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The Pyramids of Meroe

The Pyramids of Meroe

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Ancient History

Since the time of the Middle Kingdom it is clear that the Egyptians had difficulties dealing with organised political entities on their southern border. These eventually coalesced into the state generally referred to as Kush. Around the year 760 BC the Kushites actually conquered all of Egypt and held it for around a hundred years until they were expelled by the invading Assyrians. Due to its isolation, the kingdom of Kush is less well-known to history than their northern neighbour Egypt, but the two kingdoms shared a great deal of cultural similarities. It is clear that the Kushites were impressed with the Egyptian pyramids and they buried the majority of their kings in similar constructions, but added a distinctive look to them by elongating the height.

A Kushite crown
Over 53 pyramids have been identified in Meroe (a city that was the capital of Kush for a significant part of its history). Many of them have been extensively damaged and ongoing instability in Sudan has led to a lack of significant restoration but many of the pyramids survive and some idea of the grandeur of the site can be grasped. As well as their pyramids they also left behind writings, sculptures and a variety of other artefacts that all help to shed light on this ancient kingdom.

After being expelled from Egypt the kingdom of Kush survived in relative isolation until the first century, although it appeared that they may have had to move their capital from Napata to city of Meroe further to the south. They went to war with the Roman Empire, achieving some successes but also suffering defeats. The Kushites raided Egypt but the Romans burned Napata. Kush and Rome came to a treaty arrangement that was suitable to both sides and fostered trade agreements between the two kingdoms. Raiding occasionally still took place however and excavations in Meroe found broken off head of a statue of Augustus that had been buried in Meroe as a war trophy. It is currently on display in the British Museum.

Africa’s hidden gem: The Nubian Pyramids of Meroe

Just three hours north-east of Khartoum lies Africa’s ancient city, Meroe. A UNESCO world heritage site, Meroe is characterised by 200 golden pyramids dating back to the 4th Century B.C. My fascination with Sudan’s little-known ancient history, and the diversity of its historic artefacts, is what motivated me to explore one of Africa’s largest, and most underrated, nations. Below I share my experience exploring a hidden gem in the heart of Africa.

Darah at Meroe, Sundan. Courtesy.

My journey to Meroe, Sudan

Sudan felt more rewarding than anywhere else I’ve been. The country is rich with history and culture, and Meroe was no exception. Unfortunately, Sudan’s negative media representation does not portray it as a destination for learning or discovery, making sites like Meroe relatively unknown to the travel community. This not only made the journey to Meroe novel but taught me an important part of African history that rarely makes it to our computer screens.

After arriving at Sudan’s capital Khartoum, with the help of a friend, I headed to the Ministry of Tourism to get a permit to visit the site. In Sudan, foreigners are required to obtain internal travel permits for security reasons — the exact details of why remain unknown to me. The permit allowed me to pass the six security check-points between Khartoum and Meroe. After receiving my permit, we took a 4ࡪ vehicle and an expert driver (as the roads right outside Khartoum can be difficult to navigate) to begin our early-morning journey to Meroe.

In Sudan, tea ladies have become a kind of national symbol. Courtesy.

We packed the car full of water, snacks and essentials, as there were few rest stops on the way. We listened to Sudanese classics the whole ride and enjoyed views of Sudan’s distinct African desert. At around 9:00 am, just an hour from our destination, we stopped for a tea break — a common activity in Sudan — and sat with the local sit-el-shay (tea lady) at a little shack near the highway. In Sudan, tea ladies have become a kind of national symbol, serving tea and coffee to passers-by in exchange for a fee. These ladies are usually found at rest stops, bus stations and intersections throughout the country, and having tea with them is an authentic Sudanese experience not to be missed!

We arrived at the pyramids at 10:00 am. Lucky for us, the sky was a clear blue, and the sun, although hot, felt divine. We had to trek to the top of a high sand dune to see the pyramids in their full glory, and honestly, it was absolutely worth it. Also noteworthy was the fact that we were the only visitors in sight and had the pyramids all to ourselves. It felt like we were in on a secret that no one else knew.

A brief history of Sudan

Like many African nations, it’s often assumed that prior to colonisation, Sudan was simply a desert with a few tribes living at the confluence of the Nile. Few know of Sudan’s vibrant history, which is worth acknowledging, especially when we attempt to understand monumental sites like Meroe.

One of the first recorded civilisations in Africa was in northern Sudan. Named the Kingdom of Kush and beginning in the Bronze Age, Sudan’s ancient civilisation flourished where the Blue and the White Nile meet. The Kushite Kingdom built an entire ecosystem around the Nile and was responsible for the miniature pyramids I was so excited to see. At the height of its power, the kingdom ruled over present-day Sudan, Egypt and Palestine. The Kingdom of Kush last around 1,400 years and later became known as the Nubian civilisation, which continued to build pyramids and use hieroglyphics as a mode of communication.

To sum up, some of Africa’s most influential societies have existed in Sudan for centuries and have left behind invaluable history for us to discover. This includes sights in Kerma, Gabal Berkal, El Kurru, Nuri and Meroe, with Meroe being the largest archaeological site among them.

About Meroe’s pyramids

Sudan has a total of 223 pyramids, most of which are in Meroe. Although Egypt’s pyramids are more famous, Sudan has more than twice the number. Another stark difference is the size of Sudan’s pyramids — Meroe’s are short and steeper than their Egyptian counterparts and were built using mud brick.

The small size and number of the pyramids in Sudan are related to what archaeologists have called ‘the democratisation’ of the building process in Ancient Nubia. Whereas the pyramids of the Egyptian pharaohs were exclusively for royals, the ancient kingdoms of Kush and Nuba did not reserve the process to just nobles. Nubians who could afford to build pyramids did so, and archaeologists have even uncovered pyramids dedicated to children.

In addition to that, the insides of Nubian pyramids have subtle symbols and engravings indicating deep cultural exchange between the civilisations of Nubia and those of ancient Rome and Greece. Historians have also found mentions of the Kingdom of Kush in Roman and Greek inscriptions as well as mentions in the Bible. Sudan’s ancient civilisations were a hybrid of the Mediterranean and Africa, a characteristic I felt even when walking the streets of present-day Khartoum.

Unfortunately, many Nubian pyramids carry marks of vandalism or destruction, and the tops of most of Meroe’s pyramids are eroded. In 1834, Sudan’s pyramids were raided and bombed by an Italian explorer hoping to find gold and valuables. The destruction left few artefacts intact. In addition, recent visitors have carved their names or initials in some of the stones and on the sides of the pyramids. The good news is some pyramids have been rehabilitated, and a rehabilitation project for the rest of the sites is underway in a joint redevelopment project funded by the Qatari and German governments, in partnership with Sudan’s Ministry for Antiquities and Archaeology.

Meroe’s present-day community

At the site, we were welcomed by some of Meroe’s local community. It seemed that the community depended on visitors to the site. Some of them sold souvenirs, while others herded camels and let you take them for a ride in exchange for fifty Sudanese pounds. All of them were very protective of the site and warned visitors of vandalism.

At the site, we were welcomed by some of Meroe’s local community. Courtesy.

We spoke to one man who told us the story behind each pyramid. I was particularly interested in the story about Nubian Queen Amanishakheto, whose pyramid was once the largest on the site, almost six meters wide at its base. He mentioned that Queen Amani ordered the construction of the pyramids of Meroe and allowed for the ‘democratisation’ of pyramid building. She hoped to create the largest congregation of pyramids ever built by an African kingdom to differentiate the Nubians from their brothers in Ancient Egypt. Although the two civilisations shared the same language, Queen Amani’s rule was aimed at distinguishing her kingdom culturally. Our storyteller also noted that Queen Amani was one of the most powerful women in African history and that Sudanese families often name their daughters Amani in admiration of her legacy.

After hearing the story, I thought how bizarre it was that this history was so unknown. Queen Amani’s story stuck with me, and our storyteller’s intimate knowledge of the site’s every detail inspired me.

Recent reports state that Meroe only sees 15,000 visitors a year. Courtesy.

Every year, Meroe sees a modest number of visitors. Recent reports state that Meroe only sees 15,000 visitors a year, unlike Giza, which sees millions of visitors every year. Although it was a surreal experience to be surrounded by such important history without crowds of tourists taking photos, I believe that it is important for the story of Meroe to be told. Meroe is one of many sights in Sudan that embody a different perspective about the country and the African continent as a whole.

Red sandstone relief from the pyramid chapel of Queen Shanakdakhete

From Meroe, Central Sudan
Meroitic Period, 2nd century BC

First female ruler of the Meroitic Period

The royal cemetery at Meroe has given the name ‘Meroitic’ to the later stages of rule by the Kushite kings. The Meroitic script has been deciphered, but the language is still not fully understood. This wall comes from one of the small steep-sided pyramids with chapels in which the rulers were buried. It was probably that of Queen Shanakdakhete, the first female ruler. She appears here enthroned with a prince, and protected by a winged Isis. In front of her are rows of offering bearers and also scenes of rituals including the judgement of the queen before Osiris. Although the reliefs are in a style that looks Egyptian, they have their own, independently developed, characteristics.

The term ‘Kush’ or ‘Kushite’ was used long before the eighth century BC to refer to Nubian ruling powers. But it is particularly used to describe the cultures whose first major contact with Egypt began with the Twenty-fifth Dynasty, and whose Nubian kings put an end to the fragmented state of Egypt by 715 BC. However, Kushite rule did not last long in Egypt. In the face of Assyrian attack, the last Kushite kings, Taharqa and Tanutamun, fled to Nubia. There they and their descendants were dominant until the fourth century AD, and were buried at el-Kurru, Nuri, Gebel Barkal, and Meroe.

Sudan claims their pyramids are 2,000 years older than Egypt’s

The Sudanese Minister of Information, Ahmed Bilal Othman, claimed on Sunday that the Meroë Pyramids of Sudan are 2,000 years older than Egypt's pyramids. The Sudanese government is working to prove this to the entire world, he added.

These claims stirred up outrage among Egyptians, particularly history experts. Zahi Hawas, the former minister of antiquities, said the Egyptian pyramids are the oldest, especially the pyramid of Djoser which dates back more than 5,000 years.

Egypt has 132 pyramids which are considered to be among the oldest in the history of the world.

&ldquoThe Sudanese pyramids belong to Egypt's 25th dynasty, known as the Kushite Empire, but the Egyptian ones have been known since the early d ynastic period ,&rdquo Hawas said. The Djoser pyramid was built during the third dynasty.

Othman, however, claimed that the Sudanese had ruled Egypt in the ancient era and the pharaoh described in Exodus (whom Moses was sent to) was a Sudanese pharaoh who ruled Egypt that time. He quoted Surah Az-Zukhruf 51 from the Quran to back up his claims: &ldquoAnd Fir'aun [Pharaoh] proclaimed among his people, saying: 'O my people! Is not mine the dominion of Egypt, and these rivers flowing underneath me. See you not then?'"

He pointed to the word "rivers" in the verse, saying that Egypt only has one river while Sudan is a country of many rivers. Therefore, he said, the pharaoh in Exodus was Sudanese not Egyptian. However, scientific and historical records show that the Nile Delta had seven distributaries in ancient times, of which only two main branches exist now. The Pelusiac distributary passed through to Sinai.

Hawas explained that Othman&rsquos claims are baseless for several reasons firstly, no artifacts have been found depicting the pharaoh from Exodus, therefore his identity cannot be confirmed.

Some people pointed to the Merneptah stele in the Egyptian Museum in Tahrir. It was discovered in Thebes by Flinders Petrie in 1896 and shows the glorification of one of the poets to the King Merneptah, son of King Ramses II. Some argue that the word &ldquoYezreel&rdquo found on the tablet means Israel and the Israeli people who were destroyed other scholars interprete to refer to the Bedouins of Sinai.

&ldquoWe cannot consider this stele as evidence. Poets in ancient Egypt glorified the king when he was alive, not after his death. We cannot rely on religious texts either to determine historical information,&rdquo Hawas said.

Mohamed Abdel-Aty, a professor of Islamic Sharia in Al-Azhar, told Al-Arabiya website that the Quran details the story of Moses and the Pharaoh over the course of several verses in which Egypt is clearly mentioned. Moreover, Mount Tur and Sinai were both mentioned in these verses, which proves beyond a doubt that the pharaoh mentioned in Exodus was an Egyptian king, he concluded.

Discover the Meroe Pyramids, Sudan Middle East Monitor

When we hear the word ‘pyramid’, our minds immediately go to Egypt. There is one other country, however, which hosts more pyramids in a small stretch of the desert than all of Egypt.

While Egypt is home to the world’s biggest and most famous pyramids, it is Sudan which holds the record for the world’s largest collection of these magnificent ancient structures.

Often dismissed as a war-torn country afflicted with civil war and disease, the North African nation has a lot to offer for culture and history enthusiasts with its rich, and long-ignored, archaeological heritage in areas that are far from the conflict hot spots.

The Pyramids of Meroe top the list.

Partial view of the Meroe pyramids, which hold burial chambers for Kushite kings and queens whose rule spanned nearly five centuries from 592 BC to 350 AD, near the banks of the Nile River in an area known as Nubia in northeastern Sudan [ASHRAF SHAZLY/AFP via Getty Images]

Constructed in Nubia, one of the earliest civilisations of ancient Africa, the pyramids represent the final resting place for the last dynasty of royal Black Pharaohs in the ancient Kushite capital city of Meroe.

The Meroe archaeological site, 300 kms north of the Sudanese capital Khartoum [GIANLUIGI GUERCIA/AFP via Getty Images]

A day trip approximately 240 kilometres north of the Sudanese capital city of Khartoum will take you into a stretch of the desert where rows of these striking ancient pyramids loom before you like a mirage.

Over 200 pyramids, grouped across three sites, were erected as royal tombs for some 40 kings and queens who ruled the Nubian Kingdom of Kush on the banks of the Nile for more than 1,000 years during the Meroitic Period, until its demise in 350 AD. Some of Meroe’s and Napata’s wealthiest nobles were also buried there.

Built of granite and sandstone in the Nubian style, the Meroe pyramids are marked by small bases and steep slopes between six and 30 metres in height, in contrast with Egypt’s colossal Pyramids of Giza, the greatest of which is up to 139 metres high.

Compared to some ten million tourists who visited the Egyptian pyramids in 2018, however, roughly 700,000 tourists made their way to Sudan’s Nubian pyramids.

A visitor walks past pyramids in the cemetary of Meroe north of Khartoum, Sudan [EBRAHIM HAMID/AFP via Getty Images]

Having the UNESCO World Heritage Site all to yourself without the need to queue up or strenuously navigate your way through crowds of tourists makes the hot drive into the Sudanese desert worth it. Not to mention the route to the pyramids itself, which is dotted with quaint villages that offer a glimpse into the traditional lifestyle of Sudan’s warm and welcoming local population.

Sudanese men ride camels past Meroitic pyramids at the archaeological site of Bajarawiya, near Hillat ed Darqab [ASHRAF SHAZLY/AFP via Getty Images]

Many friendly locals offer camel rides around the pyramids for a small fee. Alternatively, you can walk, so make sure to bring comfortable shoes and water.

Unguarded, visitors are free to enter many of the pyramids where intricate drawings and illustrations adorn the interior walls, piecing together highlights of the reigns of deceased kings.

Many artefacts have been discovered inside the tombs over time, including pottery, coloured glass and quivers of arrows. Italian explorer Giuseppe Ferlini blew up several of the pyramids in his search for treasure in the 1800s, leaving many of the tombs missing their pointy tops.

A bas-relief of the pyramids at the Meroe archaeological site [GIANLUIGI GUERCIA/AFP via Getty Images]

Having withstood the test of time and vandalism, the pyramids are particularly magical during sunrise and sunset. And if you are brave enough, it is possible to camp overnight and enjoy some stargazing in the pure darkness of the desert.

For a burial site, the Meroe Pyramids are a spectacular historical monument to an ancient civilisation and sure make for a sight to behold.

The he Royal pyramids, (500 km) north of Khartoum, Sudan, built in Nubia about 800 years after the last Egyptian pyramid was built [KHALED DESOUKI/AFP via Getty Images]

Check out other destinations in our series to learn more about the heritage and culture of the Middle East and North Africa.

Giuseppe Ferlini: The Pyramid Destroyer

If there is something that characterizes archeology, it is the care, the almost exquisite touch that is given to the sites and that makes a tool as simple and limited as a brush the protagonist of the excavations, making the archaeologist have to spend hours and hours in the sun, setting aside just a few inches of sand or dirt to make sure that no small piece is missed. But it was not always like this In its beginnings, archeology sought to exhume remains of other civilizations at all costs and things were done without so many trifles. A good example of this was Giuseppe Ferlini.

The result of grave looting by Giuseppe Ferlini, on the east bank of the Nile near Shendi, Sudan. Photo: Hans Birger Nilsen/Flickr

Let us place ourselves chronologically in the first half of the 19th century, the time when archaeology was born as an auxiliary science of history. Of course, man had always had an interest in his past and the ancient chroniclers already paid attention to earlier times to explain his present. However, it was not until the Renaissance that a revival of Classical Antiquity was experienced through the recovery and imitation of its art. We know that Brunelleschi, Michelangelo or Domenico Fontana attended those Roman excavations, as a result of which the famous sculptural group Laocoön and his sons came to light, as well as the ruins of Pompeii, among others.

In the following centuries, this taste for the past became established, although from a rather collector's point of view. The city buried by Vesuvius was rediscovered after Johann Joachin Winckelmann found Herculaneum and went down to posterity as the father of archaeology. The closed season had been opened, and everyone set out to drill the earth in search of treasures. Napoleon carried out his Egyptian campaign taking with him a scientific team and the so-called cabinets of curiosities began to appear. It is in this context, in which the passion for Egypt had become fashionable jumping from France to England and other countries, that Ferlini must be placed.

Possibly the only surviving portrait of Giuseppe Ferlini.

Giuseppe Ferlini was born in Bologna in 1797, but soon left home to escape the impossible coexistence with his stepmother. He passed through the cities of Venice and Corfu, in some of which he studied medicine. Bouncing around, he found himself, in 1817, in Albania, a country that was then part of the Ottoman Empire but which, being in conflict with the Sultan, welcomed anyone into its army. If he was also a doctor, all the better and, in any case, no one demanded to see Ferlini's degree.

In any case, five years later he was part of the Greek rebels facing the Turks in the Peloponnese peninsula. Defeated by the enemy troops of Ibrahim Pasha, son of the governor of Egypt Mehmet Ali, Ferlini escaped and did not return to Greek territory until 1827, although he did so rather to bury his lover. By then the war was coming to an end, as the three great European powers (Russia, France and the United Kingdom) had decided to intervene and consolidate, thanks to the naval victory at Navarino.

Ruins of 2,500-years-old pyramids near the ancient city of Meroë in Sudan. Photo: Christopher Michel/Flickr

Ferlini decided to pool his savings and emigrate once again. The destination this time was Egypt, which appealed to him for two reasons. The first was that a good part of the troops stationed in Greece by the Ottoman Empire were Egyptians and now they were preparing to re-embark back to their land, presenting a good opportunity to find a place in one of the ships. The second was that Mehmet Ali was bent on modernizing his administration and, consequently, hired European technicians. A doctor would be welcome.

In 1829, the Italian landed in Alexandria and at once headed for Cairo. One of the things the governor wanted to improve was the army and that included a more efficient military health care, so Ferlini enlisted as an assistant and the following year he was already the head doctor of an infantry battalion. As such, he accompanied the 1st Regiment on its march to Sennar, the capital of the sultanate of the same name, where the corps had been assigned. Sennar was located in southeastern Sudan, on the banks of the Blue Nile, as Mehmet Ali's campaigns had extended the borders to Ethiopia.

The trip lasted more than five months and in that time Ferlini visited places like Khartum and Wadi Halfa, in which there were an abundance of archaeological remains, arousing in him his first interest in ancient civilizations. In fact, after a dark period in which he married an Ethiopian slave, lost the child he had with her and was forced to fight a malaria epidemic in a hospital with precarious means and in harsh conditions, he was transferred to Khartoum to join a medical team. There he befriended the governor, Curschid, whom he accompanied on several expeditions through Nubia in search of gold.

Surely the scarcity of metal found prompted the Italian to seek an alternative: the pharaohs had accumulated much in their heyday you just had to locate it and dig it up. In fact, he had precedents: in that first quarter of the 19th century, the Frenchman Bernardino Drovetti, the Padua Giovanni Batista Belzoni and the English Henry Salt had taken the first serious steps in Egyptology precisely in the service of Mehmet Ali. Ferlini chose Meroe as his target, the city of the Meroitic Kingdom that had provided Ancient Egypt with its black dynasties, and there he went on an expedition in association with the Albanian merchant Antonio Stefani, who financed the equipment in exchange for half of the profits obtained.

The two of them made their way to Meroe, in August 1834, accompanied by their wives, some thirty servants, hundreds of porters and a good number of horses and dromedaries. The results of that adventure were not good. First, they tried to access a half-buried temple but to no avail, despite poking at the walls to open an entrance. Then they also failed with some sand-covered ruins where they found a large obelisk decorated with hieroglyphs but which due to its enormous dimensions they had to leave. Meanwhile, diseases began to take their toll on workers and animals.

Things were starting to get difficult and Ferlini decided to try his luck with the pyramids. Not the Egyptian ones, but those of Meroe, where there are more than a hundred, although they are much smaller in size compared to others—none more than thirty meters high. They had been discovered in the previous decade by the Frenchman Frédéric Cailliaud, also in the service of Mehmet Ali and also while looking for gold. Spurred by legends from local workers about hidden gold, Ferlini hired half a thousand indigenous peons who, with their picks, dedicated themselves to demolishing the pyramids. That irreparable damage was in vain.

The Great pyramid of Queen Amanishakheto before its destruction by Giuseppe Ferlini. From the book “Voyage à Méroé, au fleuve Blanc” by Cailliaud, Frédéric in 1826

The Great pyramid of Queen Amanishakheto after its destruction by Giuseppe Ferlini in the 1830s. Photo: TrackHD/Flickr

Already desperate, the Bolognese chose the largest pyramid, the one known today as N6, and instead of piercing it laterally, he did it from the top down. This time fortune smiled and a sarcophagus, without a mummy, appeared accompanied by a funeral trousseau. Not that it was a marvel, but it certainly corresponded to a royal character (today identified as Queen Amanishajeto, who ruled between 15 BC and 1 AD) and was sufficiently suggestive to suppose that there could be more. And so it was, because two weeks later a beautifully decorated secret chamber with some interesting objects appeared almost all of them were bronze rather than gold, but at least they would no longer return empty-handed. Ferlini had to keep the pieces hidden because of doubts about the loyalty of the natives, who flocked to the excavations when they heard that there had been findings.

Finally, the servants alerted Ferlini and Stefani to a betrayal and together they loaded what they found on their camels: a dozen bracelets of gold, silver and bronze, sixteen scarabs also of gold with enamels, dozens of rings, bracelets, crosses, necklaces, figurines of various stones, etc. They managed to reach the Nile, putting distance between them and their pursuers, then went down the river to the Fifth Cataract and then the Bolognese went to Cairo to present his report to the governor. This report, or an expanded and detailed version, was published later, in 1836, when he had returned to his hometown its title was Nell'interno dell'Africa (First trip to the interior of Africa).

Bracelet from the tomb of Amanishakheto in Nubia, now in Museum Berlin. Photo: Sven-Steffen Arndt/Wikimedia Commons

That treasure was distributed throughout Europe between sales, donations and auctions to try to recover the investment. Most of it was divided between the Egyptian museums in Berlin and Munich, since it was validated by the German Egyptologist Karl Richard Lepsius, in front of the experts of the British Museum, who considered it a fake, and consequently, did not want any piece.

Ferlini died in Bologna at the end of 1870 and was buried in the cemetery of the Carthusian monastery of Certosa di Bologna, where lie the remains of other personalities such as the singer Farinelli, the automobile manufacturers Alfieri Maserati and Ferrucio Lamborghini, Letizia Murat (the daughter of the famous Napoleonic marshal) and Isabella Colbran (wife of the composer Rossini). Today he is hardly remembered except for having destroyed forty pyramids.

This article was originally published in La Brújula Verde. It has been translated from Spanish and republished with permission.

Archaeological Sites of the Island of Meroe

The Archaeological Sites of the Island of Meroe, a semi-desert landscape between the Nile and Atbara rivers, was the heartland of the Kingdom of Kush, a major power from the 8th century B.C. to the 4th century A.D. The property consists of the royal city of the Kushite kings at Meroe, near the River Nile, the nearby religious site of Naqa and Musawwarat es Sufra. It was the seat of the rulers who occupied Egypt for close to a century and features, among other vestiges, pyramids, temples and domestic buildings as well as major installations connected to water management. Their vast empire extended from the Mediterranean to the heart of Africa, and the property testifies to the exchange between the art, architectures, religions and languages of both regions.

Description is available under license CC-BY-SA IGO 3.0

Sites archéologiques de l’île de Méroé

Les sites archéologiques de l'île de Méroé, paysage semi-désertique entre le Nil et l'Atbara, était le cœur du royaume de Kouch, une puissance majeure du VIIIe siècle avant J.-C. au IVe siècle avant J.-C. Le site comprend un site urbain et funéraire, siège des souverains qui occupèrent l'Egypte pendant près d'un siècle. Le bien comprend la cité royale des rois kouchites à Méroé, au bord du Nil, et les sites religieux tout proches de Naqa et de Musawwarat es-Sufra. On y trouve, entre autres vestiges, des pyramides, des temples, et des bâtiments résidentiels ainsi que des installations majeures de gestion de l'eau. Leur vaste empire s'étendait de la Méditerranée au cœur de l'Afrique, et le bien témoigne des échanges dans les domaines de l'art, l'architecture, les religions et les langues entre les deux régions.

Description is available under license CC-BY-SA IGO 3.0

المواقع الأثرية في جزيرة مروي

هي عبارة عن مناطق شبه صحراوية بين نهر النيل ونهر عطبرة، معقل مملكة كوش، التي كانت قوة عظمى بين القرنين الثامن والرابع قبل الميلاد، وتتألف من الحاضرة الملكية للملوك الكوشيين في مروي، بالقرب من نهر النيل، وبالقرب من المواقع الدينية في نقاء والمصورات الصفراء. كانت مقرًّا للحكام الذين احتلوا مصر لما يقرب من قرن ونيف، من بين آثار أخرى، من مثل الأهرامات والمعابد ومنازل السكن وكذلك المنشآت الكبرى، وهي متصلة كلها بشبكة مياه. امتدت إمبراطورية الكوشيين الشاسعة من البحر الأبيض المتوسط إلى قلب أفريقيا، وتشهد هذه المساحة على تبادل للفنون والهندسة والأديان واللغات بين المنطقتين.

source: UNESCO/ERI
Description is available under license CC-BY-SA IGO 3.0


是一处位于尼罗河与阿特巴拉河之间的半荒漠景观,这里曾是公元前8世纪至公元4世纪间兴盛一时的库施(Kush)王国的中心地带。遗产由位于尼罗河边麦罗埃的库施王城、其附近的宗教遗址纳加神庙(Naqa)以及狮子神庙(Musawwarat es Sufra)所组成。这里曾是占领埃及近一世纪的统治者发号施令的地方,至今还拥有金字塔、神庙、民居建筑以及大型的用水设施等大量遗迹。庞大的库施帝国一度把疆土扩展到地中海以及非洲心脏地带,它所留下这一遗址也因此见证了上述两个地区在艺术、建筑、宗教与语言上的交流。

source: UNESCO/ERI
Description is available under license CC-BY-SA IGO 3.0

Археологические памятники острова Мероэ

полупустынный ландщафт в междуречье рек Нил и Атбара находился в самом сердце царства Куш, главной державы этого региона с 8-го века до н.э. по 4-й век н.э. Территория включает царскую столицу, которая располагалась в Мероэ вблизи Нила, на одноименном острове, по соседству с религиозным объектом Нака и Мусавварат-эс-Суфра. Это было местом властителей, которые правили Египтом почти в течение века. Оно хранит, среди прочего, развалины пирамид, храмов и жилых построек, а также важных сооружений, связанных с водообеспечением. Их огромная империя простиралась от Средиземного моря до самого сердца Африки, её территория является свидетелем культурных, архитектурных, религиозных и языковых обменов между регионами.

source: UNESCO/ERI
Description is available under license CC-BY-SA IGO 3.0

Los sitios arqueológicos de la isla de Meroe

Están situados en un paisaje semidesértico entre los ríos Nilo y Atbara, en lo que fue el centro del Reino de Kush, una gran potencia entre el siglo VIII a.C al siglo IV d.C. El sitio consiste en la ciudad real de los reyes kushitas en Meroe, cerca del río Nilo, y los sitios religiosos cercanos de Naqa y Musawwarat es Sufra. Fue sede del poder que ocupó Egipto durante casi un siglo y, entre otros vestigios, contiene pirámides templos y viviendas, así como instalaciones de gestión del agua. Este vasto imperio se extendió desde el Mediterráneo hasta el corazón de África, por lo que el lugar es testimonio del intercambio de artes, estilos arquitectónicos, religiones e idiomas entre ambas zonas.

source: UNESCO/ERI
Description is available under license CC-BY-SA IGO 3.0

Archeologische plaatsen van het eiland Meroë

De archeologische vindplaatsen op het eiland Meroë waren vroeger het gebied van het Kush koninkrijk, een belangrijke macht van de 8e eeuw voor tot de 4e eeuw na Christus. Het semiwoestijnlandschap tussen de Nijl en Arbara rivieren bevat de koninklijke stad van de Kushische koningen op Meroë, de religieuze plaats Naqa en Musawwarat es Sufra. Er zijn overblijfselen, piramides, tempels en woonhuizen te vinden en grote installaties gerelateerd aan waterbeheer. Het gebied van de Kushische vorsten strekte zich uit van de Middellandse Zee naar het hart van Afrika en getuigt van de uitwisseling tussen kunst, architectuur, religies en de talen van beide regio’s.

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Outstanding Universal Value

Brief synthesis

The Island of Meroe is the heartland of the Kingdom of Kush, a major power in the ancient world from the 8th century BCE to the 4th century CE. Meroe became the principal residence of the rulers, and from the 3rd century BCE onwards it was the site of most royal burials.

The property consists of three separate site components, Meroe, the capital, which includes the town and cemetery site, and Musawwarat es-Sufra and Naqa, two associated settlements and religious centres. The Meroe cemetery, Musawwarat es-Sufra, and Naqa are located in a semi-desert, set against reddish-brown hills and contrasting with the green bushes that cover them, whilst the Meroe town site is part of a riverine landscape.

These three sites comprise the best preserved relics of the Kingdom of Kush, encompassing a wide range of architectural forms, including pyramids, temples, palaces, and industrial areas that shaped the political, religious, social, artistic and technological scene of the Middle and Northern Nile Valley for more than 1000 years (8th century BC-4th century AD). These architectural structures, the applied iconography and evidence of production and trade, including ceramics and iron-works, testify to the wealth and power of the Kushite State. The water reservoirs in addition contribute to the understanding of the palaeoclimate and hydrological regime in the area in the later centuries BCE and the first few centuries CE.

Criterion (ii): The Archaeological Sites of the Island of Meroe reflect the interchange of ideas and contact between Sub-Saharan Africa and the Mediterranean and Middle Eastern worlds, along a major trade corridor over a very long period of time. The interaction of local and foreign influences is demonstrated by the preserved architectural remains and their iconography.

Criterion (iii): The property with its wide range of monument types, well preserved buildings, and potential for future excavation and research, contributes an exceptional testimony to the wealth and power of the former Kushite state and its extensive contacts with African, Mediterranean and Middle Eastern societies. The Kushite civilization was largely expunged by the arrival of Christianity on the Middle Nile in the 6th century CE.

Criterion (iv):The pyramids at Meroe are outstanding examples of Kushite funerary monuments, which illustrate the association with the well preserved remains of the urban centre of the Kushite capital city, Meroe. The architectural remains at the three site components illustrate the juxtaposition of structural and decorative elements from Pharaonic Egypt, Greece, and Rome as well as from Kush itself, and through this represent a significant reference of early exchange and diffusion of styles and technologies.

Criterion (v): The major centres of human activity far from the Nile at Musawwarat and Naqa raise questions as to their viability in what is today an arid zone devoid of permanent human settlement. They offer the possibility, through a detailed study of the palaeoclimate, flora, and fauna, of understanding the interaction of the Kushites with their desert hinterland.

The three site components selected represent the capital city of the Kushite kingdom, Meroe, with its associated extensive burial grounds of pyramid tombs, and the kingdom’s two largest hinterland centres, Musawwarat es-Sufra and Naqa. Together they provide evidence of the size, and influence of the Kushite civilization at the height of power.

Although many features of the site have deteriorated over the course of time, including the collapse of several pyramid tombs, inappropriate interventions which reduced the integrity of the site have not occurred since the treasure hunting of Ferlini in the 1830s, which was very deleterious to some of the pyramids in the Meroe cemeteries. The main north-south highway linking Khartoum and Port Sudan, which separated the two parts of the Meroe site has negative visual and auditory impact on the integrity of the property, as does the line of high voltage power transmission along its route.


Although at large the authenticity in terms of the attributes of material, design and substance is acceptable, conservation works at several temples and pyramids were based on large-scale reconstructions, including introduction of new materials, or anastylosis, which affected the authenticity of these features. However, considering the overall number of significant features on-site, the percentage of reconstructed or reassembled structures is comparatively small and does not impact on a general conception of authenticity.

At the site component of Meroe, archaeological research activities, primarily by foreign scholars since the late 19th century, have left large spoil heaps, which impact adversely on the authenticity of the setting.

Protection and management requirements

The property is protected under the provisions of article 13 (5) of the Interim Constitution of the Republic of Sudan of 2005, and under the Antiquities Protection Ordinance of 1905, amended in 1952 and most recently in 1999, which confers it the status of national monument. It is also protected by Presidential Decree (no. 162 of 2003) which established a natural reserve around the site and established the management committee. The reserve declared under this Decree encompasses the three site components and their complete buffer zones.

Although formally managed by a Committee involving a variety of stakeholders, the property is factually managed by the National Corporation of Antiquities and Museums (NCAM), which involves a field work section responsible for site supervision and coordination of the foreign archaeological missions. A technical office for supervision is located at Shendi, about 40km from Meroe and 60 km from Musawwarat es-Sufra and Naqa, where a resident site manager has been appointed. Security guards and police men supervise the property on a daily basis.

To ensure the requirement of a shared overarching management authority for serial properties, a management committee has been established and a chairperson appointed. Following the management plan drafted and approved in 2009, this management committee shall be supported by an executive World Heritage Site management team, which will oversee the implementation of the management plan strategies and actions. Financial provisions and staff are essential for the establishment of this team and the implementation of the management plan. As part of the future implementation of the management plan, it is necessary to develop conservation approaches based on best practice to avoid repeating some of the less fortunate techniques and methods used in the past.

Pyramids at Nuri

Pyramids at the royal cemetery of Nuri, northern Sudan

The pyramids at the cemetery of Nuri include that of King Taharqa (690-664 BCE), one of the kings who ruled Kush and Kemet, as part of Dynasty 25. These pyramids were constructed from sandstone blocks, which are extremely vulnerable to the elements.

Visit Meroë: The Mysterious Pyramids of Sudan

The ancient city of Meroë is located on the east bank of the Nile River, northeast of Khartoum, Sudan. It was a wealthy metropolis in the Kingdom of Kush for several centuries. Meroë was the residence of kings between 592 B.C and 350 A.D. The site contains the ruins of more than 200 pyramids, known as Nubian pyramids because of their size and proportions.

Meroë was the foundation of a kingdom whose wealth came from a strong iron industry as well as international trade with India and China. Iron was one of the most important metals at that time, and Meroë’s ironworkers were among the best in the world. Additionally, Meroë exported jewelry, pottery and textiles to its trade partners. In addition to being a political capital, Meroë was also an important religious center, as can be seen by the great number of temples and pyramids at the site.

flickr/Valerian Guillot

In 1821 Frederic Cailliaud was the first to bring knowledge of Meroë to the Europeans when he published illustrations of the ruins. Karl Lepsius examined the ruins more carefully in 1844, and he delivered sketches, plans and actual antiquities to Berlin. Excavation and restoration of the ruins continue to the present day.

There is much for the traveler to see when visiting Meroë in Sudan. There are close to 200 pyramids in the ancient burial site of the Merotic Kingdom, where the kings are laid to rest. These pyramids are much smaller than the Egyptian pyramids, but their number makes them equally impressive. They were constructed from blocks of sandstone and were steeper than the Egyptian pyramids. Treasure hunters destroyed many of the Meroë pyramids in the 19th century.

Some of the funerary chapels and pylon walls are home to intricate original carvings. Although a strong Egyptian influence is evident in these sculptures, there is also a Meroitic influence, particularly in the clothing and the appearance of the kings and queens in the sculptures. The best reliefs were dismantled in 1905 and divided by the British Museum and the museum in Khartoum. In 1910, John Garstang started excavating mounds found in the town. Through his efforts, the ruins of a palace and several temples were unearthed.

Saving and protecting the pyramids and the other monuments that are a part of the site is the first step in developing sustainable tourism at Meroë. Those visiting this site will not be disappointed. A walk among the many pyramids and other monuments that have been uncovered allows the traveler to step into a time that few will ever have the opportunity to experience.

Watch the video: SUDAN - A Flight through Meroe Pyramids (May 2022).


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