Thirty kilometres beyond El-Agami the highway passes a site called Abu Sir, better known to archeologists by its Roman name, Taposiris Magna. This ancient city – which the Egyptians called Per Usiri (“Dwelling of Osiris”) and the Greeks Busiris – had one port on the Mediterranean and another on Lake Maryut. In Roman times the Maryut region was a major source of grain, shipped to Italy to placate the potentially riotous plebs in Rome. A chain of lighthouses from Alexandria to Cyrenaica (Libya) warned sailors of the abrupt change from sea to sand along a coastline devoid of landmarks. While Alexandria’s Pharos has disappeared, archeologists have gleaned clues to its shape from the sole surviving lighthouse in the chain, at Abu Sir – which most believe was a one-tenth scale replica of the Pharos.

Today, both the lighthouse and Taposiris Magna are off-limits while the SCA conducts excavations in search of the tomb of Cleopatra and Mark Antony. The Dominican scholar Kathleen Martinez believes it lies beneath the city’s Temple of Osiris, having found the mummies of ten nobles just outside, and coins bearing Cleopatra’s face and an alabaster mask with a cleft chin similar to portraits of Antony within the temple precincts. Her belief is also founded on the historian Plutarch’s assertion that Octavian allowed the couple to be buried together after their respective suicides in 30 BC. If Martinez is right and finds their mummies, it will be the greatest discovery since Tutankhamun’s tomb.

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