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Two Camels and a Saint. The late antique pilgrimage center Abu Mina in Egypt

Special presentation of Sculpture Collection and Museum of Byzantine Art, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin in cooperation with Institute of Egyptology at Freie Universität Berlin / Opening celebration on February 13, 2018

№ 027/2018 from Feb 02, 2018

Students at the Institute of Egyptology at Freie Universität Berlin have put together an exhibition to illustrate the adventurous rediscovery of the pilgrim city Abu Mina in the early 20th century. They will display building sculptures, pilgrim souvenirs, and everyday objects from the collection of the Museum of Byzantine Art. The special presentation in Room 113 of the Bode Museum resulted from a jointly organized "learning workshop" of the Institute of Egyptology at Freie Universität and the Sculpture Collection and Museum of Byzantine Art of the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin. A press conference will be held to coincide with the opening on Tuesday, February 13, 2018, where the Egyptologist Prof. Dr. Tonio Sebastian Richter from Freie Universität will describe the idea of the "learning workshop." The students will then present their project and answer questions.

Abu Mina, located about 45 kilometers southwest of Alexandria, is one of the most important Christian pilgrimage sites of late antiquity. It owes its name to Saint Minas, a martyr in the 3rd century. Toward the end of the 4th century a city with a religious center gradually grew up around his tomb. Other churches, hostels, apartments, shops, baths, workshops, and economic facilities were built. Many believers from throughout the Roman Empire made pilgrimages there. The city was destroyed during the Persian occupation in the early 7th century, and a new settlement developed over the rubble.

Saint Minas

One version of the sometimes contradictory legends surrounding Minas describes him as an Egyptian soldier stationed in Phrygia, located in present-day Turkey, who died a martyr's death during the persecution of Christians under Emperor Diocletian. His body was taken by ship to Egypt and transported on land by camels that refused to move on after the caravan stopped to rest. This was understood to be a sign to bury the martyr on the spot.

Rediscovery of Abu Mina

In the summer of 1905, during a hitherto unsuccessful expedition in the Libyan East Desert, the Christian archaeologist and theologian Carl Maria Kaufmann and his cousin I. C. Ewald Falls discovered the ruins rather by accident. A Bedouin boy brought them an ampoule depicting Saint Minas between two camels whose trail led to a pottery oven containing several such vials. The two were now sure to have found the Minas sanctuary. Thanks to financial support from his hometown of Frankfurt am Main and Wilhelm von Bode, at that time director of the Berlin Museum, which is now named after him, Carl Maria Kaufmann was able to start the excavations in the same year. In accordance with the laws in place at the time with regard to the division of excavated objects, numerous objects from several campaigns lasting through 1907 ended up in Frankfurt; a smaller proportion of them came to Berlin. Several smaller missions by various researchers and institutions followed, until in 1961 the German Archaeological Institute in Cairo took over the excavation management. Regular campaigns continued to take place until 2013. They provided many new insights into the archaeology, chronology, and history of the pilgrim city. Abu Mina has been on the List of World Heritage in Danger since 2001 because of the rising groundwater table.

Time and Location

  • Opening with press conference: Tuesday, February 13, 2018, 11:00 a.m.
  • The exhibition will be on display from February 13, 2018, through January 31, 2019.
  • Opening hours: Tuesday to Sunday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Thursdays, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.; closed on Mondays
  • Special presentation in Room 113, Bode Museum, Am Kupfergraben, entrance across from the Monbijou Bridge, 10117 Berlin, subway U6 (Friedrichstraße), S-Bahn S1, S2, S25 (Friedrichstraße); S5, S7, S75 (Hackescher Markt), Tram M1, 12 (Am Kupfergraben); M4, M5, M6 (Hackescher Markt), Bus TXL (Staatsoper); 100, 200 (Lustgarten); 147 (Friedrichstraße)

Press Images



  • Prof. Dr. Tonio Sebastian Richter, Institute of Egyptology, Department of History and Cultural Studies, Freie Universität Berlin, Tel.: +49 30 838 70291, Email: sebastian.richter@fu-berlin.de
  • Markus Farr, Press Officer, General Directorate, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Tel.: +49 30 266 42 3402, Email: presse@smb.spk-berlin.de

Link to the Homepage

Bode Museum: www.smb.museum/museen-und-einrichtungen/bode-museum/home