Marina el-Alamein (Egypt)
Decisions made by the Supreme Council of Antiquities in the wake of a new site presentation project proposed by architect Agnieszka Dobrowolska representing ARCE and implemented conjointly with the Polish Centre have had bearing on how the site looks today and how it will look in the near future. In the official Egyptian strategy for the tourist development of the Mediterranean coast of Egypt, Marina is seen as a major attraction, not only as an open archaeological site – a veritable Egyptian Pompeii emerging from the sands – but also as the location of a site museum, which hopefully will collect antiquities from the entire coast between Alexandria and Marsa Matrouh.
The American project, carried out under the umbrella of the Polish Centre, started out with a site seminar in November 2005, discussing the overall strategy and separate responsibilities of the three teams now involved in Marina (the other two being the Polish Centre’s archaeological expedition directed from the beginning by Prof. Wiktor A. Daszewski and the Polish-Egyptian restoration project headed since 1995 by Prof. Stanisław Medeksza). From mid January to mid March the ARCE team conducted major earthworks combined with whatever archaeological surveying and limited testing that was required in order to remove the building-construction and archaeological dumps that had obstructed a clear view of the ancient town. Building works were started on the site of a new parking lot for tourists and on relocating and re-shaping existing mounds into a panorama hill next to the future site entrance. The tourist itinerary was updated and a trial run of the tourist walk traced in the field. Limited restoration in the “Forum” area was also undertaken. Completion of the site presentation project together with signage and lighting on site and a tourist guidebook in English are planned for September 2007.
The Polish-Egyptian Preservation Mission was in the field from March 10 to May 20. While the major objective of the project is to carry out restoration of monuments with an eye to future site presentation (each new element of the project is consulted with the Supreme Council of Antiquities), the present season demonstrated a need to create an interface with the approved site presentation design. As always, reality writes its own scenarios and by the end of the year a conference was called by the SCA, which supervises the macro-project at Marina, and an updated schedule and scope of future work by the separate missions was approved. The meeting also served to settle the misunderstandings and formal difficulties that the Archaeological Project had encountered earlier in the year, in effect of which the archaeological season in 2006 had to be cancelled.
Meanwhile the Restoration Project made progress in the principal areas of activity, which are threefold. The main thrust of the work is preservation, conservation and restoration, but before the architectural restorers can move in it is essential to complete standard documentation that is lacking for the monuments in question. It should be kept in mind that most of the Project’s effort is directed at buildings which were uncovered during rescue digging in the late 1980s at the time of the original discovery, but which were never subjected to regular archaeological excavations. Hence, it is essential not only to prepare a full architectural record of each feature, but also to clear the ruins under archaeological supervision. This is then the third principal area of work, which indirectly results in various specialists being called in to study the excavated material. Directly connected with the restoration project is a geoarchaeological study of the kinds of building and ornamental stone used in the architecture of Marina.
This season, the team’s architects concentrated on completing the record of House H1 in the northern part of the site and House H2 situated immediately to the west of H1. Archaeological clearing (Grażyna Bąkowska in charge) included perhaps the most exciting discovery of the season in the form of an undisturbed store of amphorae of 3rd century AD date found in Room 26 of the house.
Renata Kucharczyk studied the assorted glass from the houses; her detailed report on the collection will appear in the forthcoming volume of Polish Archaeology in the Mediterranean, the Centre’s reports for 2006.
Building conservation work proceeded according to standard procedures, using techniques and materials already tested and found to stand up well to the deleterious climatic conditions on the site in Egyptian winters.
The work on the anastylosis of a commemorative monument to Commodus in room 2 of House H21 in the northwestern part of the ancient town, which has been spread out already over a number of seasons, progressed to the point that only the cornice has to be remounted. Recognized as a monument to Commodus only after sections of a marble table with inscription where read by Dr. Adam Łajtar (in 2000), the structure proved quite puzzling, firstly to understand its layout and design, and secondly to “fish out” architectural members from a heap of rubble and stone debris left from the original salvage works conducted by Egyptians in the 1980s. Once the pieces were put together theoretically (Rafał Czerner, Stanisław Medeksza), the effort was centered on cutting the missing elements in new stone in order to be able to proceed with the anastylosis. In 2006, the engaged pilasters and columns were all raised to higher levels and the back wall substantially built up, practically to the level of the architrave.
Consolidation and restoration work proceeded on the seats inside the exedra in the South Stoa of the main square. In the Necropolis, yet another pillar tomb was re-erected based on original excavation documentation of 1994. The capital made of four quarters required the missing fourth element to be reconstructed before it could be remounted. A replica of a limestone statue of the falcon-shaped god Horus (cut in new stone by Piotr Zambrzycki) was mounted on top of the capital; the original found in the excavations is now kept in the stores.
This pillar tomb had already afforded a surprise in the previous season, when a Greek inscription was observed on blocks of the original east face of the monument. These had not been raised during the original excavations in order not to disturb the block arrangement of the monument which had toppled in an earthquake.