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PDF document Saint Menas's sacred overflow (Al-Ahram Weekly, 11-17 July 2002, Issue No. 594)
The ruins of the fabled city of St Menas were placed on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1979 as one of the five most historically important sites in Egypt. Today they are threatened by serious water seepage, writes Jill Kamil
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Abu Mina, the Great Basilica in 2001, extensive plant growth due to high groundwater level

This 5th-century place of pilgrimage, consecrated to St. Menas, lies on the edge of the Libyan (Egyptian Western) Desert. It is a spacious complex of buildings consisting of a large basilica, a vaulted church, a baptistery and several pilgrimage sites. Because of a rigorous expansion of the cultivated areas, combined with intensive irrigation, this important early Christian site is no longer situated in the desert but has become a ‘historic island’ in the middle of tomato fields. Due to permanent irrigation the layers of clayish soil immediately underneath the surface have become sodden and have eroded or washed out. The cavities that this erosion has created are now falling in, and large parts of the former town of Menas are either threatened by collapse or have already collapsed. The crypt underneath the vaulted church, which was the starting point of this pilgrimage cult, has only been provisionally filled with sand; as a consequence it is just a matter of time before large parts of the structure will fall in here, as well as in the basilica. Only an immediate end to irrigation, which would lead to the gradual sinking of the groundwater level, as well as scientific investigations to prepare a restoration concept, could save this World Heritage site from destruction.


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