Conservation News Egypt

The battle for Egypt’s ancient Roman site, Antinopolis

Archaeologists denounce the “disgraceful” plundering of the city, built by emperor Hadrian

“It’s a battle,” says Rosario Pintaudi, an Italian archaeologist from the Vitelli Papyrological Institute, Florence. “Groups of children pass by us, grinning, armed with spades with which they dig out artefacts and sell them.”

Leading archaeologists have denounced the poor state of conservation of the Roman remains at Antinopolis in Egypt, the city built by the emperor Hadrian, who ruled Rome from 117AD to 138AD. The revolution that swept through the country in 2011 and the subsequent exit of its president, Hosni Mubarak, who is currently in jail facing corruption charges, have affected the security and conservations of many historical sights in the country, especially those that are far from major city centres. Antinopolis, located near the Nile over 30km south of the nearest large town, Minya, is a perfect target.

Until recently, the Roman hippodrome there was still intact, although it has now been swallowed by the ever-expanding cemetery for the neighbouring small town called Sheikh ‘Ibada. Out of the four hippodromes built by the Romans in Egypt, this was the only one that survived. Large areas are being prepared for redevelopment and parts of the ancient necropolis on the north of the site have already been converted into farmland.

Rosario Pintaudi, an Italian archaeologist from the Vitelli Papyrological Institute, Florence, has raised the alarm and involved other leading archaeologists, such as Jay Heidel, from Chicago University’s Oriental Institute, to bring the issue to the attention of the Egyptian authorities. Pintaudi claims that, thanks to American involvement, he obtained a meeting with Mohammed Ibrahim, the minister of antiquities, who only promised to address the matter when he realised that a nearby temple, built by Rameses II, is also under threat. “It’s a battle,” says Pintaudi, “groups of children pass by us, grinning, armed with spades with which they dig out artefacts and sell them. People don’t like our presence here.”

Raymond Johnson, the director of the archaeological mission from the University of Chicago in Luxor, says: “This is a disgrace, it’s a real tragedy. After the meeting with the minister they increased the number of guards, but many of them are from the same families as those that pillage the site.”

A vast expanse of ancient ruins, Antinopolis extends eastwards from the small of Sheikh ‘Ibada, and much of the Roman wall that circles the ancient city are still visible. Antinopolis has been an important source of artefacts of Egypt’s early Christian period, many of which are now housed in antiquities museums around the world.



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