The ancient city of Canopus is mentioned many times by classical authors and the fathers of the church. The oldest mention of Canopus can be found in a poem by Solon, from the first half of the 6th century BC. According to the poet Nicander (2nd century BC), Menelaus’ helmsman, Canopus, died here, bitten by a viper on the sands of Thonis. The city located close by was named after this unfortunate sailor: Canopus. During the last Pharaonic dynasties and the Ptolemaic period, Canopus was famous for its sanctuaries of Osiris and Serapis. Pilgrims from all over the world came to visit in search of miraculous healing.
Throughout the existence of the grand sanctuary of Herakles in Heracleion, the God Osiris was taken from here on his ritual barque to his sanctuary in Canopus. This procession created a mystical tie between the two neighbouring cities. During Roman times Canopus was condemned in literature for its extravagant feasts, however, attracting many visitors. Emperor Hadrian, in order to keep alive the memories of the good times he enjoyed in Canopus, even had a replica of part of Canopus built at Villa Hadriana outside Rome. After the destruction of the temples by Christian iconoclasts, the construction of a powerful monastery followed. It became famous for holding the relics of Saint John and Saint Cyril. Those relics brought to the monastery the same powers for miraculous healings as the former pagan temple of Osiris-Serapis and consequently the site continued to be a place of pilgrimage.
The fate of the eastern suburbs of Canopus was identical to that which befell Thonis-Heracleion: the sea repossessed these places with their rich histories.
A limestone head of a statue found at Canopus. It probably originates from Cyprus (contacts between Cyprus and Egypt are well attested during the middle of the 1st millennium BC). Its features are characteristic for the Cyprian sculpture at the end of the 6th-5th century BC, especially the big almond-shaped eyes which were probably painted. The enigmatic headgear suggests the head representing Baal or Melquart, a god of Syrian/ Palestinian origin.