Its very name, Medinet Madi, evokes images of layers upon layers of history steeped in legend and romance. Literally ‘City of the Past’ in Arabic, the site still goes by that name which was bestowed upon it by the Arabs who conquered Egypt in the 7th century.
Medinet Madi came into being during ancient Egypt’s Middle Kingdom (2052 – 1786BC) as an agricultural village called Dja. Its ruins proudly stand today in southwest Fayoum, a fertile depression lying some 100km southwest Cairo and irrigated by the Nile water, and hold the remains of the only Middle Kingdom temple still remaining in Egypt, complete with texts and engraved scenes. The temple was constructed during the reigns of Amenemhet III (1842 – 1794 BC) and Amenemhet IV (1798 – 1785 BC), and was dedicated to the cobra goddess Renenutet and the crocodile god Sobek of Scedet, patron of the entire region and the capital.
But the history of Medinet Madi does not stop at that; it extends well into the Greco-Roman and Coptic eras, from the 4th century BC till the 7th century AD.
Since it was discovered by the Italian Achille Vogliano in 1935, Medinet Madi has been the focus of interest of Italian archaeological missions in Egypt.
Egyptology professor Roberto Buongarzone said that one of the town’s features was that it was found in very good condition, which is unusual and makes it a rare archaeological treasure.
During the Ptolemaic period Dja became known as Narmouthis, a Greek name meaning “the city of Renenutet-Hermouthis”. The temple flourished and more monuments were built on its north and south sides.
Medinet Madi saw intense settlement during the Coptic period, and life continued on the site into the ninth century.
The University of Pisa archaeologists carried out exploration work at Medinet Madi since 1978. They focused on the southern or Coptic area, and to date have identified ten churches dating from the 5th to the 7th centuries. These finds have been extremely important in understanding the history of Fayoum’s ecclesiastical architecture. Thanks to a contribution from the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 2004, the Pisa mission was able to rescue blocks engraved with four Greek hymns. These were fully restored and are now on display at the Karanis Museum in Fayoum.
Archaeological expeditions conducted between 1997 and 2004 in collaboration with the University of Messina uncovered a new Ptolemaic temple (Temple C) dedicated to the worship of two crocodile deities. A unique feature of the temple is a barrel-vaulted structure adjoining the temple, which was used for the incubation of crocodile eggs.
In recent years a methodical topographical survey, photographic interpretation of the site and geophysical exploration have contributed to an understanding of the urban tissue of the ancient village. These surveys created a chronological stratification of the site from the Middle Kingdom to the Late Byzantine Period.
Natural, archaeological, recreational park
Significant work was done from 2000 to 2010 to restore the town as part of the Egyptian-Italian project, the Institutional Support to Supreme Council of Antiquities for Environmental Monitoring and Management of the Cultural Heritage Sites (ISSEMM).
The ISSEMM Project in Fayoum has created an archaeological park along a 28-km scenic track across the Western Desert connecting Medinet Madi with Wadi Rayan, with its picturesque waterfalls, and Wadi Hitan (Whale Valley) with its abundant fossilised remains of an early type of whale. Both Wadi Rayan and Wadi Hitan are national parks in their own rights. The planned route will be unpaved so as to respect the landscape in the area, and will provide the best panoramic views of the sites. Work on the archaeological park will also allow for appropriate conservation and site management of both areas.
A buffer zone around Medinet Madi was carefully laid out so as to prevent and reduce the detrimental impact of agricultural expansion into the archaeological domain. Today access to Medinet Madi is at its southern end, where the southern altar stands as the gateway to the avenue of processions. A Visitors Centre welcomes the guests. The Centre provides a complete survey on the history of the site and the whole of Fayoum area through replica statues, information panels and photographs. It has a cafeteria, a bookshop and a conference area introducing visitors to their experience of the monuments of the archaeological site.
The ISSEMM project is entirely funded by the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ Directorate-General for the Development Cooperation, which has allotted 3,500,000 Euros to the budget.
Medinet Madi has recently been the focus of a Visibility Campaign by ISSEMM. At a seminar held at the Italian Embassy in Cairo, the moderator Emanuela Chiumeo who is managing director of Incontro Mediterraneo Magazine said, “This seminar is part of a visibility campaign to get the young generation to know their rich history, especially those who never studied archaeology yet have the responsibility to preserve this history.
“The purpose of the visibility campaign is to increase the number of Egyptian and foreign visitors, including school and university students, to the maximum allowed 10,000-visitors-a-year.
“The campaign is extremely significant for the local community as well, since it spreads awareness of the extraordinary economic potential of a protected, well preserved and well maintained archaeological site which, on the other hand, is increasingly exposed to the housing and population pressures that are typical of rapidly expanding rural areas.”
Egyptology professor Roberto Buongarzone who has been active on the project told Watani that the Italian expedition had no intention of carrying out any more digging in Medinet Madi or its surroundings. The focus now is on the new park linking the archaeological site with Wadi Rayan and Wadi Hitan to form a natural resort.
18 May 2014