It was one of the Culture Ministry’s grandest plans for the Olympics – but was never implemented. Highlighting the Egyptian temple at Brexiza as part of an archaeological and tourist itinerary that would have included the site of Rhamnus, the Marathon Museum, Tymbos and the Tsepi cemetery would have been an interesting project for an archaeological site in Attica that is significant both for its size and the finds that have been unearthed there.
That was the theory, but in practice the prefecture rejected the project. Now it has been saved at the last minute at the initiative of Culture Ministry General Secretary Christos Zachopoulos, who has found a way to include it as a sub-project to technical work on the Lavrion mines, thus securing the sum of 400,000 euros, which will come from Third and Fourth Community Support Framework funds.
Iphigenia Dekoulakou, excavator of the Egyptian temple and an archaeologist with 35 years in the field, sounded the alarm. “The walls must be stabilized or the temple will collapse. Fragile materials and damp are the temple’s basic problems.”
A visit to Mikro Elos in Brexiza on the borders of the Marathon and Nea Makri municipalities is revealing.
Partly underwater, partly overgrown with weeds and separated from the sea by a road, the site is eye-catching. Dotted about are statues of Osiris and Isis – copies of course, as the originals are in the Marathon Museum.
The excavation is barely complete and the need for stabilization and conservation work is urgent.
One of the most recent finds was a bronze head and hand that were taken for restoration to the Piraeus Museum, which is the only place that has the appropriate workshop.
The pool, which is half inside, half outside the fence “was something common in villas on the outskirts of Rome,” explained Dekoulakou. They were used mainly to raise fish and were always close to the villa. “They were common there, but here it is a unique find.”
Since 2001, when she began exploring the site, Dekoulakou observed that the temple surrounds a four-sided court, with sides of unequal length ranging from 60.5 to 64.6 meters, onto which opened four grand portals, one on each side. “The entrances had marble steps, thresholds, pilaster strips and lintels, on the exterior of which is a relief of a solar disk with a tail. To the right and left of each of the entrances were four marble pedestals for statues, two inside and two outside the gates.”
The entrances were like bastions and emulate the style of Egyptian portals. Since the discovery of the first two Egyptian-style statues on the site in 1968, six statues have been found, including an intact marble sphinx, a gray stone sphinx in two pieces and a portrait of Polydeuces.
Dekoulakou told us how, when she first went to the site in 2001, she saw what looked like little mounds, as if antiquity thieves had been at work. “We started there to see what they had taken. But we discovered the south portal. We realized there were four and we found them all.”
In fact the site had not been raided: “They had dug a hole but luckily that hadn’t found the two large statues of Isis and Osiris; they missed them by half a meter.”
What more does the excavator expect from the dig? “Sculptures and the rest of the architectural shape of the temple. But the stabilization work has to come first.”
Seventy rare oil lamps
Among the outstanding finds from the Brexiza site are 70 large lamps, the only ones of their kind. As Dekoulakou points out, “it is their size – 40 centimeters wide from the handle to the wick and 12 centimeters high – that makes them unusual. On them are relief busts of Serapis and Isis.”
What are they doing at Nea Makri? “It is not a question of the area but of the cult. We have evidence from a 4th century BC inscription that a temple to Isis was founded in Piraeus. The cult of Isis and the Egyptian gods gradually spread throughout the Roman world. In Greece, it was linked to Demeter and Aphrodite, because the goddess possesses features that can be adapted to the cult of the Greek deities. She was the protector of agriculture in Egypt, the god of love and marriage, the protector of women.”