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MAREA: Post Antiquity

Mediterranean > Egypt > Cities > Marea

The history of the Mareotic region in the period after the Arab capture of Alexandria is not well known and its decline has puzzled scholars. Evidently a gradual decline in the canal system reduced the fresh-water supply of the lake, and finally the silting up of the Canopic branch of the Nile in the 12th cent. cut off the freshwater supply from the lake’s eastern end. The decline of Alexandria after late antiquity undoubtedly reduced local demand for the wine and other luxury products of the region, and the pilgrimage traffic to Abu Mina also declined. There are conflicting accounts in the medieval Arabic sources about the condition of the area.

The lake region reentered world history in 1801, when the British under Gen. Sir John Hely-Hutchinson breached the dike or isthmus between Mareotis and Lake Abu Kir on 12 April, in order to cut off the freshwater supply of the French garrison in Alexandria; the canal with Alexandria’s fresh water from the Nile ran along this dike. After a month, when the lakes were equalized in level, the British were able to send gunboats through the gap into Mareotis to the rear of French. The British used Mareotis to move troops to west side of Alexandria for the final attack, leading to the French surrender on 2 September). The breach was repaired only in 1804, and the canal was then reconstructed.

The lake was flooded a second time in 1807 by the English garrison in Alexandria in order to increase their defenses against Mohammed Ali. It was again repaired in February 1808. A final flooding occurred in 1892, as part of a reorganization of the irrigation system. A lack of sufficient fresh water coming into the lake from the Nile has led to its shrinkage in modern times to a fraction of its ancient size, or even its size in the first part of the 20th century.

Bagnall, Roger, "Marea." Electronic Encyclopædia of the Ancient World. EEAW, Inc., 2002. (Accessed ).