Rosetta : Rose of the Nile
Rosetta. with its strategic location between the Mediterranean and the
western arm of the Nile, Rosetta had been an extremely important military site
since early times. The town was witness to many important events in ancient as
well as modern times. It is typically tranquil and highly green town with vast
gardens, orchards and date-palm plantations , in addition to a multitude of
beautiful historical houses, inns and mosques adorned with exquisite decorative
inscriptions and woodworks.
Rosetta across History
Lying 65 km east of Alexandria, Rosetta dates back to the Protodynastic era ,
where Menes marched from Upper Egypt to capture the town within his drive to
unite both parts of the country and the town was then named " Khito".
In the Ptolemaic era, the town was renamed " Poulbotine" after the
Poulbotinium Temple, dedicated to the worship of of Queen Cleopatra. In the
Coptic age, the town was known as Rashit, later converted to Rashid. In later
epochs, the town came to known by its present name of Rosetta ( rosy in Latin ).
In 853 AD , the Abbasid Caliph ordered a town to be built on the site of the old
town on Poulbotine as a protective fortification against sea invaders. Rashid
was referred to in history books as famous for making salted fish and sea
snails. In 1249, king Louis IX of France occupied the town, in the course of his
crusade against the Orient. This incident drew the attention of the Mamelukes to
its importance. As a result, they flocked into the town and many of them built
beautiful houses, mosques, inns and public baths. Since then, the town was used
as a trading harbor.
The Mameluk Sultan Qunsuwa al- Ghouri built a castle and ordered many houses and
mosques to be built there.
Under Ottoman rule, Rosetta remained a prosperous trading harbor. At that time,
the town attracted the attention of both Britain and France, being the major
colonial powers that controlled trade between Europe and the East. They set
their eyes on Rosetta as a foothold to possibly capture Egypt and France,
appointed as a consul-general at the town Mr. Benoit De Mallet, an encyclopedic,
enlightened French scholar, known for his mastery of Arabic. Mr. Mallet had
lived in Rosetta fort 16 years , where he wrote one of the best-known classics
"Description of Egypt".
At the same time, Britain was also looking for a foothold on the Mediterranean
in order to protect its trade route for coffee shipped from Yemen, then a
British protectorate to Europe across the Red Sea and the Mediterranean via Suez
As a result, Rosetta turned into one of the most flourishing Mediterranean
harbors. Its warehouses were replete with grains, coffee, silk and many other
trading commodities. Its warehouses were replete with grains, coffee, silk and
many other trading commodities and its streets bustling with Armenian, Turkish,
Syrian and Jewish traders.
Rich merchants and consuls of European countries, in addition to hotels, inns,
mosques and churches, built many elegant houses.
During the French expedition, General Mineau was appointed ruler of Rosetta,
where he stayed for one year, embraced Islam and took a wife; Zobayda al- Bawab.
As Mohammad Ali took over in 1805, Rosetta gained more importance as a town and
An Open Museum
The town itself is an open museum, with 22 monumental residences dating back to
the Ottoman era in addition to 12 mosques, mills, castles and public baths.
In no other town in Egypt there can found such unique collection of monumental
residences, built with a rare type of brown, well-trimmed and pointed bricks.
How these bricks were made still remains a mystery.
The houses reflect a high style of architecture, construction and carpentry.
Designed to Islamic architectural style, the houses comprise Mushrabiyyas (
oriels), vast reception rooms, decorative inscriptions, in-laid sea -shell
woodworks, domes and densely ornamented doors. Houses were provided with fresh
water tanks, properly insulated to protect buildings against water leakage.
Normally, each house had a drinking fountain ( Sabeel), made available for free
The interior of the house was rich with exquisite decorations, including
inscriptions in Kufic calligraphy. Mushrabiyyas were made of geometrically
shaped, fine woodworks. On top of the house, which sometimes rose to two floors,
there was a decorative skylight to allow natural light and air into the
Witness to History
Rosetta commands a special significance in Egypt's modern history. On March 31,
1807, it was the theatre of a crucial battle between local inhabitants led by
the town's ruler; Ali Bey as- Slanki on the one hand and British forces led by
General Fraser, who sought to capture the town as spring board for invading
Egypt. As the British marched from Alexandria, Egyptian fierce resistance,
leading to the defeat of the British troops and death of the British commander,
surprised them. Later a treaty was signed by both parties, whereby the British
troops evacuated the town.
One of the outstanding landmarks of Rosetta is Abu Madour Tower, wherefrom
Vivien Dinon, a major historian of the French Expedition monitored the famous
Abu-Qeer naval battle between the British and French fleets.
Rosetta at Present
Lying under the jurisdiction of al-Behaira Gvernorate, Rosetta now covers an
area of about 92 sq. km, with a population of about 163,000. The town has also
an efficient infrastructure, stations, regional and international
telecommunications besides an overland and river transport network that link it
with other parts of the country.
Today, as a tourist attraction, it is best known for its distinct Ottoman era
merchant houses, of which there are around 22. Most are being restored, but a
few are open for visitors. With many mashrabiyyas, the intricately carved wooden
screens, the houses are usually three stories with each level stuck slightly out
from the lower ones. The facades are relatively narrow, and the mortar is often
outlined to create polychrome patterning in red, black and white.
There is suppose to be a museum which occupies the House of Arab Kily where the
governor resided during Rosetta's better days. Also of interest is the Hammam
Azouz, which is a two story, public bath.
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