Al-Matariyyah – Once A Great City Of Grandeur, Now Forgotten

The city of Al-Matariyyah which lies in the northern region of Cairo is one of the country’s oldest cities, and was once renowned for its unrivaled beauty and grandeur.

Architectural fragment of basilica in Al-Matariyyah (Heliopolis), Cairo

Architectural fragment of basilica in Al-Matariyyah (Heliopolis), Cairo

It seems that no matter how many ancient and gloriously fascinating attractions you visit in Egypt, there is always another place of interest just around the corner, and the city of Al-Matariyya is a perfect example. This ancient city which is also known by several other names, including Heliopolis and Mataria, is in actual fact also one of the country’s oldest cities.

Not A Must-See Site…

While Al-Matariyyah might not feature prominently on the map of modern day tourists, it was once a city of spectacular grandeur, and also a city of immense fiscal value. Unfortunately, it was only as recently as 2001 that archaeologists began to uncover the true value of the region. Up until this point, the city had for the most part been doomed as a result of urban development. Thankfully many restrictions have since been put in place in a bid to control any further destruction.

One of the most interesting recent discoveries at Al-Matariyyah is the giant Obelisk which is believed to be the oldest such statue ever discovered in the country. Carved from vivid red graphite, the Obelisk which was largely hidden from view, also once stood alongside a partner near the entrance to the Temple of Amun.

The modern city of Al-Matariyyah is located on top of what was once a massive temple dedicated to the sun, or the sun god known as Re. The Ancient Egyptians believed that the temple marked the location from which all living beings came, and today many experts believe that the site was also home to a vast temple which was far more massive than any other temple ever built, including the enormous Karnak Temple in Luxor.

The Final Destruction of Al-Matariyyah

During the course of history however, several invading armies, coupled with the ever increasing urban sprawl of Cairo all but destroyed the site. Plunderers made off with its many columns, a huge obelisk, and even some of the boundary walls.

Even though the red granite obelisk was restored in the 1970s, the rapid growth of Cairo continued at an alarming pace. It was only when a construction project unearthed statues and sarcophagi that all construction work in and around Al-Matariyyah was halted. By 2001, the nation’s archaeological experts were exploring the site and discovering remains of once rich tombs.

Birth Of A New Open Air Museum

Thanks to the many recent discoveries which have been made in the area, plans are underway to slowly but surely convert the entire site into an open air museum. Today, visitors can follow a route that takes them from the enormous obelisk to the recently discovered tomb where they can see the sarcophagi which was discovered on the site.

From the tomb visitors can proceed on to the famous “Tree of the Virgin Mary”. This is a tree planted in the 1600s, but which is believed to have replaced the original tree under which the Holy Family used to rest during their travels through Egypt.

Al-Matariyyah is certainly a must-see destination, and particularly for those interested in Pharaonic Egypt since there have now been numerous fascinating discoveries made which relate to several dynasties. From Ramesses II to Teti, the site is providing an impressive glimpse into the past, and visitors can enjoy touring an archaeological site that is “in the works”.

The surrounding neighborhoods are also nice places to explore since this Cairo suburb offers visitors many interesting sites and attractions, including from the more modern eras too.

If you would like to visit this open air museum which is still in the making, please be sure to explore our Egypt tour packages. While not all of our packages include a visit to Al-Matariyyah, our highly trained team of representatives will be more than happy to customize any of our existing Egypt tours to fit your exact needs.

 

 

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