History Of Al Minya
Before the rise of the Dynasties in 3100 BC, the area today known as Minya as well as some of the adjacent land was what composed the 16th nome or district. The area existed independently as a sovereign city up until the amalgamation of Egypt by Menes in 3200 BC. After the amalgamation, Menes split the nation of Egypt into 42 district and the 16th nome occupied by present day Al Minya was renamed as the Oryx nome, perhaps after the eponymous Oryx antelope species that were common in the region.
The strategic location of the Oryx nome ascribed to it a position of importance as a trade hub and major economic center. The city was situated directly off the red sea trade route, and so merchants plying their trades and shipping their goods across always found the city a nice melting point both for relaxing and carrying out transactions.
Folklore (perhaps only a conjecture) had it that Pharaoh Khufu, the builder of Giza’s great pyramid was born in the city of Al Minya, hence, this led to its previously mentioned nomenclature as Men’at Khufu. Although the exact location of Men’at Khufu has not been pinpointed, it is believed to have been situated on the western shores of the Nile river, not far from present day Minya.
Consequent upon the fall of the Old kingdom, the leaders of Men’at Khufu gained a lot of prestige and affluence in the course of the first intermediate period, this made them more powerful and independent, in a way, of the successive Pharaohs ruling the entire nation.
When the Herakleopolitan and the Theban Kingdoms engaged in a power tussle during the first intermediate period, the rulers of the 16th nome were initially apathetic, refusing to take sides. However, in the long run, they would go on to take sides with and become allies with the Theban kingdoms during the reigns of Baqet III and Mentuhotep II. Fortunately for the princes of Men’at Khufu, supporting the Thebans turned out to be backing the right horse as their alliance turned out to be beneficial, keeping them powerful up until the 11th dynasty.
In a similar fashion to the pharaohs who built pyramids to cater for their afterlife, the princes of Oryx nome also had a great deal of concern for what would happen after their demise. However, either because of costs or due to the changes in trends a time, they didn’t build elaborate pyramids like the pharaohs’ own, rather they settled for tombs built out of the limestone cliffs that overlook the village that is currently called Beni Hasan. In recent times, those tombs with their wall paintings and art, have proven very important in providing insight into the contemporary Egyptian life of the time.
The powers of the princes of Minya eventually came to a halt in the 12th dynasty when Pharaoh Amenemhat II (1929-1895 BC) made them basically redundant and stripped them of most of their authority. The Hyskos of the 15th dynasty took over rulership of Minya as well as the whole area from mid-Egypt all the way down south during the second intermediate period. The Minyan princes having been made inconsequential by the pharaohs gave their support to the Hysko rulers from the 15th to the 17th dynasty in the hope that they would be able to rout the pharaohs who had taken away their powers.
The Theban pharaohs pushed back too and tried to expel the Hyskos from Egypt just as the second intermediate period was coming to a close. Again, Minya was an important location during this period as it was the site of the first battle in the tussle between the Theban Pharaoh Kamose of the 17th dynasty and the Hyskos. Kamose became victorious in 1552 BC after his army defeated the army of Teti the son Pepi, perhaps one of the Hyskos who people claimed had made Minya “an Asian nest”
Riding on the wave of his brother’s victory, Ahmose I, Kamose’s younger brother would go on to completely chase the Hyskos out of Egypt in 1540BC. The Minyan rulers were now completely powerless with the loss of their last allies. Even their tombs at Beni Hasan were either looted by tomb raiders or excavated for stones to be used in other buildings. The tombs themselves were sometimes converted into residential buildings for citizens. Later, many of them would be vandalized by religious extremists of either Christian or Muslim extraction.
Greek and Roman Influence on Al-Minya’s History
Hadrian, who was the emperor of Rome built the city Antinopolis in 130 A.D. in honor of Antinous, his lover from Greece. Hermopolis Magna (also called El Ashmunein) served as the region’s capital. There are still remnants of a Greek temple in the region and it is believed that the area was a major place of worship in honor of the god Thoth.
In 328, Empress Helena, Constantine the great’s mother built the Monastery of the Virgin Mary at Gebel el-Teir close to Samalut, the location of the monastery was the residence of the Holy Family during their exile in Egypt. While the Greeks held sway, Oxyrhynchus was an influential centre of administration and a lot of ancient scrolls from the Byzantine era in Egypt were found there by archaeologists.
Al Minya and the Arabs
While the Abbasids were in power, Minya was renamed as Ibn Khasib after 9th century Egypt’s most influential and loved ruler. Ibn Khasib was very enamored with the city Al Minya, he even requested that the Caliph allow him to retire to Minya, he would eventually die there after some years.
A lot of Minya’s prosperity and development, as well as its development from a village to a city has been credited to Ibn Khasib. Apart from just naming the city after him, Minya was also referred to as Munyat Ibn Khasib that is Ibn Khasib’s Minya. Al Minya underwent continued growth and development in the 10th and 11th centuries while the Fatimid caliphate was in power with the building of various amenities and infrastructure like Mosques, schools, public baths and so on. Two outstanding mosques were erected in Al Minya during this period and they are the El-Amrawy and the El-Lamaty mosques. Ibn Battuta, renowned for being a wayfarer in medieval times, visited Al Minya and was greatly impressed with what he saw. He was said to have described Al Minya as being better than all the other towns in Upper Egypt.
Minya in Modern Times
During the reign of Muhammad Ali (not the boxer), Minya was a major agricultural city, it had fertile arable land and therefore produced bountiful harvests. When Ismail became king, the city got even more prosperous due to his vast cotton and sugarcane plantations.
Apart from agriculture, Ismail also contributed a lot to the development of Minya as a whole, he built a modern regal palace for himself as well as the construction of other residential buildings in 1870. The Ibrahimiya canal was also constructed in 1873 while Ismail was in power to provide water for the farms and agricultural products.
The canal triggered the urbanization of the city particularly in the western region. There was also the construction of bridges which facilitated transportation. More houses were also built in various parts of the city. A lot of the world’s cotton supply used to come from Southern America, but this supply dried up with the outbreak of the Civil war in 1861. This made cotton expensive due to its low supply and high demand. Egypt was strategically positioned to benefit from this supply paucity with the now increased demand for its cotton. Minya particularly saw an increase in the number of wealthy merchants and landlords during this period.
Mansions and expensive houses sprang up in areas that used to be the city’s colonial end. The houses were ornately designed in keeping with the classical and Rococo architectural styles. In the 20th century, Minya developed even further, a highlight of this period was the construction of a railway line linking Cairo with Minya. Subsequently, more rail tracks were built, extending in various directions. The British also created an embassy in Minya to facilitate the trade in cotton.
Another highlight of the expansion period in Minya was the creation of a branch of the Ottoman bank, this even went to prove how critical Minya was to the region and the country’s economy.
A lot of social infrastructure was introduced to the city by expatriates; these included a court in 1927, a fire department in 1931 as well as an administrative building in 1937. Most of these developments were concentrated in the modern part of the city while the more ancient parts, the old city, didn’t experience much growth or development. However, the Minya’s influence and importance began to wane starting with the 1952 uprisings. Other events that contributed to Minya’s decline include the Suez crisis in 1956 and the taking over of expatriate concerns by locals in 1957. Eventually, most of the foreigners, especially Greeks and Armenians, left the country.
Following the expatriates’ departure, a lot of the locals also left the highbrow, colonial district, returning to the old city. This led to overcrowding in the old city as well as the deterioration of the scant amenities there.
The situation kept worsening until the 1960s when, in a bid to solve the population and accommodation crisis, a public housing programme tagged Ard AL-Mowled was created. This scheme provided home for those who could not afford expensive homes. However, a modern district called Ard Sultan was created in the early part of the 1970s. Ard Sultan provided more befitting accommodation for the financially buoyant people who no longer wanted to live in the now under-developed old city.
The newly created district is only short distance from the Nile and it contains nice buildings and state of the art infrastructure, creating a modern version of the ancient Minya city.
Updated On April 20, 2020