The city of Rosetta (Rashid) is situated on the western bank of the branch of the Nile called "Rashid", and is located 65km northeast of Alexandria.
It is thought that a Temple for Amon was built during the New Kingdom Period. In the Greco-Roman Period the city was called Balbotine and the Nile branch then was known as "the Balbotine Branch"
In the Islamic period, Rosetta was still known by this name, but it was less important than Alexandria. The Sultan Qaitbay built a fortress there, surrounded by ramparts for defensive purposes; the Sultan Al Ghouri later built a wall around the city.
After the Ottoman conquest in the 16th century, and after the decline of Alexandria, Rosetta became the principal port of the northern coast until the 19th century, but retained its importance serving the trade between Egypt, Turkey and other countries. Many Wikalahs and merchant houses were constructed.
Rosetta is considered as a large open-air museum for Islamic architecture. The great number of Islamic monuments found here does not exist in any other city, except for Cairo. Unfortunately most of these unique monuments are neglected, modern buildings surround them, and the unplanned urbanization also affects them badly, causing much damage. Therefore it is necessary for a great national effort to be made to save them, in order to revive the historical character of the city.
Today Rosetta’s worldwide fame is because of the finding of the “Rosetta Stone” during the French occupation of Egypt. In 1799, while extending a fortress near Rosetta, a young French officer named Pierre-Francois Bouchard found a block of black basalt stone. It measured 3ft 9in long, 2ft 4.5 in wide, and 11in thick, and it contained three distinct bands of writing. The most incomplete was the top band containing hieroglyphics; the middle band was in an Egyptian script called Demotic and the bottom one was in Ancient Greek. He took the stone to the scholars and they realized that it was a royal decree that basically stated that it was to be written in the 3 languages used in Egypt at the time.
Upon Napoleon's defeat, the stone had become the property of the English, under the terms of the Treaty of Alexandria (1801), as well as other artefacts that had been found by the French. The stone was taken to England and copies were made so that other people could attempt to translate it. Scholars began to focus on the Demotic script in the middle band, because it was more complete, and it looked more like letters than the hieroglyphic pictures in the upper band. It was essentially a shorthand version of hieroglyphics that had evolved from an earlier shorthand version of Egyptian called hieratic script. Thomas Young (1773-1829), an English physicist, was the first to show that some of the hieroglyphs in the top band were the sounds of a royal name - Ptolemy. Then the French scholar Jean-François Champollion (1790-1832) realized that the hieroglyphs were actually the sound of the Egyptian language and therefore laid the foundations of our present day knowledge of the Ancient Egyptian language and culture.
The houses of Rosetta
Each house consists of 3 or 4 floors, with multi-level, wooden corbel ceilings for added strength. They were built of moulded, grouted bricks, and in the façade, for decoration purposes, these bricks were alternatively painted red and black. Also the Mashrapiyas and windows, of a different type of turned wood whether Sahrili or Maymouni, also decorate the façade.
The ground floor usually contains the “caravansary” or storehouse, the stable, a Sabil (or fountain), and the cistern.
The 2nd floor was reserved for men. It often has a separate door and a courtyard surrounded by a number of rooms. The 3rd floor was reserved for women called Al-Hadir (the place of sleeping); it consists of a main hall (iwan) surrounded by several rooms, and a private bathroom.
These houses often include a room on the 3rd floor called the “Al-Aghany” room (room of songs), in which the women of the house sit, listening and watching the entertainment, out of sight of the men. This room contains cupboards in one of its walls, with Klaw Khowarnaqates and partitions of turned wood. These wooden cupboards are often inlayed with ivory and mother of pearl. In some houses, the walls of the Al-Aghani room were covered with tiles with floral decorations in yellow, red, and green bearing an Andalusi effect, as in the houses of Mouharam an Olwan. Arab Killy House (the National Museum of Rosetta)
This is one of the most famous houses in Rosetta, and the biggest. It dates back to the 18th century (XII A.H) and was the residential house of Arab Killy who was an Ottoman governor of the city.
It consists of 4 floors:
1-The ground floor, which includes:
- -A storehouse with cross-vaulted ceiling
- -A cistern
- -A “Sabil” (or fountain)
- -A courtyard, surrounded by a number of rooms with windows of iron grills, below holes of Maaqali turning
- -A courtyard, surrounded by a number of rooms with windows of iron grills
- -The Al-Aghany (see above), this room contains a beautiful cupboard, inlaid with mother-of-pearl.