There are ruins of a Roman town near the modern village of Sheikh ‘Ibada (Sheikh Abada), on the east bank of the Nile about 10km north-east of Mallawi. We are told that the town, named Antinopolis, was founded by the Emperor Hadrian in AD 130 in memory of his friend Antinous who was drowned in the Nile. By the time of the Roman era it had become fairly common for cults to be established for those who were drowned and the deceased were often deified. In the tragic legend attached to the town, Antinous was a handsome young servant boy, a favourite of Hadrian, who was drowned while touring Egypt with his master. The Emperor was said to have been so devastated that he commissioned hundreds of sculpted statues and busts portraying the handsome features of the boy (said to have been his lover) as well as founding the town in his name. Many of the busts of Antinous can be seen in European museums.
Almost nothing remains of Antinopolis now, but when it was visited by the Napoleonic Expedition in the late 18th century there were still extensive ruins of a Roman portico which was subsequently illustrated in ‘Description l’Egypte’. Napoleon’s savants recorded the existance of large parts of the city walls which enclosed columned streets, a monumental gate, two temples and a theatre. A hippodrome, presumably used for chariot races, lay further east in the desert. A large temple built during the Graeco-Roman period was destroyed during the 19th century.
There were earlier structures near this site which was on a caravan route connecting the Nile to the centres of commerce on the Red Sea. The largest remains of these monuments, to the west of the Roman town, is a temple decorated by Rameses II, dedicated to Thoth and the gods of el-Ashmunein (across the river) and the gods of Heliopolis. Parts of a columned courtyard, hypostyle hall and sanctuary still survive.
The archaeology at Sheikh ‘Ibada was investigated by an Italian Mission from the University of Rome between 1965 and 1968.
Minister of Culture Farouk Hosni announced in March 2009 that an archaeological team from the Vitelli Papyrological Institute of the University of Florence has found a talatat block dating to the Amarna period at Sheikh ‘Ibada. The block, re-used in a Christian Church, has a relief depicting the image of an Amarna queen wearing a vulture headdress, believed to be possibly an image of Akhenaten’s wife Nefertiti. There is a photograph of the block on Zahi Hawass’ website.