HILWAN. [This article consists of two parts, one section on the history and one on Christian buildings in the small town of Hilwan. This town is on the east bank of the Nile 14 miles (20 km) south of Cairo. It has always been known for its curative sulfuric waters.]
According to the HISTORY OF THE PATRIARCHS, the governor of Egypt ‘Abd al-‘Aziz ibn Marwan (seventh-eighth century) built Hilwan and commanded the bishops to build two churches. However, it seems that Hilwan already possessed a bishop before the arrival of the Arabs.
The monastery of Hilwan existed during the patriarchate of ALEXANDER II (705-730).
According to the Life of Patriarch ISAAC (686-689), written at the beginning of the eighth century by Menas, bishop of Pshati, ‘Abd al-‘Aziz ibn Marwan made Hilwan his capital because the doctors had recommended the water of Hilwan to him, and the air of this place was more favorable than that of al-Fustat (Old Cairo).
Abu Salih the Armenian (beginning of thirteenth century) mentions a monastery at Hilwan dedicated to the Holy Virgin. According to Abu Salih, this monastery was founded at the expense of the bishops under the patriarchates of Isaac and Simon I (689-701) and under the governorship of ‘Abd al-‘Aziz ibn Marwan. It is called the monastery of Abu Qarqurah.
Abu Salih also records the restoration of a second monastery, according to the decree of ‘Abd al-Aziz ibn Marwan and by the care of his Melchite majordomos, under the patronage of Saint George.
Al-Maqrizi (d. 1441) does not speak of it, nor does any author after him. Whatever its origins, excavations in 1945-1947 have brought to light a monastery at Hilwan.
The monk BULUS AL-HABIS, a recluse martyred by Baybars, lived in the monastery of Hilwan in the thirteenth century (Labib, 1982). This saint is also mentioned by Ibn al-Suqa‘i.
RENÉ GEORGES COQUIN
MAURICE MARTIN, S.J.
Of the Christian buildings that were erected in Hilwan by the order of ‘Abd al-‘Aziz ibn Marwan, the remains of two buildings located close together on the west side of the town had remained standing, but they were destroyed during the course of forcible land reclamation for new buildings in 1983. They consisted of two rather large and more or less square structures, the inner courtyards of which were surrounded on all sides by interconnected rows of rooms. Both buildings appear to have been erected during a single building operation and revealed only a few later alterations. In both cases the entrances had the design of large gate structures. Inside, besides numerous accommodation units and toilets, each of the buildings had a church and next to the church a dining room (triclinium) in the shape of a triconch.
In the somewhat more substantial complex A, the originally unified courtyard was divided into two sections by a later transverse wall. The church situated in the front-facing section was a basilica with its eastern part subdivided by four central pillars, side chambers, and a projecting apse. The large dining room lay in the west courtyard. It was a regularly shaped triconch with each conch having what appears to be a barrel-vaulted bay in front. Consequently, it was close in type to the triclinia of late antiquity (Grossmann, 1982, p. 84, n. 372).
In the building complex B, which had a somewhat clearer arrangement, the church and the triclinium were fully integrated into the building arrangement on the south side of the courtyard. The church was a four-columned building with sturdy cruciform piers and a deep three-roomed sanctuary. In the triconch attached to the church in the east, which is here also regarded as a triclinium, only the two conchs situated in the transverse axis were provided with bays, while in the principal axis they were missing because the building was slight in depth.
The remaining rooms corresponded in both complexes. In both there were several accommodation units each comprising four rooms. Complex A had, in addition, a number of two-room types of houses. In complex B the ground plan of smaller houses had greater variation. Several installations were also found in the courtyard, among which was a fish pond provided with numerous pipes for breeding.
Complex B generally gave a more developed impression. It appeared to be the later of the two. The fact that numerous wall niches were found in its walls is simply due, however, to its relatively better state of preservation. We can assume that they were also part of complex A.
Later installations and alterations were very few. Complex B contained a series of buildings on the north side that might have served as stalls for cattle.
The purpose of the two buildings is also unclear. In style they resembled the great hermitages found in KELLIA (Kasser, 1972). They were, however, in comparison to these, far too lavish, and, if one is prepared to regard them as monastic living quarters, provided room for very few monks. One might have expected to find at least a number of smaller buildings of the same kind in the neighborhood, but this is not the case.
The idea that we are dealing here with palace installations for senior clergy is scarcely justified, even though the existence of such buildings is reported in documentary sources. It is just possible that the two complexes were Christian guesthouses for the visitors to the baths at Hilwan. In any event, a spa resort like Hilwan could certainly have used several guesthouses.
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