Floor mosaic tile showing figure of bird (© Ariadne Van Zandbergen/Alamy)
Close-up detail of mosaic floor in the Villa of the Birds in Alexandria, Egypt (© Ariadne Van Zandbergen/Alamy)

People from around the globe come to Egypt and line up to admire images of birds that charmed ancient Alexandrians.

Egypt’s historical and cultural artifacts have always been a powerful draw for tourists, and the U.S. Agency for International Development’s long-standing partnership with Egypt to preserve its national treasures has helped to restore “the Villa of the Birds.”

Located in the ancient port city of Alexandria, the Greco-Roman villa dating back to 300–50 B.C.E. opened to the public in 2000.

Ancient Roman amphitheater site (© MuslimPhotos.Net/Athar Akram/Alamy)
Roman amphitheater at Kom al-Dikka, Alexandria, Egypt (© MuslimPhotos.Net/Athar Akram/Alamy)

Because of the painstaking nature of excavation, the ruined villa (discovered by an Egyptian-Polish team of archaeologists still working in the area) is an intriguing archaeological site.

Located within the Kom al-Dikka complex, which includes a Roman amphitheater and the remnants of a Ptolemaic temple, the villa is known for the lavish, bird-themed mosaics adorning its floors.

Depicting pigeons, peacocks, parrots, quail and water hens, along with a few other animals, the mosaics feature a range of decorative techniques from the Roman imperial era, suggesting that the villa was the dwelling of a wealthy family.

Ancient Roman mosaic tile decorated with elaborate flourishes and an animal depicted in the center (© Mike P Shepherd/Alamy)
Detail of floor in the Villa of the Birds at Kom al-Dikka, Alexandria (© Mike P Shepherd/Alamy)

A grant from USAID, implemented through the nonprofit American Research Center in Egypt, supported the preservation and restoration of the mosaics.

“USAID is proud to work with Egypt’s Ministry of Antiquities to conserve cultural heritage sites,” said USAID/Egypt Mission Director Sherry F. Carlin. “This site … is now a key cultural destination that generates additional income for Egypt.”

In their rightful place

Floor mosaic tile showing figures of birds (© Ariadne Van Zandbergen/Alamy)
Mosaic floor in the Villa of the Birds in Alexandria, Egypt (© Ariadne Van Zandbergen/Alamy)

According to USAID, modern conservation emphasizes the value of preserving ancient artifacts in context, whenever possible. So when the conservation project began, a permanent shelter, integrating remnants of ancient architecture, was erected above the mosaics.

Thus protected from the elements, the mosaics are undisturbed in their original setting.

Seeing the mosaics there, more than 2,000 years after the miniature tiles were laid, helps visitors imagine the Villa of the Birds as it once was — and the lives of those who once occupied it.