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Ancient temple to Zeus uncovered in Egypt's Sinai Peninsula

Egyptian archeologists have unearthed the ruins of a Roman temple dedicated to Zeus in the Sinai Peninsula, continuing excavation work that first began in the early 20th century.
VALERIE GACHE/AFP via Getty Images

Egyptian archaeologists recently unearthed the ruins of a temple of the Greek god Zeus along with other antiquities from the early Christian and Islamic eras in North Sinai.

The Egyptian Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities announced April 25 that the discoveries were made during excavations by an Egyptian mission at the archeological site in Tell el-Farma, known in ancient Egypt as Pelusium. The site is located just east of the Suez Canal.

Secretary-General of the Supreme Council of Antiquities Mustafa al-Waziri told Al-Monitor over the phone that the temple was determined buried under granite blocks that turned out to be the remains of a huge gate. The gate had once consisted of two pink granite columns about eight meters tall and one meter wide and a granite lintel. 

Waziri said that the mud-brick temple collapsed in an earthquake hundred of years ago. The entrance of the temple was determined to have once been reached by marble steps, he said. 

He noted that in 1910, French archaeologist Jean Cledat had discovered the lintel bearing part of a Greek inscription that indicated the presence of the Temple of Zeus Cassius, but did not find the structure. The modern team found another piece of the lintel that completed the inscription, which reads that Roman Emperor Hadrian had ordered new additions to the Temple of Zeus Cassius in Pelusium and that the ruler of Egypt, Titus Flavius ​​Titanus, completed them.

Waziri explained, “The discovered blocks are now being studied, documented and photographed using photogrammetric technology to be reassembled using modern programs and technologies, which contributes to reaching the architectural design closest to the Temple of Zeus Cassius.”

According to Waziri, Pelusium dates to the late Pharaonic era and flourished as a major port during the Roman, Greek and Byzantine eras. He explained, “The area became famous in the Roman era for its unique location as a port on the Mediterranean Sea and at the end of the estuary of the ancient Pelusium branch of the Nile.” 

Mahmoud al-Hosari, a professor of archeology at Eloued University, explained that the city was established during the reign of Djoser, founder of the Third Dynasty.

He told Al-Monitor the ancient area was one of the most important defense points on Egypt's eastern front and the point where the Hyksos entered Egypt. When Alexander the Great came to establish his state in Egypt, he also entered through the city.

Hosari explained that the name Zeus Cassius brings together Zeus, the god of the sky in ancient Greek mythology, and Mount Cassius in Syria, where the god Zeus was worshiped.

Hosari explained that other granite remains were discovered surrounding the temple site, making it likely that the structure was dismantled in later eras and some components were moved for reuse in building churches. 

Hosari said the area includes a huge Roman fortress built with red bricks, a number of Roman public baths and cisterns as well as one of the largest Roman theaters in Egypt and a bridge built of red bricks that connected to the southern entrance to the city. The area also features an ancient arena for horse racing and the ruins of four ancient churches.