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MAREA: Pilgrimage & Churches

Mediterranean > Egypt > Cities > Marea

Although the mainstay of the economy of Mareotis was production of high-value goods, mainly foodstuffs, destined for Alexandria or beyond, it developed in late antiquity an active traffic in the reverse direction for pilgrimage to the shrine of St. Menas in the desert south of the lake. The pilgrims came from Alexandria’s Mareotic harbor or, from other parts of Egypt, via one of the canals linking the Nile to the lake, and traveled by water to the port in the middle of the western extension of the lake, traditionally called Marea but perhaps to be identified as Philoxenite. From there they had 17 km of land travel to reach the martyr’s shrine with its accompanying basilica, martyr church, baptistery, and extensive facilities for accommodating pilgrims.

The port of Philoxenite/Marea itself has extensive facilities apparently related to this flow of pilgrims, and there are additional facilities not far south of the port. The distance from the port to the shrine could be covered in a single day’s travel on foot, but ancient sources record the construction of watering places along the road.

The monasteries on the north side of the lake, along the Tainia ridge, undoubtedly also attracted their share of pilgrimage traffic. Enaton, at the ninth mile from Alexandria, was the most famous, but those at the fifth and eighteenth mile, as well as one at Taposiris Magna, probably also brought visitors into the region, either by road west from Alexandria or by lake transport to the port of Taposiris.

The larger eastern part of the lake also had a part to play in pilgrimage to monasteries, for the important monastic area of Nitria lay near its southern end, requiring a journey of a day and a half by water from Alexandria.

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