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Medinet Madi

The remains of Medinet Madi encompass a considerable number of monuments, including the only Middle Kingdom worship temple still surviving in Egypt, with texts and engraved scenes. The history of Medinet Madi started in the Middle Kingdom, at the beginning of the second millennium B.C., as part of a reclamation project in the ‘Lake Region’ (present-day Fayoum). ...more

Medinet Madi History

The history of Medinet Madi (“the city of the past”) started in the Middle Kingdom, in the beginning of the 2nd millennium B.C., when an agricultural project in the Fayoum region saw the foundation of a town called Dja and the construction of a temple by Amenemaht III and Amenemaht IV, which was dedicated to the cobra goddess Renenutet and the crocodile god “Sobek of Shedet”, patron of the entire region and its capital Shedet, “Horus who resides in Shedet”. The small temple was built following a very simple, but extremely original architectural design: a court and a portico with two columns, an atrium and a sanctuary with three niches. The scenes on the western side of the temple are named after Amenemhat III; those on the eastern side after Amenemhat IV, his son and successor. On the eastern wall of the atrium the king is portrayed performing the ritual “tightening of the rope” to found the temple, whereas on the western wall the gods Sobek and Anubis ritually purify the Pharaoh. During the Ptolemaic period, when Fayoum experienced a new agricultural redemption, the town of Dja – then called Narmouthis - a Greek name meaning “the city of (Isis)-Renenutet-Hermouthis”- and its old temple, which was “rediscovered” beneath a blanket of sand, were restored and consolidated, a high temenos was built and more monuments were erected north and south of the Middle Kingdom temple.

In Ptolemaic and Roman times, in his beloved Fayum Amenemhat III was worshipped as a god with the name of Porramanres or Pramarres or Premarres, phonetical transcriptions of the Egyptian name Per-aa Nymaatre, i.e. Pharaoh Nymaatre. The fundamental role of Narmouthis in developing and strengthening Amenemaht III’s cult is explicitly confirmed by Hymn 4, the last of the hymns composed by the Hellenized Egyptian Isidorus in the 1st century BC. The four hymns were inscribed on two piers of the entrance to the vestibule of Heracleodorus in the Ptolemaic temple of Medinet Madi.

In 1935-1939 the Italian archaeologist Achille Vogliano discovered Amenemhat's temple (“Temple A”), the vestibule with the four hymns by Isidorus, the northern Ptolemaic Temple (“Temple B”) and the great square, the “Isis chapel”, the courts and part of the dromos with a kiosk. Till now the temple of Amenemhat III is the only worship temple of the Middle Kingdom with texts and engraved scenes still remaining in Egypt, and its discovery was one of the greatest in Egypt in the 20th century. In Roman times the town was still active. It wasn’t until the late 3rd century and early 4th century AD that the zone of the temples was gradually abandoned, leaving the ancient sacred area to sand and debris. People moved more and more towards the southern part of the town, partly occupying old abandoned houses. In the Diocletian era (4th-5th century), Castrum Narmoutheos (50 x 50m) was built in the easternmost part of the town, to house the military cohort, “Cohors IV Numidarum”. It was equipped with a cistern fed by a system of canals. Castrum Narmoutheos was discovered by the archaeological Mission of Pisa University in 2006-2007, thanks to a systematic topographical survey, photo-interpretation of the site and geophysical exploration, all of which also contributed to a comprehensive understanding of the urban texture of the ancient town and its chronological stratification up to the Late Byzantine Period. In the Christian era (5th-7th centuries) many churches were built, whose remains were unearthed by the Pisa University Mission. Perhaps at that time the name of the town was Terenûde. It was probably an important centre of Manichaeism, too. In the 8th and 9th centuries a partial Arab occupation occurred, and the place was renamed Medinet Madi, the name reported on the Fayum map in the “Description de l'Egypte”.

The new stage of Medinet Madi’s life is the present phase, as an archaeological park (connected to the protected areas of Wadi el Rayan and Wadi el Hetan) established by the Italian Cooperation Project ISSEMM (2005-2010). The park and its Visitor Centre were officially inaugurated in May 2011. In addition to the parts of the temple discovered by Achille Vogliano, the works by the Project (“sand removal”) brought to light a large southern area that is archaeologically new, completely unexpected and remarkably rich in unprecedented archaeological data. The symmetrical and monumental access from the south, discovered in 2008, starts with a large axial altar (149 x 148cm, 54cm high) in limestone blocks, for holocaust or sacrifice. Northward, along the dromos, two lion statues (1.80m long, on a plinth of blocks) were discovered. Two identical Greek inscriptions are engraved on the base of the twin statues, under the front legs (the gaps in each of the texts can be integrated by the other): "For Queen Cleopatra and King Ptolemy, and Philometor Soter, Protarcos son of Herod, his wife and his children [consecrated the lions] as a votive offering to the goddess Hermouthis the Great". Interestingly, no title or function is indicated for Protarcos. Perhaps this man was not a resident in Fayoum. He might have been linked to Medinet Madi through his wife, whose name, according to another Greek inscription found in 2009 at the base of the podium of the first "kiosk", was Tamestasytmis, a typical Fayoum name containing the name of the god Mestasytmis. This inscription, dated to the 54th year of the reign of a king who, though unnamed, must certainly be Ptolemy VIII (116 BC) proves that the mentioned Protarcos consecrated fifty cubits of the dromos to Isis Hermouthis and Sokonopis.

The ramp with the dedicatory inscription by Protarcos leads to a structure of Hellenistic style (a “baldacchino”), which was transformed into a kiosk. Further north of the dromos, past another pair of lion statues and east of the kiosk found by Vogliano, a large lioness statue (its base measuring 192 x 55cm) was discovered, standing on its stubby legs, as if guarding the entrance to the kiosk. The lioness statue of Medinet Madi bears a lion's mane, yet has four breasts and suckles its cub. It has a parallel in lioness Tefnout, the lioness with a mane in the temple of Dakka.

According to the restorers who cleared off the layer of salt and sand from the surface of the statue, it was originally painted red. The type and realistic style of the lioness statue are original. It might be the work of local craftsmen, perhaps on a Greek model, which would be a very likely occurrence in that mixed social and cultural environment. However, the possibility cannot be ruled out that the statue was made by Roman workers. The dromos underwent renovations probably in the Augustan age. The Isis chapel with its stone stela portraying the half-snake goddess Termouthis, the Ptolemaic Temple B, the large square with its portico, and the dwellings along the dromos were restored by the Cooperation Project. On the north-western side of the square, a very important discovery was made: a large water shaft, i.e. the sacred pit providing the pure water needed for the ceremonies of the temple, was found.