Gebel Barkal and the Sites of the Napatan Region
Gebel Barkal And The Sites Of The Napatan Region
Cultural Sudan Arab States Northern State, Province Of Meroe

Gebel Barkal and the other sites bear exceptional testimony to the Napatan, Meroïtic and Kushite civilizations that existed along the Nile between 900 BC and AD 600. The Amun temple at Gabel Barkal is a main centre of what was once an almost universal religion and, together with the other sites, represents the revival of Egyptian religious values.

The sites are on both sides of the Nile, in an arid area, considered as part of Nubia. The pyramids and tombs, being also part of the special desert border landscape, on the banks of the Nile, are unique in their typology and technique. The remains are testimony to an ancient important culture which existed and flourished in this region only.

Gebel Barkal is a natural hill 100 m above the plain surrounding it. Ever since antiquity the hill has played a special role in the religious life and folklore of the people of the region. Although a natural feature, because of its cultural significance it is considered to be cultural heritage. Excavations and surveys of the hill and its surroundings have revealed nine temples, all at the foot of the hill and facing the Nile, palaces, administrative structures, pyramids and other kinds of tomb. The largest of the temples is that dedicated to the god Amon. Many of the temples are decorated and have carved hieroglyphic inscriptions. Unlike the temples, which are built from stone, many of the palaces were made from earthen, sun-dried bricks. The necropolis - the field of pyramids - is part of the royal Napatan-Meroïtic cemetery. Many differences exist between these pyramids and their more famous Egyptian models. The Napatan-Meroïtic pyramids reach the maximum high of 30m and have a different construction and stone-finishing technique. The most important difference is their function. Unlike the Egyptian pyramids, which were built to enclose and hide the burial chamber, the Napatan ones are commemorative monuments to the deceased, buried in a hypogeum underneath. In front of the pyramid a small temple was built, for offerings. The 30 explored tombs are accessible by stairs and most of them are decorated, whether with paintings or engravings. The Gebel Barkal site has vast archaeological areas that have neither been excavated nor studied.

The Napatan cemetery of El-Kurru is situated 20 km from Gebel Barkal. It includes several royal tombs and royal family members' burials. In the cemetery, in use between the 9th and 7th centuries BC, there are different types of tombs, from the most simple, covered with a small tumulus, to the most elaborate with a pyramid on top. Of these 34 tombs were excavated between 1916 and 1918. The cemetery of Nuri contains 82 tombs. Most of the tombs have pyramidal superstructures. The first burial in Nuri is from 664 BC and the last from around 310 BC. The tombs contain one, two or more burial chambers, some decorated, others plain. Other structures at Nuri include funerary chapels, a church and houses.

Sanam is situated in the modern town of Meroë. The site includes a residential area, never excavated, and a vast 'popular' cemetery with more than 1500 burials and a large temple. An enigmatic structure, called 'the Treasury' because of some finds, is the largest structure on the site: its function is unknown. Zuma is a vast unexplored burial field, covered with small tumuli. It represents the period between the end of the Meroïtic culture in the 4th century AD and the arrival of Christianity to Nubia in the 6th century.

Archaeological excavations at Gebel Barkal have not reached yet the earliest strata. In the vicinity of the site, excavations revealed human activity from the 3rd millennium BC. For the Egyptians of the New Empire, Gebel Barkal was a holy place: they made it a religious centre, and probably an administrative one as well. The best represented period in the region is the Napatan-Meroïtic. Napata or Gebel Barkal was the capital of the Kushite kingdom, probably already at the end of the 9th century BC, and kept its religious and administrative role until the 4th century. Kurru and Nuri are the two royal cemeteries and Sanam has a Napatan cemetery and a large unexcavated, town. Remains from the post-Meroïtic period have been found at El Kurru, Zuma and other sites. Christian period remains are found in the whole region.