Ancient Hermopolis Magna
Polish–Egyptian Archaeological and Preservation Mission at el-Ashmunein
Type of site:
– Remains from the Hellenistic and Roman periods
– Church erected probably in the 5th century AD
Most interesting finds:
– Nectanebo II’s inscription (360–342 BC)
– Stone blocks decorated with Akhenaten’s cartouches were reused during the construction of the basilica
– Architectural remains from the Hellenistic and Roman periods
– Numerous small finds, including coins, terracotta figurines, and oil lamps
– Inscription commemorating Thenon, an unknown gymnasiarch from Hermopolis, from the 2nd century BC
History of research:
Dates of PCMA mission’s work:
Type of research:
Excavation and conservation works
Marek Barański (1987–1990)
– Polish Centre of Mediterranean Archaeology, University of Warsaw
– State Ateliers for the Preservation of Cultural Heritage
– Egyptian Ministry of State for Antiquities
The remains of the basilica were discovered in 1942 by M. Kamal. The Egyptian Antiquities Service carried out a partial reconstruction of the monument by raising the northern portico and erecting columns in the nave. Later, a mission from the Alexandria University cleared the whole basilica.
Description of the site and research:
The Coptic basilica preserved on the site was erected probably at the end of the 5th century AD on the spot where earlier buildings from the Hellenistic and Roman periods had stood. The cathedral is 55 m long and almost 26 m wide with an estimated height of 22 m. There were matronea in the aisles and a columnar transept with exedras on both sides. In the north-western corner was a baptistery. Stairways leading to the matronea have been partially preserved. Besides the main entrance located on the axis of the church, there was a northern one preceded by a tetrastyle.
The work of the Polish team concentrated on the conservation and protection of the basilica as well as planning its renovation. Architectural elements were documented, including inscribed blocks from Doric architraves and Corinthian capitals of high artistic value. Several sondages and excavations were conducted to the north of the basilica in order to determine its archaeological context. A well was uncovered and dated based on the pottery fragments and coins found in its fill. Besides stone structures from the Hellenistic and Roman periods, remains of a mud-brick building were discovered in the lower layers.
Barański, M. (1992). Excavations at the basilica site at el-Ashmunein/ Hermopolis Magna in 1987–1990. Polish Archaeology in the Mediterranean, 3, 19–23.
Szafrański, Z. and Makramallach, A. (1989). A new inscription of Nektanebo II from Ashmunein. Göttinger Miszellen, 112, 65–66
Select site bibliography:
Wace, A.J.B., Megaw, A.H.S., and Skeat, T.C. (1991). Hermopolis Magna/Ashmunein. The Ptolemaic Sanctuary and the Basilica, Alexandria 1959. In A.S. Atiya (ed.), Ashmunein. In The Coptic Encyclopedia (pp. 285–287). New York.