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Sa el-Hagar (Sais).

The Arabic name of the village, Sa el-Hagar is probably derived form the important site of ancient Sa (Zau), which is better known by its Greek name, Sais, the home of the kings of Dynasties XXIV and XXVI (Saite Period). The modern village lies on the eastern side of the Rosetta branch of the Nile, due west of Samannud.

Over the years the buildings of modern Sa el-Hagar have spread over much of the archaeological site, which may have been an important cult centre of the goddess Neith from as early as Dynasty I. Virtually nothing remains at the site today, its massive mudbrick enclosure walls having been largely removed for fertilizer by the Sebakhin and the town mound destroyed. Herodotus, writing in the 5th century BC, described large obelisks, a sacred lake and a huge granite naos of Ahmose II at Sais, while in the 19th century AD Lepsius noted traces of a temple inside an enclosure wall. There has been little archaeological study of the site until recently, when Penny Wilson began surveying work there for the Egypt Excavation Society in 1997.

Sais, capital of the 5th Lower Egyptian Nome, came to prominence during the turbulent Third Intermediate Period and there are no surviving remains from before the New Kingdom. The semi-independent local ruler, Tefnakht Shepsesre, who declared himself Pharoah, is traditionally thought of as the founder of Dynasty XXIV. He based his home at Sais and expanded his authority over the central and western Delta. He was succeeded by Bakenenref Wahkare (Manetho’s Bochchoris), who proclaimed himself king of all northern Egypt and is attested for the burial of an Apis bull at the Serapaeum during his 6th reignal year. After a brief interlude during Dynasty XXV (when the Nubian kings came to power in Egypt), for the next 150 years or so, Tefnakht’s descendents under Psamtek Wahibre, ruled over the whole of Egypt from their royal residence at Sais until the Persian invasion in 525 BC and were probably buried there.

The goddess Neith whose emblem was a shield with two crossed arrows, seems to have had a cult centre at Sais from the Early Dynastic Period and there is some evidence that a wooden label dated to the Dynasty I King Aha, from Abydos, depicts his visit to a cult shrine at Sais. At least two Early Dynastic queens had names compounded with the element Neith (Neithhotep and Mernieth). Neith was a formidable goddess of warfare, a creator goddess who is depicted wearing the red crown of Lower Egypt, suggesting that she was closely associated with that region. The Greeks identified Neith with Athena, another warlike goddess.

Only rubbish heaps and a few scattered relief blocks now remain at Sa el-Hagar, though some of those removed have been found in nearby villages. The Temple of Neith seems to have been destroyed by the 14th century AD when parts of the huge naos were taken to Cairo and Rosetta. Egyptologist Labib Habachi, writing in 1942, suggested that many of the blocks found at Rosetta, including the famous ‘Rosetta Stone’ which provided the key to the decipherment of hieroglyphs, came originally from Sais.

How to get there

Sa el-Hagar lies on the eastern side of the Rosetta branch of the Nile. It may be reached from the city of Tanta, following a road to the west. Turn north at Mahallet Marhum towards Basyun where the road turns northwest to Sa el-Hagar.

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