Giovedì 14 Novembre 2019 | 06:48

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Brussels
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Cairo

Italian archaeologist reveals splendors of Antinopolis

Pintaudi shows finds in city founded by Hadrian for dead lover

Italian archaeologist reveals splendors of Antinopolis

Cairo, April 16 - The Italian papyrologist and archaeologist Rosario Pintaudi is the undisputed guardian of the remains of Antinopolis, an Egyptian city founded by Emperor Hadrian in memory of his deified young lover Antinous. The discovery of the remains of the city brought to light apotropaic foundation rites, papyruses with imaginary animals, vestiges of a conquering Islam, and Coptic mummies covered in gold. Pintaudi, born in the Messina province but Florentine by adoption, is the doyen of Italian archaeological missions in Egypt and is working at the excavations of the ancient Antinoe (Antinopolis), founded by Emperor Hadrian in the second century AD to commemorate his favorite young male lover and to create a regional capital in the heart of Egypt. The city lay on the eastern bank of the Nile, about 40 kilometers south of Minya and about four and a half hours by car south of Cairo, not far from the place where - according to legend - the boy drowned towards the end of October 130 AD. The importance of the site, which has been worked on since 1935 by the archaeological mission of the Istituto Papirologico "G. Vitelli" of the University of Florence, is mainly due to the Coptic Christian period - of which little is known and a phase in Egyptian history between Pharaonic memories and Muslim civilization, the archeological told ANSA. In the monumental Coptic necropolis, reserved for the wealthiest, it can be seen that the city used materials that had previously been used, Pintaudi notes, such as capitals that date back to the period of Emperor Hadrian as well as "talatat", "stones of a particular size" that recall the Akhenaten epoch and this the 2nd millennium BC. On one capital there were Christian symbols, a cross painted red and highlighted by a circle, and the crisma (a symbol of the sealing of Christianity created in baptism): signs that were not visible from the outside but which "served for the 'purification' of the pagan architectonic element that was reused" to prevent "demons and pagan divinities from entering the church, pushed back thanks to the cross", the scholar said. For the first time, the mission led by Pintaudi and in which scholars from several other countries as well as the University of Rome take part in have reinstalled in Antinopolis, putting it in its original place - the monumental eastern gate to the city - an enormous granite column weighing 37 tons and 12 meters high, using modern means with a dangerous but economical technique of pulleys and winches similar to those used in antiquity. Thousands of Greek and Coptic (a language transliterating the Egyptian language into Greek characters) papyri were found in the excavations, including one portraying an emperor and his bride, or at least a female figure with her chest exposed "on a cart pulled by imaginary animals", Pintaudi said. The former professor of Papyrology at the University of Messina noted that there was also a fragment of Homer's Odyssey in Greek, illustrated by Diletta Minutoli, one of his students who has been sharing the direction of the excavation for years. The site offers in the room of the Christian sanctuary also a poly-chromatic painting on plaster with a battle scene, including knights, archers, and shields that "incarnate the translation between the two worlds": on one side the Byzantine Empire that is losing Egypt and on the other Islam in its arrival. It is probably a scene from the last Christian imperial period of Egypt, the archaeologist said, noting that for Copts, Antinoe is the city of martyrs, the first large Christian center of Egypt that fell into Arab hands. These finds had been described years ago in a documentary by the French-German television channel "Artè" on "the mystery of the Coptic mummies of Antinoe" found by the French archaeologist Albert Gayet between the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th. The finds were neglected for decades in the store rooms of the Louvre, from which they emerged in a very good state of conservation. The documentary underscored that this fact in showing the mummified faces with gold flakes, some of which "had luxurious clothes covered in gold leaves". The aerial photo is by Marcello Spanu, who teaches ancient topography at the University of Roma Tre.

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