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ADULIS, the lost city, the past of Eritrea-Castiglioni Museum Exhibition

Marilena Dolce
ADULIS, the lost city, the past of Eritrea-Castiglioni Museum Exhibition

Adulis, the lost city, the past of Eritrea, at the Castiglioni Museum Exhibition in Varese

Adulis, a city to be rediscovered, the Pompeii of Africa, devastated by floods and mud. Hidden for centuries from the rest of the world, todays reveals some of its parts at the Castiglioni Museum in Varese. Video: “Adulis the lost city.”

In 1906 Italian archeologist Roberto Paribeni (1876-1956) with the permission from the governor Ferdinando Martini, resumed excavations, which had been started in 1868 by the British Museum. The British excavations had brought to light a monumental building, then called the “Palazzo”. A typical structure for the region. A truncated pyramid, which Paribeni called in an exotic manner, the Sun Altar.  Actually, it was a paleochristian church.  

Rediscovering Adulis, explains Archeologist Angelo Castiglioni, who is in charge of the Italian-Eritrean mission coordinated by CeRDO (Centre for Eastern Desert Research) was not easy. We had to dig under the sand, which had buried the city. In order to do this, we used ancient planimetries and new geo satellite surveys.  In this way the mission managed to find the place where Paribeni had located the apse of the Altar. That is where we started the archeological work. Our aim was to narrate the flow of life in the city of Adulis, the lost city.

Since 2011, thanks to the Italian-Eritrean mission comprising experts of different disciplines and a team of archeologists and architects, we have been working to rediscover it.

Situated just over fifty kilometers from Massawa, Adulis, whose name is still a mystery, was an important city of the Aksum reign. A commerce hub for trade between East and West. Though less famous than the Silk and Amber Road, Adulis was, nevertheless, a route which allowed the travel of precious goods, people and ideas.  

The first records of Adulis date back to the First Century AD. In the Seventh Century AD the city disappeared, washed away by floods. In fact, the Uadi Haddas river flows from the plateau to the coast. This river is born at 2,500 meters and goes down through steep valleys and deep ravines. And when it is in flood it carries debris, trunks, and bushes with it.

Perhaps it was the strength of one of its exceptional floods, which made the city disappear.

Its name was rediscovered only in the 16th Century on an ancient map.

Whereas researches as such on the site resumed only at the end of the 19th Century.

Paribeni confirmed the existence of Adulis, slowly discovering the traces of a splendid city, rich with monuments, buildings, architectures and churches.

To date only a very small part of the 40 hectares of Adulis have been revealed.

The most recent Italian-Eritrean mission confirmed that of the three churches found, one was built in the second half of the 4th century AD just after the Edict of Constantin of 313. Therefore, it would be the most ancient Christian church in the Horn of Africa.

The Exhibition at the Castiglioni Museum in Varese, inside Villa Toeplitz, tells all this with videos, reconstructions, exhibitions of gems and ancient coins.

And the choice of the venue to bring Adulis back to life is not at all fortuitous.  

Giovanni Toeplitz, managing director of the Italian Banca Commerciale and former owner of the villa was, in fact, like the Castiglioni brothers, passionate about art, a person who loved travel and discovery. An elegant villa and Italian garden are therefore the beautiful setting to visit and learn the secrets, which Adulis has so far jealously kept.

Marilena Dolce


Marilena Dolce

Marilena Dolce, giornalista. Da circa dieci anni viaggio verso il Corno d'Africa e da altrettanti scrivo ciò che vedo. Soprattutto per Eritrea ed Etiopia ma non solo. Dal 2012 scrivo per EritreaLive, notizie e racconti in diretta dall'Eritrea. Perchè per capire il mondo bisogna uscire dal proprio quartiere, anche solo leggendo.

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