A fortified town at the east end of the Sabkhat al-Bardawil (the ancient Lake Serbonis), with the seat of a bishop from A.D. 359 (Munier, 1943, p. 7). Since it was a harbor town and because of its position close to the most important military and caravan route linking Egypt and Palestine from Pelusium (Farama) via Rhinokorua (al-‘Arish) to Gaza (Josephus De bello Judaico 4. 661; also Gardiner, 1920, pp. 99ff.), at least from Roman times it had a significant mercantile importance. At the beginning of the sixth century it was developed into a strong fortress. It was destroyed by the Persians (619), but under Arab rule was rebuilt on a somewhat different site, using much material (spolia) from the old site. The final destruction presumably resulted from the earthquake of 1302.
During the excavations in the region of the former town, whose ruins extend over an area of several square miles, parts of the camp from late antiquity as well as two churches were discovered. Both churches belong to the basilica type, and are provided with an atrium, which is seldom the case elsewhere in Egypt.
In the town area in the neighborhood of the late Roman camp, the south church is the larger of the two and has on the west side of the atrium several separate rooms and a cistern (wrongly regarded as a baptistery). The naos shows the usual division into three aisles with a western return aisle and a three-room sanctuary. In the apse there was a synthronon and in front of it the bema with vestiges of the cancelli. The altar seems to have been covered by a ciborium. Each of the two apse side rooms had a semicircular niche in the east wall. According to the excavation report (Clédat, 1916, p. 24), the setup of the church was of a remarkable uniformity. It may therefore be dated to the first half of the sixth century.
The north church in the harbor area is substantially smaller, and appears to have had an entrance only on the west. Access was through a tribelon from the atrium into the narthex, and then through three further doors into the three-aisle naos. There is no return aisle. The sanctuary as usual is divided into three rooms, and here also the apse is equipped with a synthronon. In front of the apse is the bema surrounded by cancelli, with the altar in the middle. A peculiarity of this church is a small triconch added to the apse at the back, which in its east conch contains a recess with a flight of steps ascending in front of the east wall, and therefore practically unusable. The excavators have no explanation to offer. Whether it is an arbitrarily formed baptistery, as conjectured by A. Khatchatrian (1962, p. 84), remains uncertain.
[See also: Architectural Elements of Churches.]
- Clédat, J. “Fouilles à Khirbet el-Flousiyeh.” Annales du Service des Antiquites de l’Egypte 16 (1916):6-32.
- Gardiner, A. H. “The Ancient Military Road Between Egypt and Palestine.” Journal of Egyptian Archaeology 6 (1920):99-116. Khatchatrian, A. Les baptistères paléochrétiens. Paris, 1962. Leclercq, H. Dictionnaire d’archéologie chrétienne et de liturgie 13 (1937):54-70.
- Munier, H. Recueil des listes épiscopales de l’église copte. Cairo, 1943.
- Nussbaum, O. Standort des Liturgen am christlichen Altar vor dem Jahre 1,000. Bonn, 1965.
- Vincent, H. “Un type de baptistère byzantin.” Revue biblique 21 (1922):583-89.