They loom from a distance, a congregation of pyramids on both sides of the road, a living history that bears witness to the greatness of the Kushite Civilisation; these are the Pyramids of Meroe, made up of three groups — western, southern and northern. The northern is the best preserved, containing more than 30 pyramids. Though inspirationally Egyptian, there are differences.
The Pyramids of Meroe are much smaller in size when compared to those in Giza, with the largest being just under 30 metres in height. Another difference is the location of the tomb. Contrary to the Egyptian style, the Kushites had their deceased buried in tombs underneath the pyramid, not inside it, with the majority of the pyramids having a funerary chamber in front and facing eastward. After the first few minutes you spend in Meroe you notice that most of the pyramids have a chopped-off top, and that has a story. An Italian treasure hunter by the name of Guiseppe Ferlini was convinced there was gold. So in 1834 and after concurrence of the ruling Turco-Egyptians, he started the shameful destruction. To the surprise of everybody, including historians, he hit the jackpot, striking gold in his first attempt at Pyramid Six, that of Queen Amanishakheto. That encouraged him to go further with the mayhem. But it yielded no gold; just smashed pyramids and an ugly mark in the book of history.
Another very important site is that of Jabal Barkkal, where Egyptian Pharaoh Tuthmoses III built the first Temple of Amun in Sudan around the 15th century BC. It was later expanded by the prominent Ramses II, turning the site into a major centre for the cult of Amun. Right next to it is another monument, the Temple of Mut. Built to the order of Taharqa, and dedicated to Mut, the Egyptian Sky goddess and bride of Amun, the temple is engraved into Jabal Barkkal itself. Very interesting scenery is that of the two temples from the top of the mountain. Make sure to do the easy climb in the morning so you have the light at the right angle for your souvenir photograph. Also on the western side of Jabal Barkkal lies a small royal cemetery of 20 pyramids at the mountain’s foot. For a period of time, Kushites would bury their royals at Napata before shifting to Meroe.
Not far from Jabbal Barkkal there are two more sites worth visiting. The Pyramids of Nuri where Taharqa is buried in the largest of its pyramids. When it was excavated in 1917 archaeologist George Reisner uncovered a cache of over 1,000 small statues of the late king. Finally a visit to the Tombs of Al-Kurru is a must-do before wrapping up your visit to the land of the Black Pharaohs. Only two tombs are opened to visitors, that of King Tanwetamani, Taharqa’s successor and nephew, and that of Tanwetamani’s mother Qalhata. Both include fabulous paintings that enjoy a great level of preservation. – ahr