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Place names
GreekΠορφυρίτης | Πορφυρίτου ὄρος | Πορφυριτικὰ μέταλλα
Arabicجبل أبو دخان
EnglishPorphyrites | Porphyritou Oros | Porphyritika Metalla | Gebel Dokhan | Gebel Abu Dukhan | Wadi Maamal | Wadi Abu Maamel
French Mons Porphyrites | Gebel Abou Dokhan
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Site information
DEChriM ID65
Trismegistos GeoID2771
Pleiades ID766391
Ancient namePorphyritēs
Modern nameǦabal Abū Duḫān
Date from-
Date to-
Dating criteria-

Ǧabal Abū Duḫān, also known as Porphyritēs, is an ancient quarrying area situated in Egypt’s Eastern Desert, 10km from the ancient road connecting Abū Ša’ar on the Red Sea coast, and c. 70km north-west of modern al-Ġurdaqa (Hurghada). It is from here that the sought-after Imperial porphyry stone was extracted, hence the site’s other name. Additionally, there are two areas from where granite was extracted (Kraus et al. 1967: 187). The earliest attestation to Roman activity here exists in the form of a proskynema to Pan by a certain Apollonius Longinus dated to 29CE (Meredith 1953: 134 no. 7; SB 8164), and, though exploitation of the area appears to have occurred predominantly from the first through to the end of the fourth century (Meredith 1952: 107-108; Terengenza 1955: 123; Sidebotham et al. 1991: 576), a limited amount of Early Dynastic material has also been recorded in the area (Murray 1939: 38-39). The site comprises the remains of a square, walled castellum, three temples – one dedicated to Serapis, one to Isis, and another to Isis Myrionomos –, two wells, a so-called bath-house, as well as several settlement areas and a cemetery, majority of which lie along the Wadi Abu Maʾamal (Peacock and Maxfield 2001: 12-56; Kraus et al. 1967: 164-193, figs. 15-16). Certainly, the most impressive feature of the site is a 1400m long causeway built of dry rubble and rising some 600m, constructed to facilitate the movement of the porphyry (Villiers-Stuart 1910: 64-66).

Associated with the cemetery area is one of the two objects connecting the site with fourth century Christianity, that being a tombstone dedicated to a certain Iohannes from Hermopolis, the back of which had been decorated with a crux ansata (artefact 1233). At some point between 1898 and 1932, the object was removed from the site and taken to the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, but no records attest to its presence there, meaning it has essentially been lost. The second object of relevance is an inscription found on the road leading to the temple of Serapis on the Lycabettos mountain which refers to the restoration of the ‘Katholike church of Melitios’, understood as referring to the famed Meletius of Lycopolis and thus considered evidence of the presence of a Meletian congregation at the site (artefact 1231). A final, possible, material aspect of Christianity is a supposed church situated in the south-west village, tentatively considered to have developed out of a martyrium. The erection of the structure has been situated in the fourth-fifth century (Kraus et al 1967: 194-195, not p. 168 as noted in Sheridan and Roth 1992: 119). Whether or not this building had actually functioned as a church, however, and whether its construction is attributable to this period, have both been called into question (Maxfield and Peacock 2001: 89-95, fig. 3.42).

Quarrying activities in the area are considered to have ceased at the end of the fourth century, after which point it is thought that areas of the site were re-occupied by anchoritic Christians (Sheridan and Roth 1992: 119; Sidebotham et al. 2008: 72). There are indeed a select number of literary attestations which seem to document to a monastic community in the region, including John Moschus’ account in his Pratum Spirituale of a Christian traveller in the beginning of the 7th century visiting two hermits in an area called ‘Porphyrites’. As noted previously, this name may have referred to a broader area than simply Ǧabal Abū Duḫān, with it possibly referring to the nearby site of Biʾr Naqāṭ.

Archaeological research

The first modern visitor to the site, and the individual attributed with its rediscovery, was James Burton in 1822. A short notice was published in British Newspapers (Burton 1823), but the bulk of the material remains unpublished in Burton’s field notebooks in the archives of the British Museum (Burton, Collectiones Aegyptiaca (1820-1839), Add. Mss. 25,624: 102-108 (1822) and 25,626: 50-53 (March 1831)). Burton visited the site May 10-19 the following year with J. G. Wilkinson, and in March 1831. Wilkinson presented a paper on their findings to the Royal Geographic Society, and it is within the published form of this paper that the first substantial information about the site was presented, albeit without plans or drawings (Wilkinson 1832: 42-49). On May 5th, 1823, one day before the visit of Burton and Wilkinson, the site was visited by Giovanni Battista whose notes were published posthumously (Broochi 1841: 195-204). Next was Lefebvre in 1837, though this resulted in no dedicated publication (a few observations were, however, included in Delesse 1850: 524-540). Hékékyan Bey visited the site, publishing some brief remarks, followed by R. Lepsius in 1845, whose brief publication included a plan of the Serapis temple (Hékékyan Bey 1849: 584-587; Lepsius 1853: 286-288). This was followed by a visit of G. Schweinfurth in May of 1877 and then again in 1878 (Schneider 1883: 97, 100, 108-9, pls. 11-12). In the years 1887-1888, the geology and topography of the Eastern Desert was recorded as part of the Egyptian Geological Survey, which included a visit to the site which is briefly mentioned in one of the resulting publications, though this is specifically with regards to the mineralogical context of the area rather than the antiquities (Barron and Hume 1902: 27). Several individuals sought to recommence mining operations at the site, including a Mr Wells in 1907, the then director of the Department of Mines, who visited the site with A. E. P. Weigall in order to examine the feasibility of such a project. The latter described their journey and visit (Weigall 1913: 160. For a more thorough overview of work dedicated to porphyry and its uses, see Mafield and Peacock 2001: 7-8). According to an inscription at the site, J. Couyat visited the following year, on February 15th, with the information obtained during the trip published a year later (Couyat 1909: 7-15; reprinted in Bernard 1977: 49-52).

Knowledge of the site was significantly advanced thanks to the work conducted by L. Terengenza who visited the quarries in 1947 then again in 1949 (Terengenza 1949; id 1955; Meredith and Terengenza 1950). The Suez crisis prevented additional work from being conducted until the 1960s, when the German institute completed a survey and a limited amount of excavation work, resulted in the drawing-up of plans of all the major structures (Keas et al. 1964: 157-205). Again, these pursuits were impeded by the political situation in Egypt, with the Eastern Desert becoming closed to foreigners due to the war with Israel. When the desert was re-opened, a survey was conducted by the University of Delaware in January of 1980, directed by Stephen Sidebotham, which concentrated on studying and redrawing extant plans of many of the key installations along the road connecting Qenā and Abū Ša’ar which also included the examination and description of the features of the site, including analysis of the surface ceramic (Sidebotham et al. 1992: 571, 575). The most recent work, and certainly the most extensive, was that of The Mons Porphyrites Project, co-directed by Valerie Maxfield and David Peacock. Work was conducted between 1994 and 1998 and included meticulous surveying and mapping of the site in addition to a small amount of excavation work. The project was sponsored by the Egypt Exploration Society in collaboration with the Universities of Exeter and Southampton, and financed by grants from the British Academy, the British Museum, the Society of Antiquaries of London, the Society for the Promotion of Roman Studies, the Universities of Exeter, Leicester and Southhampton, and the Vrije Universiteit van Brussel (Maxfield and Peacock 2001; id 2008).


• Barron, T. and W. F. Hume. 1902. Topography and Geology of the Eastern Desert of Egypt – Central Portion, p. 27-28. Cairo: Egyptian Geological Survey.
• Bernard, A. 1977. Pan du désert, 44-77. Leiden: Brill.

• Brindley 1887. “Account of A Recent Visit to the Ancient Porphyry Quarries of Egypt.” Proceedings of the Royal Geographic Society 9: 692.
• Brindley 1888. “The Ancient Quarries of Egypt, With An Account of A Recent Journey Across the Eastern Desert.” Transactions of the Royal Institute of British Architects 4: 5-26.
• Broochi, G. B. 1841. Giornale delle osservazioni fatte ne’ viaggi in Egitto, nella Siria e nella Nubia II. Bassano: A. Roberti.

• Burton, J. 1823. “Researches Along the Red Sea Etc.” Morning Chronicle 17,008, Oct 23rd.
• Couyat, J. 1909. “La route de Myos Hormos et les carrières de porphyre rouge.” Bulletin de l’institut français d’archéologie orientale 7: 1-19.
• Delbrueck, R. 1932. Antike Porphyrwerke. Berlin: De Gruyter.
• Delesse, A. 1850. “Sur le porphyre rouge antique.” Bulletin de la société géographique de France 2, 7: 524-540.
• Dubois, C. 1908. Étude sur l’administration et exploitation des carrières marbres, porphyre, granit, etc. dans le monde romain, p. 61-68. Paris: Fontemoing.
• Engelbach, R. 1931. “Notes of Inspection.” Annales du Service des Antiquités de l’Égypte 31: 132-143.
• Hékékyan Bey, J. 1848. “Notes on the Eastern Desert of Egypt, from Gebel Afrit, by the Ancient Porphyry Quarries of Gebel Dukhan, Near to the Old Station of Gebel Gir; with a Brief Account of the Ruins of Gebel Dukhan.” Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal 17: 584-587.
• Klein, M. J. 1988. Untersuchungen zu den kaiserlichen Steinbrüchen an Mons Porphyrites und Mons Claudianus in der östlichen Wüste Ägyptens. Bonn: R Habelt.
• Kraus, T., Röder, J. and W. Müller-Weiner. 1967. “Mons Claudianus-Mons Porphyrites: Bericht über die zweite Forschungsreise 1964.“ Mitteilungen des deutschen archäologischen Instituts, Abt. Kairo 22: 108-205.
• Łajtar, A and E. Wipszycka. 1994. “Deux katholikai ekklêsiai dans le Mons Porphyrites.” Juristic Journal of Papyrology 24: 71-72.
• Lepsius, R. 1853. Letters from Egypt, Ethiopia, and the Peninsula of Sinai. London: Henry G. Bohn.
• Maxfield, V. 2001. “Stone Quarrying in the Eastern Desert with Particular Reference to Mons Claudianus and Mons Porphyrites.” In Economies Beyond Agriculture in the Classical World, edited by D. J. Mattingly and J. Salmon, 143-170. London: Routledge.
• Maxfield, V. and D. Peacock. eds. 2001. The Roman Imperial Quarries: Survey and Excavation at Mons Porphyrites 1994-1998, vol. 1. Topography and Quarries. London: Egypt Exploration Society.
• Maxfield, V. and D. Peacock. eds. 2008. The Roman Imperial Quarries: Survey and Excavation at Mons Porphyrites 1994-1998, vol. 2. The Excavations, edited by D. Peacock and V. Maxfield, 397-411. London: Egypt Exploration Society.
• Meredith, D. W. 1952. “Roman Remains in the Eastern Desert of Egypt.” Journal of Egyptian Archaeology 38: 94-111.
• Meredith, D. W. 1953. “Eastern Desert of Egypt: Notes on Inscriptions.” Chronique d’Égypte 28, 55: 126-141.
• Meredith, D. W. 1954. “Contributions to the Roman Archaeology of the Eastern Desert of Egypt.” Dissertation, University of London.
• Meredith, D. W. 1955. “Eastern Desert of Egypt: Notes on Inscriptions. Corrigenda.” Chronique d’Égypte 30: 127-129.
• Meredith, D. W. and L. A. Treganza. 1950. “Mons Porphyrites: The Northwest Village and Quarries.” University of Egypt Bulletin of the Faculty of Art 12: 131-147.
• Murray, G. W. 1925. “The Roman Roads with Stations in the Eastern Desert of Egypt.” Journal of Egyptian Archaeology 11, 3/4: 147-158.
Murray, G. 1939. “An Archaic Hut in Wadi Umm Sidrah.” Journal of Egyptian Archaeology 25: 38-39.
• Murray, G. W. 1946. “Porphyry.” Blackwood’s Magazine Oct.: 239-247.
• Murray, G. W. 1967. Dare me to the Desert, 115-129. New York: George Allen and Unwin.
• Scaife, C. H. O. 1933. “Note on a Visit to the Imperial Porphyry Quarries at Gebel Dokhan.” Bulletin of the Faculty of Arts Fouad I University 1.1: 144-145.
• Scaife, C. H. O. 1934. “A Note on Certain Inscriptions at Gebel Dokhan, and on a Small Station, Hitherto Unrecorded, on the Road from Kainopolis to Myos Hormos.” Bulletin of the Faculty of Arts Fouad I University 2, 1: 106-115.
• Scaife, C. H. O. 1935. “Two Inscriptions at Mons Porphyrites (Gebel Dokhan). Also A Description, with Plans, of the Station Between Kainopolis & Myos Hormos Together with Some Other Ruins in the Neighbourhood of Gebel Dokhan.” Bulletin of the Faculty of Arts Fouad I Unive3, 2: 58-164.
• Schneider, O. 1883. “Über den roten Porphyr der Alten.” In Naturwissenschaftliche Beiträge zur Geographie und Kulturgeschichte, Section 3: Porphyry, 75-176. Dresden: Bleyl & Kaemmerer.
• Sheridan, J. A. and J. Roth. 1992. “Greek Ostraca from Mons Porphyrites (Gebel ‘Abu Dukhan).” The Bulletin of the American Society of Papyrologists 29, 4: 117-126.

• Sidebotham, S. 1990. “Ship Graffiti from Mons Porphyrites.” Bulletin de l’institut français d’archéologie orientale 90: 339-345.
• Sidebotham, S. 1991. “Römischen Straßen in der ägyptischen Wüste.” Antike Welt 22, 3: 177-189.
• Sidebotham, S., R. E. Zitterkopf, and J. A. Riley. 1991. “Survey of the ’Abu Sha’ar–Nile Road.” American Journal of Archaeology 95: 571-622.
• Sidebotham, S. E., M. Hense, and H. M. Nouwens. 2008. The Red Land. The Illustrated Archaeology of Egypt’s Red Desert. Cairo, New York: The American University in Cairo Press.
• Stuart, V. 1910. “Gebel Dokhan.” Cairo Scientific Bulletin 4: 64-66.
• Tregenza, L. A. 1949. “Notes on the Inscriptions and Graffiti at Mons Claudianus and Mons Porphyrites and on the “Flavius” Stone in Wadi Qattar, Collected During A Visit to the S.E. Desert in the Summer of 1949.” Bulletin of the Faculty of Arts Fouad I University 11: 139-150.
• Tregenza, L. A. 1955. The Red Sea Mountains of Egypt. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
• Van Rengen, W. 1984. “Le graffite Pan 30 du Mons Poprphyrites.” Chronique d’Égypte 59: 3554.
• Van Rengen, W. 1995. “A New Paneion at Mons Porphyrites.” Chronique d’Égypte 70: 240-245.
• Villiers-Stuart, M. 1910. “Gebel Dokhan.” Cairo Scientific Journal 4: 64-66.
• Weigall, A. E. P. 1913. Travels in the Upper Egyptian Deserts, 90-114. Edinburgh, London: Blackwood and Sons.
• Wilkinson, J. G. 1832. “Notes on A Part of the Eastern Desert of Upper Egypt.” Journal of the Royal geographical Society of London 2: 28-60.

Victor Ghica, Rhiannon Williams, 2021
Suggested citation
Victor Ghica, Rhiannon Williams, 2021, "Ǧabal Abū Duḫān", 4CARE database - Fourth-Century Christian Archaeological Record of Egypt,
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