Although pyramids have become synonymous with Egypt, it is Sudan that has the most numerous pyramids in the world, 220 existing pyramids to be exact. Though much smaller, the Nubian Meroe pyramids are just as impressive as the more famous Egyptian ones.
Sudan’s secluded Nubian pyramids in ancient Meroe, the capital of the Kingdom of Kush are located in northeast Sudan, near the Nile river, in an area known as Nubia. They can be found in three clusters near a group of villages called Bagrawiyah. Any visitor who makes the trip to this ancient site is sure to be an eyesore.
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More than 200km from the Sudanese capital Khartoum, the remains of the ancient city, and secluded pyramids lie nestled between sand dunes in the arid and inhospitable Sahara terrain. The pyramids are a result of a history of conquest and cultural exchange.
Although the Nubians of the ancient Kingdom of Kush were initially conquered by the Egyptians, living under the Egyptian administration for centuries, around 1000 BCE, the 24th Egyptian dynasty fell and Kush became the leading power in the middle Nile region. The Kushite kings then ruled much of Egypt from 712 to 657 BCE.
According to sources, in 300 BCE, the capital and royal burial ground of the kingdom moved to the Meroe region and the pharaonic tradition of building pyramids to encapsulate the tombs of rulers continued for over a century.
The huge stone monuments of the Nubians are set in close-knit clusters typically less than 100 feet high, where the pyramid of Khufu of the Great Pyramid of Giza, Egypt, is a whopping 440 feet tall. But the Meroe pyramids are much steeper than the Egyptians.
A product of the Nubian shadouf-based construction, the shadouf, a simple counterweight crane, is set in the middle, and the pyramid is set around it; the pyramid is small and steep because the crane can only reach so far.
Moreover, the Meroe pyramids do not have a burial chamber as is expected in Egypt. An 1897 British expedition to Gebel Barkal that excavated inside a Meroe pyramid discovered that the burial chamber was actually beneath the pyramid. As such, the Nubian pyramids, rather than being tombs, were enormous headstones.
The Egyptian pyramids were also built with wet sands while the Meroe pyramids were built with solid sides with a fill center, a practical form of pyramid construction also used in Mesoamerica. The pyramids were also very close together to carefully align with certain stars.
Unfortunately, many of the Meroe pyramids have been truncated. The pragmatism of the Nubian builders may have made it easy for the monument to be scavenged. In 1834, Italian treasure hunter Giuseppe Ferlini found gold underneath a pyramid in Meroe and mutilated many of the pyramids by removing their tops in the hopes of confusing his rivals to keep more of the gold to himself.
Many future would-be looters also did the same, resulting in fields of pyramids with no tops. The truncated tops have made the internal structure vulnerable to the elements, and some of these mighty works are rotting from the inside out.
The pyramids are worth saving! Moreover, they are worth visiting. Take a virtual tour of the pyramids in the video below.