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Abu Mena is an ancient Christian heritage site and is one of the oldest Christian sites in Egypt. Located in the desert Maryout about 45 km southwest of Alexandria, Egypt. Abu Mena was inscribed as a World Heritage Site 1979. The site has suffered severe subsidence in recent years, in 2001 to the list of World Heritage Sites in Danger due to the heightened agricultural activity of an ill-conceived agricultural irrigation project in the region which has caused a number of the site’s buildings to collapse or become unstable. It is now closed to the public while remedial restoration work is carried out.
The site is monastery complex and Christian pilgrimage destination center formerly the town of Abu Mena in Late Antique Egypt from the 5th to the mid 7th century. This site is a remains of an early Christian holy city which includes the church, baptistry, basilicas, public buildings, monasteries, streets, houses, workshops and other relics. A few buildings are standing today in Abu Mena but foundations of major buildings like the basilica have been excavated and identified.
This small town was built over the burial grounds of the martyr Menas of Alexandria, who died in AD 296. The first excavations brought to light a large Basilica from 1905 to 1907 , an adjacent church which had probably housed the saint’s remains, and Roman baths. The second round of excavations were continued by the German Archaeological Institute from 1969 to 1998, resulted in the discovery of a huge dormitory, a baptistery and a complex of wine presses with the underground storage rooms. The church at this site was erected in honour St Mina, a Christian martyr.
Menas, who was a soldier from Alexandria born in West Africa serving under the Roman dominion. He is famous for publicly announcing his Christianity and rejecting the idea of killing any Christians after his army won. Due to these pacifist beliefs he deserted the army. Having been caught he was tortured and beheaded. There are different versions about his burial and about how the Abu Mena complex was built and dedicated to him. The saint’s corpse was buried at an unspecified location , It is believed amongst many that after Menas died and was taken on a camel, the camel who was bringing back his remains from Phrygia at some point stopped walking and refused to continue, that was taken as a sign of God, and that’s where they buried his remains.
Another interesting fact is that in that same spot a water well in the desert just erupted making the area green and fertile full of vines and olive trees the area was named St. Menas Vineyards. What once was the Saint Menas Vineyards Oasis today, only few standing remains, and the desert are the witness of once a beautiful oasis and pilgrimage site. In the vicinity of the future Abu Mena complex, turning this place, in the following two centuries, into a place of pilgrimage destination in Egypt and remained so until the seventh century. When the city was destroyed by the Arabs.The site was one of the holy sites and still so today one of the most venerated saints in Egypt.
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