Tanis: Today

In its heyday when Tanis was the capital of Egypt and the center of commerce and religion in the Nile Delta, grand structures of palaces and temples embellished its lands. It was the royal residence of the kings during the 21st and 22nd dynasties (1069 - 716 BC). And it was called Djanet by the ancient Egyptians, Zoan by the Old Testament Hebrews, and Tanis by the Greeks.

It is located about 150 kilometers north-east of Cairo and encompasses 180 hectares of land. And centuries before the place silted up and was abandoned, the great Pharaoh Ramesses II constructed the Grand Temple, the Small Temple, and the Temple of the Gods there. The Kings Senosurt I and Amenmehat I of the Middle Kingdom (2050 - 1710 BC) also established structures in Tanis like the seven-meter width walls of the city made from bricks. Its royal necropolis was the final resting place of the kings, queens, princes and military men of the 21st and 22nd dynasties. Obelisks, sphinxes, and statues adorned the lost city. But today, in the fields of Sân el-Hagar, the modern name of Tanis, only rubbles remain of its former glory.

Ruins of Tanis

The Tanis of today resembles nothing like the Tanis of ancient Egypt. Its structures have been destroyed by earthquakes and by the many attacks that the area received. Correspondingly, its branch of the Nile flooded the city as its water shifted during the times of the Romans. And by Islamic times, the area was mostly rocks and stones, earning the name Sân el-Hagar, hagar referring to the rocks or hill in Arabic.

Tanis has been excavated since the time of Napoleon Bonaparte expedition in Egypt in 1798. Artifacts, treasures, and statues have been unearthed since then and taken to the museums of Europe and other parts of the world. And archeologists like William Petrie and Pierre Montet have made great discoveries there and contributed tremendously to Egyptology. In fact, many historians and archeologists believe that Tanis is the richest historical site in Egypt.

The historical site now is full of ruins and has a surface area of around 75 acres. Most of the fortified historical walls of the city are now gone and the columns of buildings sprawl ruined on its grounds. These columns dated to different periods of the Egyptian history starting from the Old Kingdom, the Middle Kingdom, and the New Kingdom. The excavations throughout the decades mostly concentrated at the Temple of Amun constructed by Ramses II.

Found inside the Temple of Amun were two wells that the ancient Egyptians used as a Nilometer. A Nilometer measured the height of the water in the Nile river to help determine when to get ready for the harvest season. A sacred lake has also been dug up in the temple and it is the second largest sacred lake that survived until today after the sacred lake of the Temple of Karnak in Luxor. At the southeastern part, outside the main temple precinct, is the smaller precinct where the temples of Mut, Khonsu, and Astarte were located.

However, the most significant discovery at Tanis is when Pierre Montet found the royal necropolis that was hidden within the perimeters of the temple complex. Montet found the remains of the kings from the 21st and 22nd dynasties of the Third Intermediate Period together with their magnificent treasures that could rival the ones found in the tomb of Tutankhamun. These treasures are now on display in the Egyptian Museum of Antiquities and they are called “The Treasures of Tanis”.

Visiting the Ruins

The ruins at Tanis is often an overlooked archaeological site by tourists. Egyptology enthusiasts would mostly go see the more preserved sites like the Pyramids of Giza, Luxor's Karnak Temple and the Valley of the Kings, Abu Simbel, and Abydos' Temple of Osiris. However, though the Tanis archeological site may be just full of inscribed and decorated blocks, columns, obelisks, and statues of various dates, it is still an important site where relics of the past civilization could still be unearthed.

Just last September 16, 2018, Sân el-Hagar archeological site has been inaugurated by the Ministry of Antiquities as an open-air museum. It houses one of the restored statues of King Ramses II, two obelisks, and two columns of the king. Historical establishments in the site, of course, include the Temple of Amun, the Temple of Mut, the Temple of Khonsu, and the Easter Temple.

Getting there by car, you need to travel approximately 130km north-east of Cairo. While driving to Sân el-Hagar, you can see the mound of the site on the eastern side of the road and it is bordered by the Bahr Saft. Alternatively, the site can also be reached by taking a bus from Ulali or Abboud in Cairo and travel two hours to Faqus. You need to hire a service taxi or ride a bus from the town of Faqus to Sân el-Hagar. Tours are also offered to take tourists to Tanis and other historical sites in the Delta. Tanis HQ recommends the tours to Tanis as they are more convenient, and they usually have private guides who can share relevant information about the ruins.

The fallen statuary and the excavation site of Tanis may not be as impressive as that of the Valley of the Kings in Luxor or the Temple of Horus in Edfu, but it is still a meaningful site in the world of Egyptology. Its silent ruins are the only witnesses of the great stories the city of Tanis mysteriously keeps. It is a place for those who truly appreciate ancient Egyptian history and architecture.