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The city of Rosetta 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 the Temple of Amun was built here 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."

During the Islamic period, the city was still known as Rosetta, but it was less important than Alexandria. The Sultan Qaitbay built a fortress there, surrounded by ramparts for defensive purposes and the Sultan Al Ghouri later built a wall around the whole 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. It retained its importance in serving the trade between Egypt, Turkey, and other countries. Many wikalahs (warehouses with lodging rooms attached) and merchant houses were constructed.

Rosetta is one of the best places in the world to see prime examples of early Islamic architecture. The great number of Islamic monuments found here is better than every other Egyptian location apart from Cairo. Unfortunately, most of these unique monuments are neglected and modern buildings surround them, causing a crowded situation. The unplanned urbanization also affects them badly, causing much damage and neglect. 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 discovery there of the “Rosetta Stone” during the French occupation of Egypt. In 1799, while building 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 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. Bouchard 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 three languages used in Egypt at the time.

After 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 artifacts 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 the 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 three or four floors, with multi-level, wooden corbel ceilings for added strength. They were built of molded, grouted bricks, and in the façade, for decoration purposes, these bricks were alternatively painted red and black. Also, the Mashrabiyya 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 second floor was reserved for men. It often has a separate door and a courtyard surrounded by a number of rooms. The third floor was reserved for women called Al-Hadir (the place of sleeping); it consists of the main hall (iwan) surrounded by several rooms and a private bathroom.

These houses often include a room on the third 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 inlaid 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 and 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 four floors.

The ground floor includes

  • A storehouse with a cross-vaulted ceiling
  • A cistern
  • A “Sabil” (or fountain)

 2-The 2nd floor, reserved for the men, includes:

  • -A courtyard, surrounded by a number of rooms with windows of iron grills, below holes of Maaqali turning

 3-The 3rd floor, the domain of the women, which includes:

  • 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.
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