Visiting the Jebel Barkal and the Sites of the Napatan Region

The city of Karima (and the neighbouring Merowe) lies along the Nile banks, and it’s the perfect base for exploring the remains of the Napata kingdom of Kush. The Napatan region includes five archaeological sites (Jebel Barkal, El-Kurru, Nuri, Sanam and Zuma) that are inscribed in the list of UNESCO heritage site since 2003. We spent a day around the area visiting the most evocative sites.

1. The Royal Cemetery of El-Kurru

The archaeological site of El-Kurru lies on the eastern bank of the Nile River, 20 km south of the city of Karima. It was the Royal Cemetery of Napata and contained the remains of dozens of tombs including the Pharaohs Pianky, Kashta, Shabaka and Tawentamani. The earliest tombs date back to the 9th century BC, and they were just covered with a tumulus or stones.  The Pyramids started being built with the 25th Dynasty of King Pianky. Most of the Pyramids have faded away, and the only one you can still see belongs to an unknown King dating back to 360 BC. However, it’s possible to visit two tombs containing wonderfully preserved paintings. The first is the tomb of the King Tanwetamani (the 4th of the 5th Pharaohs of the XXVV Dynasty), nephew and successor of King Taharqa, dating back to the 7th century BC. The second tomb belongs to Queen Qalhata, mother of Tanwetamani. At the moment of our visit, it was only possible to visit the Tanwetamani tomb. After entering down a flight of stairs cut out of the rock, you’ll get to two plastered chambers covered in stunning wall paintings. The king Tanwamani is painted with dark skin wearing the Kushite cap. The style of the painting is Egyptian. El Kurru was inscribed as part of the UNESCO World Heritage in 2003. The tombs are locked, and you might have to ask about the village for the guardian to come and open up. You also have to haggle the entrance fee with him (we paid 220 SDG pp). Click here to read more about El-Kurru.

Sudan, a pyramid and a tomb at El Kurru necropolis
Sudan, a pyramid and a tomb at El Kurru necropolis

2. The Royal Cemetery of Nuri

The archaeological site of Nuri was one of the royal necropoleis where the rulers who reigned in Napata, the first capital of the Kingdom of Kush, were buried. The pyramids in Nuri are older than the more famous in Meroe, and most of them are unfortunately crumbling. The royal necropolis housed 19 Pharaohs and 53 Queens. Smaller than the Egyptian pyramids, the Nubian pharaoh’s pyramids ranged between 40 to 50 metres in height whereas the queen’s pyramids between 10 to 17 metres. The tombs were cut out of bedrock, and the pharaoh’s chamber contained three interconnecting chambers (the queen’s tombs contained two interconnecting chambers). Nuri became a Necropolis around the 7th century BC and the first King to be buried here was the pharaoh Taharqa (690 BC – 664 BC). He was one of the 25th Dynasty pharaohs of Egypt (the “Nubian Dynasty) and one of the most powerful rulers of Nubia. His pyramid is the largest in Nuri, with the base side about 50 meters long, and an original height between 40 and 50 meters. Click here to read more about Nuri Necropolis.

The Royal Cemetery of Nuri
Sudan, the Royal Cemetery of Nuri m

3. Ghazali Monastery

Located in the Wadi Abu Dom, a crucial ancient trade route between Napata and Meroe, the ruined Ghazali site is a medieval Christian monastery.  It was founded around the 8th century AD by the fabled Nubian king Merkurios and abandoned in the 11th century AD. The monastery was built in sandstone and surrounded by high and thick defence walls. Click here to see the location of Ghazali Monastery. The last kilometres to reach the monastery are sandy and unpaved. If you don’t have a proper vehicle, you’ll risk being stuck in the sand.

Sudan, the remains of Ghazali monastery
Sudan, the remains of Ghazali monastery

4. Jebel Barkal

The holy Jebel Barkal is a sandstone mountain rising from the sand of the desert, near the city of Karima. The Egyptian and Kushites Pharaohs believed that the mountain was the home of the God Amun. The ruins of the Temple of the Amun lies at the foot of Jebel Barkal, built around the 15th century BC by Pharaoh Thutmose III. Always at the base of the mountain is the Temple of Mut, built by Pharaoh Taharqa and dedicated to the bride of Amun, the Egyptian sky goddess. A small Royal Cemetery lies in the western part of Jebel Barkal featuring around 20 pyramids well preserved and dating back to the 3rd century BC. Click here to read more about Jebel Barkal.

Sudan, Jebel Barkal archaeological site
Sudan, Jebel Barkal archaeological site

5) Other attractions in Karima

During our visit, we had a quick stop at a petrified forest where it’s possible to see some petrified logs surrounded by the desert. It’s also worth a stop to the busy Karima market (don’t miss to taste the delicious sesame seed bars), and if you have time, you can also visit the ruins of the Sanam Temple ( UNESCO heritage since 2003).

Need to Know about Karima

How to get there: if you are travelling yourself, you can catch a bus from Khartoum to Karima, and once in the city, you can take a taxi to visit the archaeological sites. The best option is to bargain with a taxi driver and rent the taxi for the whole day.

Where to sleep: we slept in Merowe at Merowe Tourist Village (70 USD the double room – Phone: +249 12 340 1624). Alternatively, you can ask in Karima for a Nubian guest house. 

Where to eat: in the central square of Karima there are some good small restaurants where you can taste delicious local food.

About the archaeological site: You’ll never find a booth or a stand where to pay for the ticket; therefore, no worry, keep visiting the site, and the guardian will reach you.

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