EXACTLY two years ago, in February 2020, our spiritual leader Antonius Subia became the first priest of Antinous in 1,600 years to set foot in the sacred city of Antinoopolis, founded by Emperor Hadrian on the banks of the Nile in Egypt where Antinous died in the year 130 AD.
Below is his first-hand account, published on this blog then:
I went to Antinoopolis today, and it was wonderful ... everything I had hoped it would be and so much more!
The trip there was long and crazy but a wonderful adventure and I could tell that it has probably been years since any westerners have been there. The local people were so nice and fascinated. All the little kids along the way came out to see us and say hello. It was great.
First we went to Amarna, saw the tombs while accompanied by police with AK-47s ... that was a really cool start to our adventure.
Then as we left, the cops kept talking to our driver about where we were going. The driver needed directions, but then the cops said they needed to go with us, so one jumped in the van and off we went.
I also wanted to go to Hermopolis but kept saying that was last on the list. They kept saying Sheikh Abada (Antinoopolis) was far and Al-Ashmunein (Hermopolis) was closer and that we should go there first ... as if I don't know where everything is around there.
But finally they agreed to take us to Sheikh Abada ... so off we went. I saw we were going towards the bridge that crosses the Nile, I saw a little road go north on the East bank which I knew leads to Antinoopolis ... but we kept driving past ... I got nervous, thinking they were taking us to Hermopolis regardless. But the driver said to relax, that it was shorter to go around ... so I was like okay fine what am I gonna do about it.
So we went through the little town of El Minya, which may be little but it is packed full of people and the traffic is just as crazy as Cairo .... then we went into fields of sugar cane, then turned suddenly right towards the Nile, which I knew was away from Hermopolis so I was thinking ... we are headed the right way now ... but how are we going to get across the Nile.
Then we pulled up to where the road ends on the Nile bank and right there across the water is what I thought was Antinoopolis, but in fact was just a little north.
Then I realized that we were where the ferry was going to pick us up and carry us across. I could see the ferry on the other side further downstream.
So I was thrilled!!! We were going to Antinoopolis by boat across the Nile!
This man came out and asks us if we wanted to wait in his little riverside cafe while waited, so we did. Our friend Daniel had some hookah, I smoked cigarettes and drank Turkish coffee.
Meanwhile, the boat came. We said we needed to go but the policeman said take your time they will wait ... and they did.
The driver pulled the car on top of the boat while we had our coffee and hookah and then we boarded with the locals.
The people were totally fascinated by us. They asked where we were from and where we were going I told them "Antinoe" and they understood.
When we reached the other bank there was a truck of armed cops waiting to escort us! They led the way through the village streets and then suddenly we stopped and There was the little Ramesseum temple which is SO BEAUTIFUL!
We explored it for a while and then I wanted to explore the streets of Antinoopolis, so off I went followed by the others, with about eight policemen following us.
I very quickly found THE CARDO ... the main north-south street of the city ... it was just where the old French maps said it would be.
I was astonished to see how much of it was left. You could clearly see it in sections, many of the flat well-worn smooth paving stones were intact.
And on either side were the granite columns lying in broken fragments or still standing in broken stumps, the limestone curbs on both sides were still in place here and there.
We found some beautifully carved acanthus leaf capitals here and there ... they had their own particular style which was Corinthian-like but not exactly.
In the distance I could see some white marble columns which I thought might be the East-West street and I told the guards I wanted to go over there.
They said they wanted to go by car because it was far, so we got into the vehicle and drove over there.
It turned out to be the ruins of a Byzantine church ... but on the way we passed the recent excavation site.
At the Byzantine site, the guards chilled out and sat on the fallen columns, leaving me to explore the area around by myself.
I climbed the top of an enormous ruined building from which I could see the whole city around me and I could see the Hippodrome in the distance (which is HUGE by the way) and realized that I was on the far north end of Antinoopolis near where the theater once was, though I'm sure I was not on it.
While I was alone, a took the time to pray and meditate and take the place in deeply, and feel the spirit of he city flow through me ... all I can say is that it was the most powerful experience of my life to stand there looking over the Enormous ruins of Antinoopolis ... The Holy City!
When I came down, the head policeman said that they were tired so I knew my visit was soon to be over, so we wouldn't be going to the Hippodrome unfortunately, which was too far away.
But I can say that even from the distance I could tell that it was enormous!
There was a local man walking around by the entrance and, from his size, I could see that the remains were at least two stories tall and this is just the base without any of the limestone seats and arches that might have made it twice as big.
It was almost as large as the Circus Maximus in Rome and must have been able to seat 20,000-40,000 people.
I am the first Priest of Antinous to return to the holy city in over 1,600 years. I feel very blessed to have been able to go there. And from the way the authorities were acting and the reaction of the locals we are probably the only outsiders to have visited there in a long long time ... at least since the archaeological digs two years ago.
So, for our last stop on the way back, I asked to stop at the dig site, which was open and like everywhere in Egypt was full of garbage including goat bones, jaws with teeth and hips and leg bones here and there.
This is where they believe the Antinoeion once stood. There is the outline of a small temple with steps, a circular pit that looks like a cistern with the remains of spiral steps (much like the catacombs of Alexandria) and the opening of a subterranean passage with steps and a peaked stone ceiling that ended in mud.
The area is surrounded by a pavement and a few broken columns with papyrus capitals.
Even though the guards were right there and the village children had gathered around, I took a moment to say my prayers to Antinous and place a specially made paper ivy leaf between the foundation stones on the Temple.
I took a little piece of the limestone from the Temple and gathered some sand from the foot of the steps.
The guards were totally cool with us taking things that we found on the ground.
I found a perfect little square of cut white marble with a rounded edge that was probably from some stairs and nearby I found a little piece of marble which on closer examination has the remnant of a curl of hair and some drill work which must have come from a broken statue of Hadrian or one of his successors.
I found it along the Cardo, so it might even be a little semi-lock of Antinous hair ... in any case to me it is a treasure.
The entire site is full of broken pottery sherds. We found way more than we can carry and have no idea what we can bring through customs but we are going to try.
The important thing is that I have been to Antinoopolis ... one of the greatest dreams of my life, and it was so much more than I expected!
First of all the boat ride across the Nile was an unexpected wonder ... my first trip on a boat on the Nile and it was to Antinoopolis ... and I loved being among the people, they are all so friendly and welcoming ... the police escort was also very cool I have to admit, made us feel very important ... I am after all the High Priest of Antinous.
Antinoopolis was way larger than I anticipated. I also did not anticipate for so much of it to be intact that I could find my way around based on what I have read ... I anticipated a wasteland ... but instead we found a forest of broken columns everywhere ... but all in line showing exactly what the major street must have been like.
I have been to Antinoopolis
If I die now my life is fulfilled
I have been to Antinoopolis.
When we were driving away from Antinoopolis I took one last look at the city which will live in my heart forever. I knew all about the neighboring towns. Our driver even said, "You know your way around. Were you born here?" I said, "Yes ... I am from here."
I am from Antinoopolis.