Marea (Egypt), 2006

Marea on Lake Maryut (Egypt)

The Marea expedition of the Archaeological Museum in Kraków, directed by Dr. Hanna Szymańska and Krzysztof Babraj, and organized in association with the Polish Centre, returned to the building of the Byzantine bath excavated in 2000-2002 for a last comprehensive season of excavations before the final publication.

Marea. Situational plan of the site

Marea. Bath excavated by the Polish team, viewed from the west

The team worked from August 10 to September 28, concentrating foremost on completing the clearing of the western courtyard of the bath.

Marea. Excavations in the caldarium

The full dimensions of the courtyard in the men’s part of this double bath turned out to be twice that in the women’s part; the 200m2 were paved with marble slabs of which nothing but imprints in the bedding and a small section in the northwestern corner remained. A second pavement of limestone tiles installed as part of general building rehabilitation had also been destroyed. Porticos erected of salvaged architectural members of all kinds in a manner characteristic of the period once lined the northern and southern sides. Other signs of modified architectural design in later phases of the building were identified, including blocked doorways and additional pools installed in the wall thickness.

Marea. Bread oven discovered behind the west wall of the bath

A round bread oven stood by the outside facade of the west wall of this courtyard. The fill behind the west wall consisted of rubbish and discarded waste, a veritable favissa which also yielded sherds of a painted vessel with scenes of a Dionysiac nature and an inscription in Greek reading: “I am healthy. Drink, Kyra” and an exceptional find in the form of a bronze medallion with an image of St. Menas.

By parallel with other bath facilities, the four units attached to the north wall were presumed to be small shops supplying bathers with whatever was needed. Further excavations revealed the remaining installations and facilities of the bath, such as drains, flues, tubuli, hypocaust cellars. The most interesting discovery, however, was the pipe system supplying water from the nearby saqiyah well to the bath. Manual transport of water to the bath had been presumed until now for lack of sound archaeological evidence. The system was actually a simple hydraulic installation making use of the principle of connected vessels. Water was collected in the pool of the saqiyah, from where it was pumped into clay pipes to run to the bath. Only one such supply pipe has been preserved. The pipe, which was observed in the guise of some bedding blocks under the saqiyah pool, ran under the floor of F3 for 5.20m until it reached the north wall behind the shops, whereupon it continued for 18m, then crossed one of the shops and finally climbed 1.50m up the wall to empty into a basin there.

Marea. Shop with vestiges of the clay pipe that ran under the floor, supplying water from the saqiyah well to the pools in the bath

This year’s finds have confirmed the dating for the most intensive operation of the bath in the 7th and early 8th century. The shops, and especially E1, yielded numerous coins of Chosroes II (619-621), while more than 10 of the legible Arab coins originated from around 689-750.

Bronze coin (obverse and reverse) of the Persian King Chosroes II (c. 619) found in the baths in Marea

Contact
H. Szymańska: leukaspis@interia.pl
K. Babraj: krzysztof.babraj@ma.krakow.pl