Persian King, and while other outside forces had ruled Egypt
over the years, the Persians seem to have had few friends in
Egypt. In fact, Egyptian elements had already mounted revolts,
weakening the Kings hold over the country when
Alexander the Great arrived at Egypt's border in the Sinai during
October of 332 BC. The Egyptians, apparently seeking any relief
from the Persian ruler, seem to have almost welcomed Alexander
with open arms, so his armies met little resistance. Soon, he
arrived with his army in Memphis, where he
made an offering to the Apis
bull and was crowned king of Egypt. He took as his Egyptian
throne name, Setp n Ra Mery Amun.
Alexander's visit to the Western desert Siwa Oasis to
consult with the
Amun, where his kingship was made divine as the son of Amun,
is well documented. But apparently, this great warrior who was
also one of histories grandest politicians, gained considerable
respect in other areas of the
Western Desert as well. Some Egyptologists believe that he
may very well have traveled through the Bahariya Oasis
on the way back to his new capital, Alexandria, on
Egypt's northern coast. This oasis prospered considerably during
his rule, and counted among its population many Greeks.
The temple of Alexander the Great located in the Bahariya
Oasis has the distinction of being the Macedonian ruler's only
known temple in Egypt. The temple was built during Alexander's
lifetime and dedicated to Amun and
Fakhry never found the stela of
Tuthmose II that he was searching for when he stumbled
across the temple in 1938, but this discovery, very near the
Valley of the Golden Mummies, most certainly made up for
that failure. It was to be Fakhry's last day in the Bahariya
Oasis and he was exploring a spring called Ain el-Tabinieh,
about three miles west of El Qasr (Bawiti),
that had been mentioned by
Sir Gardner Wilkinson in 1837. Here, he discovered a mound
surrounded by stones that he thought might be a New Kingdom
recorded the location of the ruins, but with his funds depleted,
he was forced to leave the Oasis. He would return in 1942 with
enough resources to complete the excavation, and it was not
until then that he discovered the true nature of his find from
blocks carved with the cartouches of Alexander the Great. Later,
from 1993 to 1994,
Zahi Hawass, the current chairman of the Egyptian Supreme
Council of Antiquities (SCA), re-excavated the site, including
several rooms that had never been cleared. Some excavation of
the temple appears to be ongoing, though it is now open to the
The temple proper is fairly large by any standard, and
certainly one of the largest in the Bahariya Oasis, with at
least 45 chambers built of mudbrick and encased in sandstone.
Located only three hundred yards from the Valley of the Golden
Mummies, a necropolis that was probably situated purposefully
near the temple, the entrance to the temple was on the south end
of the structure, accessed through a gate.
Just outside the temple, a red granite altar was discovered.
It should be noted that
red granite is not found in any of the western oasis, so it
must have been carried a great distance to the temple through
the vast desert, presumably by donkeys.
to the right of the entrance to the temple is a scene that
depicts, unfortunately, only the lower half of two individuals
facing each other. It is probable that one of these individuals
is Alexander the Great, dressed as a traditional Egyptian
pharaoh, making offerings to a principle Egyptian deity.
However, on the lower register on the north wall of the
second room which was covered by debris, Alexander is revealed.
This relief, which retains some of its original colors, depicts
Alexander offering two vessels that may contain Bahariya wine as
an offering to Horus
The god, Horus, and the goddess, Isis, both hold a scepter on
one hand an the ankh symbol in the other. In the background a
priest wearing a long robe stands, holding incense and an
unknown tool, and an offering table bearing bread, meat,
cucumbers, pomegranates and other fruits, along with vessels for
ointments is also displayed.
In another carved relief, Alexander makes an offering of
incense to the god, Amun, who is followed by various goddesses,
one of which is probably Mut,
Amun's consort. In this scene, the governor and high priest of
the Oasis stand behind the pharaoh with offerings of incense.
Just visible in the depiction is an offering table laden with
bread, meat, vegetables, wine and flowers.
Surrounding the temple complex were auxiliary storage rooms
and houses that were probably used by guards and priests. There
is, on the east side of the temple, a building that was possibly
used for administrative purposes. Only two of the buildings
chambers were roofed with large limestone blocks, originally
inscribed with Greek graffiti which is now lost.
One of perhaps the most interesting artifacts found in the
temple complex is a bronze statue of a royal lady who Zahi
Hawass believes may have been the wife of Alexander the Great. A
small statue of a priest of Re was
also discovered in one of the temple corridors. but a number of
smaller artifacts were discovered in and about the temple,
including Greek, Roman and Coptic pottery shards, painted vases,
fragments of bronze statues, Greek amulets, and coins from the
5th and 6th centuries, AD. Some of the pottery discovered with
rectangular marks and human figures appear to be of Semitic
origin from Asia, while other shards and lamps are from the
Coptic Period and later. These discoveries have led
Egyptologists to believe that Christians
probably inhabited the temple until about the 12th century AD,
and some chambers may have been occupied as dwellings into the
1. Many of the monuments in the Bahariya Oasis are not
actually constantly open to the public. Often, arrangements have
to be made in advance to visit a number of these monuments.