Madinat Habu


The great fortified mortuary temple of Ramses III.

The Coptic settlement in the temple area of Madinat is the simple continuation and the final stage of a civilian migration into the temple precincts that began as early as the Twenty-first Dynasty (from 1090 B.C.). At first, it was significantly limited only to the area within the wall and went on parallel with some isolated alterations and reconstruction work in the temple buildings themselves. Larger groups of house foundations in the outer areas, for example, the group of houses on the southeast side beside the so- called fortified gate of Ramses III, can only be attested in the Roman period (Hölscher, 1934, pl. 10). After the final extinction of the temple cult in Christian times, rebuilding around the temple was naturally intensified to a considerable degree and took possession of the temple itself, which in the preceding periods had always been left untouched. remains of house foundations have been identified in the first courtyard. In the second court, a church was built. In this way, the Coptic inhabitants pressed forward into the inner part of the actual temple building. Even the roof of the temple was overrun with houses.

Remains of this Coptic occupation of the temple area were identified in large numbers, especially on the northside of the temple (Hölscher, 1934, pl. 32). They have today been razed, but during the period of excavation were sufficiently abundant to give a good idea of the appearance and the forms of life of the settlement at that time. In several houses were found, among other things, many more or less richly developed jar stands (Hölscher, 1954, p. 47), which evidently belonged to the normal equipment of every house. What is striking is the small size of the rooms in most houses. The houses were almost all provided with staircases, and were often several stories high. They were built closely together, but almost all the houses have their own outer walls so that where they adjoin neighboring houses two thick walls sometimes run side by side. The recognizable streets take an approximately straight-line course, but there are many blind alleys.

In general, there are no ground plans of particular houses worthy of notice unless we count the large house 76 at the rear wall of the temple building or the storehouse above the temple of Eye and Horemheb (Hölscher, 1934, pl. 34) to the north, outside the temple precinct. Remarkably, the staircases are never situated beside the entrance, but always in the back part of the house. They thus gave access to the private part of the house, while the front entrance room served as a guest room or reception room (Hölscher, 1954, p. 46).

In the eighth or ninth century A.D., the settlement was abandoned. The reason for this is not known.

In addition to the houses, there were several churches in the area of the temple.

The great five-aisled basilica that once occupied the second temple court is undoubtedly the most important. It was oriented to the east, and therefore across the original axis of the temple. To accommodate the apse, one of the pharaonic columns on the east side was sacrificed. Otherwise only the Osiris pillars were leveled and the space between these pillars walled up, so as to obtain a closed wall surface on the inside. The church was provided with a gallery, but where the staircase for it lay can no longer be recognized. Chronologically, the church probably belongs to the middle or second half of the sixth century. Monneret de Villard (1954, p. 54) dates the building between the fifth and seventh centuries, for at an earlier period so massive an intrusion into the structure of a completely intact temple seems scarcely probable.

The basilica in front of the fortified east gate of the enclosure wall is substantially more modest and clearly of later date. For the understanding of Christian church architecture in Egypt, however, it forms an important stage in the development of the khurus (room between sanctuary and nave) and of the front triumphal arch placed before the opening of the apse. It is the only example in which the eastern row of columns, such as is found especially in Egyptian churches with a tri coach sanctuary, has been fused into a massive cross wall, broken only by a large arch opening. The rest of the church conforms to the usual pattern; in the southeast, there is an additional side room. The narthex with an outer door and staircase were added later. The adjoining building on the west could be the dwelling of the priest.

The small church in the temple precinct of Eye and Horemheb lies to the north outside the actual temple area of Madinat and is the result of the reconstruction of an older Roman building. The church itself is a single-roomed chapel with a single-room sanctuary. In this reconstruction a southern narthex and a larger west room whose purpose is still unexplained were added at the same time.

  • Grossmann, P. Mittelalterliche Langhauskuppelkirchen und verwandte Typen in Oberägypten. Glückstadt, 1982.
  • Hölscher, U. The Excavation of Habu, Vol. 1, General Plans and Views. Chicago, 1934.
  • ___. The Excavation of Habu, Vol. 5, Post Ramessid Remains. Chicago, 1954.