The Sirius Project

The Sirius Project
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Thursday, May 26, 2011

The "Underworld" of Alexandria - Part 2 Mustafa Kamal

While Shatby managed to inspire me each morning as I passed it by, and for sure tested John’s balance as he crawled in on the slippy rocks in order to photograph the inner parts of the main chamber, the most prestigious and breath taking cemetery must be that of Mustafa Kamal (previously named Mustafa Pasha). While seven individual tombs have been excavated (and another series of tombs nearby is being excavated by the Polish team), only two are in a good state of preservation. The cemetery itself is located, again, close to the coastline, in the eastern part of the ancient city, hidden away from a plain sight due to the many high buildings that surround it. It is a charming area to enter, providing a vision of an open air garden museum, a sanctuary indeed in a so crowded area. The two best preserved tombs can both be reached by individual staircases, one leading to the right and the other naturally to the left. Tomb I, which is the one to the right, usually causes the visitor the greatest awe as it consists of a pseudo-peristyle courtyard surrounded by Doric columns and with Egyptianized sphinxes protecting each entry to a chamber. Moreover, it has a frieze with traditional Greek triglyphs and in its centre is still preserved a painting showing three Macedonian horsemen separated by two standing female figures. Adriani, when he excavated the tomb, quickly proclaimed this painting to be the best example ever found of Alexandrian paintings. And it is the style of the painting along with the fragmentary additional painting that leads to the common conclusion to date this Tomb I to the 3rd century B.C.

The main chamber of the tomb is located in the southern part, beyond the entry guarded by the sphinxes and framed with Corinthian pilasters. There one will find an extensive vestibule with the long and narrow loculus burials on each side, and with a kline chamber in its south centre. This is the only preserved kline chamber, as the additional rooms in Tomb I served for loculus burials exclusively. However, another kline chamber is to be found in Tomb III, located next to Tomb I, accessed by the left staircase.

Tomb III is the one that made the most intense impact on me personally with its theatrical appearance and decorative, but none structurally necessary architectural details. When first entering the tomb, one will step into a large central court, with a large semi circular exedra, used for funerary rites, in its southern corner. The tomb is decorated with four Doric half columns and two quarter columns. Other than the three openings, it also had false doors. Similar to Tomb I, this tomb has a kline chamber, with a very well preserved example of the architectural bed/sofa, preserved with clear colors. In front of the final resting place itself is an altar. Also this chamber has loculi on each side of the side walls. Tomb III was built partly underground and partly above ground, with various levels, including a garden court.

Returning to the ground level the open air garden museum is decorated with various ancient items, such as columns and minor sculptures. Walking towards the sea, thus north, one will reach another series of tombs, unfortunately rather damaged and not at all as well preserved as those of Tombs I and III. This series of tombs have a slightly later date as coins place them to the 2nd century B.C. Tomb IV once had a real peristyle with two Doric columns. This tomb is often referred to as having an oikos style, thus resembling Hellenistic houses. The tomb has a central axis with a hypaethral court, decorated with a frieze with the traditional Greek triglyphs and metops. Also this tomb had a kline chamber, and a part of the room was used for funerary banquets. In the southern part is a vestibule with a colonnade that forms the entry to a cult room with benches. Its side walls served for loculus burials. Similar to Tomb III, Tomb IV has an offering table.

and finally some images from the newly rediscovered tomb complex currently excavated by the Polish team...


  1. Thank you for posting these photographs. In addition to being "pretty," they will be of value to all working with things Alexandrian.

    Dr Bob Bianchi

  2. Dear Dr. Bianchi, not only it is a great honor to read your comment, but also it shows that the Sirius Project serves its purpose! Throughout the years living in Egypt, John and I have gathered a large photographic library, which we hope can be of use for scholars and laymen researching ancient history (etc), but who cannot visit these places themselves. Thank you for taking your time to visit our blog!
    best wishes from Luxor

  3. I am amazed at seeing all this, I just cannot believe it. The painted lintel freize seems to be telling for sure.

    D Nixon London