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Sudan: The land of the ancient black pharaohs

Pyramids at Jebel Barkal

In this weeks travel feature, local traveller Shaun Yeo takes a look at ancient pyramids of Sudan.

By Shaun Yeo

Pyramids are mostly associated with Egypt, but Sudan actually has 220, that’s 80 more than in Egypt! Sudan also has many temples from the times of the Black Pharaohs. The archaeological site of Meroë, is the most famous in Sudan.

Meroë is an ancient city which belonged to the Kingdom of Kush for many centuries. Still standing here, we can find the ruins of the Meroë Pyramids, Palaces and official buildings. Although it is the most famous site in Sudan’s history, a lot of the ruins are in bad conditions and some have undergone restorations, which to me personally, spoils the site.

Temple of Mut at Jebel Barkal

Temple of Mut at Jebel Barkal

Most of the pyramid tops were blown off by an Italian treasure hunter named Giuseppe Ferlini, which used gunpowder in the 1830s, causing much damage. Close by I visited the temples at Naga and another ancient village in Mussawarat.

Khartoum, the capital of Sudan, houses an Archaeological Museum where you can find two ancient temples that were moved from the Lake Nasser area by UNESCO, when the area flooded following the construction of the Aswan Dam. The Presidential Palace where General Gordon was beheaded in 1885 by the Mahdi’s troops is also found in Khartoum.

I also visited the Khalifa’s house, the tomb of the Sufi Leader Ahmed al Nil, the livestock camel market and the colourful souk of Omduran, the old capital of Sudan.

There is a main road that runs across Sudan, north to south which goes all the way from the Egyptian border in the North, down to the South Sudanese border, but all the archaeological sites are deep within the Sudanese deserts, and they can only be reached by 4x4 vehicles, driving through thousands of kilometres of sand dunes and different types of desert terrains.

There are no tourists in sight, no ticket offices or protective fencing around the archaeological sites. You can even find large amounts of ancient pottery, thousands of years old, just lying all over the ground, left around like piles of rubbish.

Traveling further north, we reach the town of Karima. Here we find the ancient archaeological site of Jebel Barkal. Here there are more pyramids, there have been no restorations done on these pyramids and they are almost in perfect conditions.

Pyramids at Nuri

Pyramids at Nuri

I also found some beautiful temples on the other side of the Jebel (Arabic for mountain), and a small archaeological museum, exhibiting some of the items which were found during archaeological works on this site in the past. Inside the mountain are some tombs.

The artwork is amazing, all the colours and hieroglyphics in pristine conditions. I would say that the artworks inside these tombs are in much better conditions to the ones I have seen in Egypt. Close to Jebel Barkal there are two other sites containing pyramids.

At El Kurru, you can descend down a narrow passageway that leads under the pyramids, which also house some amazing tombs, again with beautiful artwork found here from the time of the Black Pharaohs.

Tombs at El Kurru Pyramids

Tombs at El Kurru Pyramids

Beside Sudan’s deep history in the era of the Black Pharaohs, there are several Coptic Christian churches in the city of Old Dongola, as well as ancient burial sites to Kings and Queens, which include the burials of thousands of human and animal sacrifices buried alive with them!

I also spent some time at the Sudanese River Nile, and experienced the hospitality the locals had to offer, including staying a few nights in basic Nubian houses as part of my expedition, together with visiting the site of Sabu-Jaddi, which have rock art carvings, some dating back to over 6000 years old!

The River Nile

The River Nile

I spent almost a month in Sudan, there is too much history and sites to cover on this write up. I would recommend for anyone visiting Sudan to spend a minimum of two weeks in the country, to be able to really appreciate how much Sudan has to offer.

To read more about Shaun’s travels and diving expeditions check out his blog:

Are you a keen traveller? Or do you enjoy short weekend breaks up the coast? The Chronicle’s weekly travel feature is open for local writers to share their experiences of the places they visit. Contact the Chronicle to find out more.

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