltzi
All these terrible years that have passed since the work of the Greek Mission at the site of the tomb of Alexander the Great was halted at the request of the Greek Government of that period, have resulted in the destruction of the monument and many of its unique and priceless findings.
Today, the situation at the tomb and the surrounding area is unacceptable. It has been turned into a rubbish dump and the underground water has moved much closer to the surface, destroying the monument.
A large section of the East and West wall of the main tomb has collapsed and the paving in the corridor, which was in a very good condition, has now been completely destroyed, as have the stones, which separated the corridor into three parts for the various ceremonial uses.
The altars in front of each entrance have also been destroyed. The two sanctuaries east and west of the propylon have tilted to a large degree. The floor and inner decoration of the east sanctuary has also been destroyed.
What else to add for the destruction of the tomb of Alexander? Writing this, I feel pain deep in my heart and I am hearing a voice coming from the Tomb, saying SAVE ME.
The destruction has also extended to the wonderful lintels and to all the architectural features of the tomb, which were decorated with wonderful sculptures.
A lintel from the chamber of the tomb. Credit: Liana Souvaltzi
Why such a hatred against this monument? I cannot understand it, even if people do not want to accept that the tomb of Alexander the Great is located in Siwa Oasis, is that any reason for this Greek monument to be left in the hands of a destructive fate?
I have fought hard and will continue to fight for our work at the tomb of Alexander for as long I live, as it is morally and emotionally part of our past, our history, and our legends.
We will never forget the day when the Egyptian Government announced that the tomb of Alexander was found in Egypt, at Siwa oasis on January 29, 1995. That day remained a very happy memory for all of us, full of smiling faces and emotions, though it was not without its dark faces, those who were cooking up their plans.
That day marked the beginning of many changes to come at the oasis. The oasis of Siwa was beginning to emerge from the dark age of obscurity to enter a new period, and this little dot on the map of the world was the centre of the attention for the whole world.
Over the years, the oasis has changed, losing forever its mysterious and ancient form. It is now a modern oasis with tourist shops and many luxurious hotels, all in the name of civilization and financial wellbeing.
When we too have become grains of sand, maybe our souls will be around the beautiful, courageous world of the oasis to salute to those qualities lost forever in the oasis of Ammon and Alexander.
Featured image: Reconstruction of what the monument in the Siwa Oasis would have once looked like. Credit: Liana Souvaltzi.