The Greco-Roman city of Oxyrhynchus was surrounded by a fortification wall that can still be made out on the west side of the city, which faces the desert. The wall, made of mud brick, has been lost on the north and south sides of the city. However, it is possible to gain a reasonably good idea of the extent of the city. On the east side, the most notable landmark is a monumental stone gate, Pharaonic in appearance, which stands between the current city of El-Bahnasa and the Bahr Yussef. Using these landmarks, Oxyrhynchus as a whole appears to have measured 2 km north-south by 1.5 km east-west, while its population is estimated at potentially 30,000 inhabitants.
In the Roman period, when the city grew to its greatest size, the fortification wall enclosed a series of neighbourhoods organized around a large central necropolis, which we have named the Upper Necropolis. A large temple, possibly dedicated to Serapis, rose in the centre of the Upper Necropolis and a sizeable market stood opposite. The city had one central artery running north-south, with two large intersecting avenues running across the northern and southern halves of the city. The northern avenue connected the market and the temple of the Upper Necropolis with the central artery and the southern avenue connected the theatre with the Bahr Yussef, passing the tetrapylon of Taweret and the monumental East Gate. In the Pharaonic period, the population probably clustered in the vicinity of the tetrapylon and the baths were located to the south.
An Osireion is located to the west of the walled enclosure of the city. The surviving subterranean part of the Osireion basically dates to the Ptolemaic period. Between the Osireion and the city is a Greco-Roman necropolis.
In the Christian-Byzantine period, a number of monasteries for monks and for nuns were built outside the city walls. This information, which comes to us through an anonymous, contemporary Greek text, has been confirmed by our own excavations at a large fortified villa to the northwest of the city and a Coptic Christian oratory nearby. Further confirmation comes from the emergency excavations of Egypt’s Ministry of State for Antiquities to the south of Oxyrhynchus, where the remains of another monastery have been unearthed.