Pompey Pillar: Standing Tall And Triumphant

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Pompey pillar is something that Egypt must be definitely pompous about. Because one of the things that comes in your mind when you see it is how they managed to erect a pillar of this size and structure atop a hill and that too in the medieval times. Let’s go explores the history and the importance of this ancient pillar that still stands tall as a silent yet prominent witness to the changing times of Alexandria city.

Image Source – https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/3/3a/2017-09-11-033sams4.jpg

Truth versus myth

The Pompey’s pillar is a Roman triumphal pillar. According to a popular myth, after his defeat by Julius Caesar it is believed that the great Roman General Pompey fled to Egypt where he was murdered in 48B.C. The crusaders travelers believed that the ashes or remains of Pompey must be buried atop the column; therefore it is today called as Pompey’s pillar.

But it’s a misnomer as in reality; it was constructed in 297 AD commemorating the victory of Emperor Diocletain. A serious revolt took place in Alexandria headed by the Emperor who ordered to seize it. The city finally surrendered after 8 months of resistance but owing to the siege there was a famine. Therefore, the Emperor took pity of the hard times and ordered that the portion of corn that is sent to Rome be given to the people. He further even exempted them from paying taxes.

Due to his generosity the column was erected. The Arabs called it “Amoud el-Sawari” or Column of the Horsemen.

In spite of the fact that several monuments were left devastated due to the shattering earthquake, Pompey’s pillar was one of the few survivors.

Exploring its dimensions

This Corinthian pillar is one of the largest ancient monolithic columns ever erected. It was the only free standing column in Roman Egypt which is not composed of drums, unlike to the other columns in this country.

There are many deviating reports about its dimensions. But more or less according to consensus, the red Aswan granite shaft measures 20.46 m in height with a diameter of 2.71 m at its base. Its weight is estimated at 285 tones. Now that’s what we call heavy duty weight!

Exploring in and out

Image Source – https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/6/66/Alexandria_-_Pompey%27s_Pillar_with_sphinx.JPG

Located atop a hill there are lots to explore in the surroundings. On the backside there are the subterranean remains of the Serapeim, now badly damaged. Built during the reigns of Ptolemy II and Ptolemy III, it was mainly a high platform that could be accessed by 100 steps staircase. It was damaged due to the revolts of the Jewish population in Alexandria, during the reign of the Emperor Trajan (89-118 A.D) only to be later rebuilt again during the reign of Hadrian (117-137 A.D). After the advent of Christianity it was likely to be destroyed again when a Bishop objected to paganism but can’t be sure.

Furthermore, there were 2 galleries at the back of this temple. In the first gallery a black basalt statue of basalt, dated back to the reign of Hadrian was discovered. It represents a bull shaped God Serapis which is now exhibited in the Greco-Roman Museum in Alexandria. The 2nd gallery is known mistakenly as the Daughter Library but apparently it was a burial for the mummies of Anubis until the reign of Ptolemy IV, a member of the Pantheon of Alexandria.

It is believed that the carved wall niches provided the overflow storage space for the ancient Library that’s located here and seems to be quite a lot of fun to explore.

If you move on slightly further ahead in the southwest of the pillar are Alexandria’s catacombs, known as Kom al Sukkfa. These were long forgotten only to be discovered by accident in 1800s. It consists of a multi-level maze, reached via a large spiral staircase that opens to dozens of chambers adorned with sculpted pillars, statues and other Romano-Egyptian religious symbols, burial niches and sarcophagi, i.e. carved funeral receptacle for a corpse. The catacombs also have a large Roman-style banquet room where memorial meals were conducted by relatives of the deceased.

There are several ruins of different temples and other structures as well in this site area that can be explored with SOTC’s Egypt tour packages.

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