On February fifth a team arrive at Antinoupolis from Egypt’s Ministry of Irrigation. The wadi (gulley or ravine) that drains an enormous amount of nearby desert to the east runs through the center of the ancient city. This is an interesting feature of Hadrian’s design and suggests he intended Antinoupolis to be a classical version of the sacred landscape at Abydos where the sacred wadi believed to contain the tomb of Osiris also has a close relationship to the city. Of course, Hadrian’s engineers incorporated an unstable, sometimes filled with flash flood water, wadi into the city with a specific hardscape design including a massive stone canalization and multiple bridges to connect the two halves of the city. Prof. Marcello Spanu has been studying these remains. We know about the canal walls and the bridges through a series of torrential flash floods and also illegal sand mining with bulldozers that have happened over the last six years or so. The Ministry of Irrigation arrived to finalize the design for a massive stone-lined drainage ditch that would completely bury (or bulldoze away) the Hadrianic remains in the wadi. The Egyptian government has built these huge drainage ditches all over Egypt in wadis in proximity to villages and towns to protect housing. Much property has been damaged and many lives have been lost to flash flooding from desert wadis in recent years. But our wadi at Antinoupolis runs through an ancient town with no residents. The modern village on the site (el Sheikh Abada) is to the north of the wadi with only two or three houses in any proximity to the wadi at all. Nonetheless, a huge stone-lined ditch is planned through the center of the ancient city.
After many hours of discussion with the quite affable engineer Peter, he came to understand that Hadrian’s designers had already built a major flood control canal in the wadi, and through our urging he promised to simply dig out the ancient canal rather than build a new stone-lined ditch over the top of it. He also will put small diagonal new stone sides above the canal and dig a large retention lake in the wadi to the east of the city near the hippodrome. But the compromise we reached was the best we could do to try to preserve the ability to access and study the ancient remains in the wadi. Technically, the Ministry of Antiquities should have the power to stop this work since the area in question is land belonging to the Ministry, but such an action seems unlikely. We call upon the Ministry to do their best to prevent the further destruction of Hadrianic remains at the site.
We also have no guarantee that the Ministry of Irrigation will stick to our suggested compromise and excavate the ancient canal rather than destroy it or cover it with a new one. So we have rented the bulldozer owned by a neighbor of ours here in el Sheikh Abada, and we are paying him to dig out in between canal walls and bridge piers – to essentially clean out a small section of the ancient canal - to try to determine the depth of the stone walls and piers and, if he can reach the bottom, to see if the canal has also a stone lining or floor. (We know that Trajan’s hexagonal harbor at Portus near Rome is completely stone lined, including the bottom.) This is not proper archaeology, but an emergency maneuver. Whatever the bulldozer reveals for us, we will photograph, measure and draw it since it could very well be our last opportunity to gather any information about this major structure in Hadrian’s city.