The ancient pyramids of the Unesco heritage site of Meroe

Situated approximately 250 kilometres northeast of Khartoum near the banks of the River Nile, the Royal Necropolis of Meroe is the most famous and visited archaeological site in all of Sudan. UNESCO Heritage site from 2011, Meroe boasts around 100 pyramids surrounded by the golden sand of the desert that stand out with their shapes against the clear sky, giving the visitor the sensation of still discovering a long-hidden secret. Located in a strategic position that allowed easy access to trade routes leading towards the Red Sea, Ethiopia and sub-Sahara Africa, the settlement of Meroe became the most important political centre of the Kushite kingdom around the third century BC. During this century, the Royal Necropolis was moved to this area from Napata where it remained until the 350 AD when Meroe suddenly vanished. Before Meroe became the Royal Necropolis, the pyramids of the Kushite kings were built at El Kurru and Nuri.

Sudan, skyview of the north cemetery of Meroe
Sudan, sky-view of the north cemetery of Meroe

Visiting the Meroe northern cemetery 

The site of Meroe is divided into two main clustersnorthern and southern cemetery – and boasts around 100 pyramids, but many of those are poorly preserved, or it’s possible to spot only the outline trace. The northern cemetery is the well-preserved and the one we visited. So as in all the Nubian archaeological sites we visited, it was impossible to know the entrance fee in advance. Once we reached the site, we haggled with the ticketer since he wanted us to pay 50 Usd! In the end, we spent 10 USD pp. At the entrance gate, you’ll find a few stands with local vendors who sell souvenir (very nice the small pyramids made of sand and the daggers) and also some guys with camels in case you don’t want to cover the site walking (the distance from the entrance to the pyramids is around 800 metres – 20 min).

Sudan, pyramids in the north cemetery of Meroe
Sudan, pyramids in the north cemetery of Meroe

Leaving the entrance gate and walking along a sandy path, the first few pyramids you’ll come across are the ones of the so-called “eastern cemetery”. Keep walking for 15 minutes you’ll reach the most famous and visited 41 pyramids of the north cemetery where 38 of which belong to kings who ruled the region between 250 BC and 320 AD. Even though the burial site is still in a good state, most of the pyramids are decapitated due to the Italian doctor and treasure hunter Giuseppe Ferlini who came here in 1834 and blew off the tops of the structures looking for treasures. Despite that, there are some pyramids that have been reconstructed and give the visitor an excellent insight into how they must once look like during their flourishing period.

Sudan, a pyramid of the Meroe Necropolis
Sudan, a pyramid of the Meroe Necropolis

Compared to the famous Egyptian pyramids, the Nubian monuments are decidedly different, featuring smaller bases and more steeply sloped sides. They do not have the mortuary room inside them; the actual tomb is dug below the pyramid itself and is connected to the outside through a sloping tunnel. A small votive chapel is located in front of the pyramids with the walls entirely decorated with bas-reliefs showing the lives of the Royals and the Gods. After finishing exploring the charming tombs, remember not to miss the sunset sitting on a dune!

Sudan, the votive chapel with the walls decorated with bas-reliefs
Sudan – Meroe, the votive chapel with the walls decorated with bas-reliefs
  • HOW TO GET TO MEROE

Even if you are having a short stay in Khartoum without travelling around the country, it is possible to self-visit Meroe by renting a car or better with a local tour operator on a daily trip. From Khartoum, the journey takes approximately four hours (250 km). You can also use local transport, but it takes more time. The most reliable way to plan a trip is to take the bus from Khartoum to the town of Shendi, then hop on a taxi for the remaining 50 km to Meroë. There are no cafés or toilets at the site, so be sure to bring food and plenty of water. Click here for more information and check out our itinerary.

  • WHERE TO SLEEP IN MEROE

Although Meroe is the most famous archaeological site of Sudan, we only found a hotel and a tented camp. We slept at Raidan Tourist Village, only a couple of kilometres from the Meroe entrance gate (70 USD for a double room – phone: +249 912301928/+249 183798547 – WhatsApp too). The Meroe tented camp is a bit more expensive and is placed in a spectacular location to watch the sunset over the pyramids (phone: +249 011 487961). Alternatively, you can look for a cheaper Nubian Guesthouse in the town of Shendi, about 50 kilometres from Meroe.

Sudan, view of the Meroe Royal Necropolis
Sudan, view of the Meroe Royal Necropolis
  • OTHER ARCHAEOLOGICAL SITES IN MEROE

If you have time, you can also visit the southern cemetery. It’s the oldest cluster dating back to the 8th century BC and where were buried the first rulers of the Meroitic kingdom who moved its capital from Napata to Meroe. You can also visit the ruins of the Royal city of Meroe that lie on the Nile bank. Although most of the area in which the city is located has yet to be excavated by archaeologists, the site is heavily ruined, and it’s often only possible to see the outlines of the buildings. Anyway, if you don’t have much time, our suggestion is to concentrate your visit in the north cemetery.

Sudan, pyramids at Meroe Necropolis
Sudan, pyramids at Meroe Necropolis
Sudan, Meroe Necropolis
Sudan, Meroe Necropolis

Have you visited the Royal Necropolis of Meroe? Did you like it and you want to share your experience or to suggest more tips?  Leave us a comment below!

19 Comments

  1. That’s absolutely stunning! Very interesting! I knew only about the Egyptian pyramids!

    • Cristiano Reply

      Hi Lia! Sudan is an amazing country, we suggest visiting!

    • Cristiano Reply

      Hi Peter, at the moment it’s safe and we didn’t have any sort of problem. But it’s always better to check the official website of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs or contact the embassy of your country in Sudan before travelling there.

    • Cristiano Reply

      Hi Joseph! If you want to visit the most important archaeological sites is enough a week as we did

  2. I m having a business meeting in Khartoum the first week of February. How long does it take to visit Meroe?

    • Cristiano Reply

      Hi Vimal, if you stay in Khartoum is ok. Meroe could be visited in a day. If you want to enjoy the sunset as well, it’s better to have an overnight there since it takes around 4 hours to reach the site from Khartoum.

  3. Meroe looks amazing! I travelled through Egypt and I loved it. I’m thinking about planning a trip to Sudan too. Thanks for sharing!

    • Cristiano Reply

      Hey Marta! Yeah Meroe is really nice and interesting. The pyramids are different from the ones in Egypt and more “wild” since they are surrounded by the desert with anything around. Indeed Sudan is worth a tour!

    • Cristiano Reply

      Thank you Henry! Meroe is really impressive! Sudan was a stunning surprise.

  4. Impressive! it’s been a while since Sudan is on my list! Meroe is stunning. Lucky you could visit it!

    • Cristiano Reply

      Hi Pammy! Sudan is really beautiful. We hope to visit again soon!

  5. Meroe is so charming. I visited Egypt 1 year ago and i m really curious about Sudan!

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