Discovering Sudan’s Ancient Pyramids

Less famous than their Egyptian neighbours, Sudan’s pyramids have been astonishingly preserved for thousands of years

Travel 200 kilometres out of Khartoum into the Sudanese desert and, appearing like a mirage, you’ll happen upon the ancient pyramids of Meroe. Far off the well-trodden tourist path of the Egyptian pyramids, this area of North Sudan was once part of the realm of pharaohs, which helps to explain why such a magnificent collection of pyramids and temples can be found here. More likely to be frequented by passing nomads and their herds of goats, the few visitors that do discover Sudan’s pyramids are free to explore the spectacular, ancient monuments undisturbed.

Thousands of years ago, Meroe served as the capital city of the Kingdom of Kush, the realm presided over by the Nubian dynasty. The pyramids here, which are almost 5,000 years old, are spread across three sites and are different from their more famous Egyptian counterparts on account of their smaller bases and steep sloping sides. Unknown to most visitors to North Africa, the site is home to around 200 pyramids and temples—more than there are in the whole of Egypt. Sudan’s pyramids were designed as tombs for the Nubian kings, such as the El Kurru necropolis, which once housed the tomb of the famous King Tanutamun. Step inside today and you’ll notice the elaborate paintings that adorn the walls and showcase the highlights of the reign of this celebrated king. The Nubians took inspiration from their Egyptians neighbours as well as the ancient Greeks and Romans in order to create their own distinctive structures. Given their age and isolated location, it’s a wonder that these structures have survived so intact. However, sharp-eyed visitors to the pyramids in Sudan might note that several of the monuments are missing their top points, which is due to Giuseppe Ferlini, an Italian explorer who blew up several of the pyramids in his search for treasure in the 1880s. Ferlini plundered the tombs of the likes of Amanishkheto, a Nubian warrior queen, in order to sell the spoils to European museums.

Make sure you’ve left enough time to visit the Lion Temple, also known as the temple of Mussawarat, which was built in homage to Apedemak, the Kushite lion god and constructed between 235-218 BC. The decoration of the temple, both its exterior and inside, give an excellent example of Nubian culture and how it differs to ancient Egyptian practices. Visitors will notice that the pharaohs depicted here are far more decorated and ornate than the Egyptian rulers, and that the Nubian queens are rendered in similar proportions to the kings, suggesting a similar level of importance as opposed to a subservient position.

To really soak up the atmosphere of this extraordinary place, visitors can enjoy an overnight stay at the Meroe Tented Camp. Located in Bagarwyia, the camp offers comfortable accommodation in a spectacular setting. Each deluxe tent has its own private bathroom, beds, electricity and peaceful veranda with chairs, meaning guests can experience Sudan’s ancient pyramids whilst still enjoying plenty of modern luxuries.