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Nubian Pyramids

Nubian Pyramids
Nubian Pyramids - Photo by Wufei07

When you think of the Pyramids, we all tend to think of the massive Pyramids in Eygypt. However, many historians overlooked the Pyramids of Nubia. Over 800 years after the Last Pyramids in Eygypt were built, Pyramids were being built in Nubia in the Hundred and Eleventh Cataract. El-Kurru, Nuri and Meroe.

The area of the Nile valley known as Nubia which is within present day Sudan, was home to three Kushite kingdoms during antiquity: the first with its capital at Kerma (26001520 BC), the second centered on Napata (1000 300 BC) and, finally, the kingdom of Mero (300 BC AD 300).

The Kushites were black Africans whose state centered on the confluences of the Blue Nile, White Nile and River Atbara in what is now the Republic of Sudan. It was one of the earliest civilizations to develop in the Nile River Valley. Having also been referred to as Nubia, and as “Ethiopia” in ancient Greek and Greco-Roman records. The Kushites left their mark on various aspects of the ancient world and their legacy is still readily discernible from the various archaeological field sites scattered throughout modern Sudan.

El Kurru

El Kurru Pyramid
El Kurru Pyramid - Photo by Bertramz

The Pyramids at El-Kurru lie on the right bank of the Nile, about 13 km south from the Gebel Barkal. Excavations directed by G.Reisner in 1918-19 re-discovered the cementery pyramids, which stood above tombs of kings of the 25th Dynasty: Piankhi, Shabaka, Shabataka and Tanutamon.

The Pyramid of Piankhi had a base length of about 8 m and a slope of probably about 68 degrees. A stairway of 19 steps opened to the east and led to the burial chamber cut into the bedrock as an open trench and covered with a corbelled masonry roof.

Piankhi’s body had been placed on a bed which rested in the middle of the chamber on a stone bench with its four corners cut away to receive the legs of the bed, so that the bed platform lay directly on the bench. The pyramids of Piankhi successors were similiar. There were also 14 queens pyramids at el-Kurru, 6 to 7 m square, compared to the 8 to 11 m of the king’s pyramids. Northeast of the royal cementery, G.Reisner also found the graves of 24 horses and two dogs.


Nuri - Pyramids - Nubia
Nuri - Pyramids - Photo by Bertramz

The pyramid field of Nuri contained 21 kings together with 52 queens and princesess . The first to build his tomb at Nuri was king Taharqa. His pyramid had 51.75 m square and 40 or 50 m high. Taharqa subterranean chambers are the most elaborate of any Kushite tomb. The entrance was by an eastern stairway trench , north of the pyramid’s central axis, reflecting the alignment of the original smaller pyramid. Three steps led to a doorway, with a moulded frame, that opened to a tunnel, widened and heightened into an antechamber with a barrel-vaulted ceiling. Six massive pillars carved from the natural rock divide the burial chamber into two side aisles and a central nave, each with a barrel-vaulted ceiling.

The entire chamber was surrounded by a moat-like corridor entered steps leading down from in front of the antechamber doorway. After Taharqa 21 kings and 53 queens and princesess were buried at Nuri under pyramids of good masonry, using blocks of local red sandstone. The Nuri pyramids were generally much larger than those at el-Kurru, reaching heights of 20 to 30 m. The last king to be buried at Nuri died in about 308 BC. The pyramids of Nuri together with other buildings in the region around Gebel Barkal have been placed on the UNESCO list of world cultural heritage sites since 2003


Meroe - Pyramids - Nubia
Meroe - Pyramids - Nubia - Photo by B N Chagny

The city of Meroe was on the edge of Butana and there were two other Meroitic cities in Butana, Musawwarat es-Sufra, and Naqa. Meroe is the spelling that we have inherited from the writings of the ancient Romans. According to partially deciphered Meroitic texts, the name of the city was Medewi or Bedewi .

The site of the city of Meroe is marked by more than two hundred pyramids in three groups, of which many are in ruins. They are identified as Nubian pyramids because of their distinctive size and proportions. After 308 BC Meroe rose to prominence, and kings began to build pyramids on cemetary of Meroe, between the 5th and 6th cataracts. Meroe remained the royal cemetary for 600 years, until AD350.

The step-sided pyramids of Meroe were built of sandstone, 10 to 30 m high. As at Nuri, the pyramids were stepped and built on a plinth, but now each triangular face was framed by smooth bands of raised masonry along the wedges where the faces met.

Related Links

Kushite Pyramids in Nubia – Ancient Eygypt History and Chronology
Nubian Pyramids – Wikipedia
The Kingdom of Kush – Wikipedia
Meroe -Wikipedia

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