Medinet Madi (Narmouthis)
Medinet Madi, one of the most important archaeological sites of the Faiyum region is situated 30km south-west of Medinet el-Faiyum. Its modern name means ‘city of the past’ and in Graeco-Roman times it was known as ‘Narmouthis’. Excavators have discovered two separate towns at the site, but today the main monument at Medinet Madi is a small temple dedicated to Sobek, Horus and the serpent-goddess Renenutet, founded during the reigns of Amenemhet III and IV during Dynasty XII.
The temple remains are in a well-preserved condition, probably due to its isolated location, but are ever threatened by the encroaching sands of the desert. The inner chambers are the oldest part of the structure which is one of the few surviving monuments of the Middle Kingdom, a rare example of architecture from this period. A small columned hall leads to three shrines which contained statues of deities and the two kings. The Dynasty XII reliefs are very worn but it is possible to make out depictions of the pharaohs Amenemhet III and his son and co-regent Amenemhet IV offering to deities in the shrines as well as rare depictons of the cobra-headed goddess Renenutet.
The temple was restored during Dynasty XIX and greatly expanded during the Graeco-Roman Period. Back to back with the Middle Kingdom temple is a Ptolemaic addition which contains an altar and some Greek inscriptions. In this part there is also a large worn relief of the crocodile-god Sobek with a wonderful toothy grin! The Ptolemaic areas also comprise a paved processional way to the south, with an avenue of sphinxes (both Egyptian and Greek style) and lion statues guarding the route. A kiosk with eight columns was built on the processional route, which led to the twin-columned portico and transverse vestibule in front of the shrines. The temple walls today are only a few metres high but still show some of the inscribed hieroglyphic texts and scenes. There is an important Greek inscription from the temple in the museum at Alexandria. To the east of the temple there are remains of mudbrick store-rooms.
Italian teams of archaeologists have been working at Medinet Madi since the 1960s, uncovering a large Roman town and several early Christian churches. In 1995 a Ptolemaic gate was found to the east of the temple and on further investigation another temple dedicated to Sobek was discovered beneath the rubble. This second temple was built of mudbrick with stone doorways and lintels, with its axis at right-angles to the older temple. Tablets and papyri were also found in the debris, including an important oracular document written in demotic script. Recent excavations are allowing the Italian Mission to construct a three-dimensional model, a reconstruction of the monuments which highlights the important chronological development of the site from the Middle Kingdom to the Ptolemaic and Roman Periods.
The team from Pisa and Messina Universities have recently excavated a vaulted structure on the north side of the new temple, but the remains are poorly preserved. On the north side of the temple court, a crocodile nursery was discovered with dozens of eggs in different stages of maturation.
The temple at Medinet Madi is one of the most isolated and romantic sites of the Faiyum region, set in a long hollow in the desert. The walls, constructed from a pale golden limestone, are only a few metres high and the statues and sphinxes regularly appear and disappear with the windblown soft desert sands. Although the site is one of the most difficult to reach in the Faiyum, the ruins are very interesting and well worth the effort of getting there.
How to get there
About 30km to the south-west of Medinet el-Faiyum a road leads to the village of Abu Gandir, the closest approach to the site, which is about 2km away. The site, which is situated on a small hill, can be reached on foot or in a suitable vehicle across the intervening desert, but a guide is recommended as there are no marked tracks across the sands. On top of the rise there is a hut where you should find the gafir.