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Sanctuary of the Egyptian Gods | Nea Makri

Updated: Sep 7, 2021

One of the most important arcaelogical places of Eastern Attica is the Sanctuary of the Egyptian Gods in Nea Makri. The archeological site is located in the area Brexiza, about 1.5 km south of the Tomb of the Athenians, literally by the sea!

In 1968, during work to settle the torrent bed, Roman-Egyptian statues of supernatural size came to light, followed by a rescue excavation, which revealed parts of the ancient building. This sanctuary dates back to around 150-160 AD. and is attributed to Herod Atticus, a dynamic and prominent personality, a great orator and sophist, who was born in Marathon in 103 AD. and died in his birthplace in 179 AD. He donated a large part of his property to donations, while he financed the construction of magnificent buildings and public works in various cities of Greece.

The worship establishment of Egyptian Gods in Greece

But how could the worship of Egyptian Gods be interpreted in Greece? Isis and Osiris were a couple of Egyptian gods, whose worship was adopted in Greece and dates back to the last decades of the 4th century BC, as confirmed by the existence of inscriptions that refer to the establishment of a sanctuary dedicated to Isis in the port of Piraeus. The two gods were Hellenized and Isis can be identified with the goddess Demeter or Aphrodite, while Sarapis, the Hellenized form of Osiris, was equated with powerful gods of the Greek pantheon, such as Zeus, Dionysus and Hades.

Finding the first archaeological treasures | The island

The existence of archeological finds in this place had been pointed out by foreign travelers who were fascinated by the idea of ​​researching the archaeological wealth of the country, even before the founding of the modern Greek state. The locals called this place "island", because of an islet that stood out in the middle of the swamp, a fact that is confirmed by the plans of the French consul Fauvel, who visited Greece in 1789 looking for the tombs of the Athenians who fell heroically in the Great Battle. He carried out excavations and brought to light the busts of Herod of Attica and the emperors Marcus Aurelius and Lucius Verus, which are now housed in the Louvre and the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford.

The excavation of the sanctuary | Statues of supernatural size

In the period 2001-2008, the systematic excavation of the sanctuary was carried out by the archaeologist I. Dekoulakos in collaboration with A. Siskou and K. Fotiadis and the architect A. Gounaris. These researches revealed that this sanctuary consists of a four-sided enclosure with four entrances, opened on each of the sides, at the points of the horizon. These entrances resemble Egyptian pillars, while on the outside and inside of each pillar, the opening was framed by a pair of statues of supernatural size. One was male, in the type of pharaoh statues, and the other female.

These statues, sixteen in number, depict the goddess Isis in various types, e.g. as Demeter holding sheaves or as Aphrodite holding roses. They have their hands glued to the body and firmly project the left foot, while their dating is placed at the end of the middle and the beginning of the late Antonini era (150-170 BC) and they are all Attic works, made of Pentelic marble! Three pairs of statues are preserved, which are exhibited in the fifth room of the Archaeological Museum of Marathon, while in the space are exhibited one of the very large lamps with a representation of Isis and Sarapi. Now, in the archeological site, the visitor of the sanctuary can see and admire the faithful copies of the statues that have been placed on their respective bases.

From the four entrances of the precinct start paved streets that lead to the central part of the sanctuary, where there is a pyramidal structure, which is surrounded by a covered corridor on the outside of which a platform with a room on each side is formed. In the eastern pillar, outside, a large courtyard with a propylon and rooms was excavated.

The worshiped gods in the sanctuary

In this sanctuary the god Sarapis was worshiped together with Isis, and also their son Iro. The site was probably dedicated to Sarapi of Kanovos and not to Isis, as originally attributed to the female statue found in the 1968 excavation. Kanovos was the captain of Menelaus' ship, who died in Egypt and gave his name to a city ​​in the Nile Delta. This city was known, according to Strabo, for the sanctuary of Sarapi. As everything shows, Herod Atticus founded the Sarapi sanctuary of Kanovo in this area, inspired either from a trip to the corresponding sanctuary of Egypt or to Tivoli, where Hadrian had made a copy of this Sarapion sancturary in his villa.

The Roman bath complex

In 1974 the curator X. Arapogianni excavated at a short distance (about 40 m.) from the sanctuary a luxurious Roman bath dating to the 2nd century A.D. and together with the sanctuary it is a part of a large complex. This building apparently served the purification needs of the visitors of the sanctuary before the worship rites. The bath consists of eighteen areas in total and has a direction from NE to SW, to receive sunlight throughout the day, creating the special conditions required for its guests. From the findings of the area it appears that the bath operated from the middle of the 2nd c. A.D. until the middle of the 4th c. AD, when for unknown reasons it was abandoned and destroyed. The building is extremely interesting, as it has luxurious spaces that are in perfect symmetry with each other. The layout of the spaces is circular, while the building has auxiliary rest areas and locker rooms. In the central part of the bath there is a large elliptical room, around which the other spaces develop symmetrically. This room was built with special care and has a marble lining on the floor and walls, in order to maximize the space and heat of the space. For this reason we conclude that this space functioned as a heated pool (calida piscina), a practice that we find mainly in luxury baths.

Roman bath complex
Aerial view of the Roman bath complex. Source: Steinhauer, G. 2009. Marathon and the Archaeological Museum. Athens: Ioannis S. Latsis Public Benefit Foundation

Excavations today

In recent years, the excavation at the Sanctuary of the Egyptian Gods has been carried out systematically under the supervision of the Archaeological Society of Athens. A small number of students of the University of Athens have the opportunity to participate voluntarily in this excavation, as an internship.

Plan a day trip!

The coastal front of the wider area is ideal for day trips for those who are in Athens and looking for some moments of relaxation, as it is less than 40 km from the city center. An ideal day could start with a morning coffee on the beach of Nea Makri, where there are many options (list of cafes here >> Then, you could have a walk on the beautiful pedestrian street along the beach that connects Marathon with Nea Makri and leads to the Archaeological site of the Sanctuary of the Egyptian Gods, where you can admire the ancient remains, combining the fun after the useful. Near the archeological site is also the picturesque church of Agia Kyriaki, that deserves your attention. After relaxing under the shade of the trees, you can enjoy the sun and the sea on the organized and non-organized beaches of the area. The excursion could ideally end with food in one of the many fish taverns that are located close to the coast along the entire length of the beach (find all the food suggestions here >>

Anna Michalopoulou


Valerie Kousoulis

Editor Translator

Special thanks to our photographer Haris Feteris for the photographic coverage of the report. More photos >>


Sanctuary of the Egyptian Gods

Timetable: Monday - Sunday 8:30am–3:30pm

Tuesday Closed



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