Website Category: Ancient Civilisations of the Lower Nile
Criteria: (i) a creative masterpiece (iii) cultural tradition (iv) icon of an era (v) interaction with the environment
Location and Values: The archaeological sites of the Island of Meroe are located on the east bank of the Nile, about 200 km north-east of Khartoum. The sites include the remains of the Royal City, and nearby pyramid fields of the ancient Kingdom of Kush, which stretched from the Mediterranean to the heart of Africa from the 8th century BC to the 4th century AD. The centre of the Kushite Kingdom was moved upstream to Meroe from Nuri (part of the Gebel Barkal world heritage site) in about 270 BC, as the climate and environmental conditions in Nuri deteriorated. So most of the remains at Meroe recall the latter part of the Kushite era.
Little remains of the Royal City, but its archaeological site - located on the banks of the Nile, no longer an island - provides evidence of temples, domestic buildings and the vestiges of water channels. The main attraction for visitors lies in the desert about 3 km to the east – the pyramid fields. There are two clusters with about 100 pyramids in total, recalling a period of 1,200 years from the 8th century BC to the fall of the Kushites in the 4th century AD. The pyramids are smaller and steeper than their Egyptian equivalents at Giza, the tallest being about 30m high (by comparison the tallest of the Giza pyramids are around 140m high) – but in many ways no less impressive in their stark desert environment. Sadly, most of the Meroe pyramids were decapitated by a treasure hunter, Guiseppe Ferline, who passed through in 1834.
Slideshow of the Archaeological Sites Of The Island Of Meroe: The slideshow features some stunning images of the pyramids in the ‘northern cemetery’, provided by Bridget Goldsmith and David Trump. Look out for the two adjacent modern pyramids, built in the 1980s as an exercise in recreating Kushite building techniques. They are rendered in a smooth reddish lime mortar, contrasting with the chocolate-brown blocks of the other pyramids nearby, and give a good idea of how the pyramids would have appeared originally.
Slideshow of the Archaeological Sites Of The Island Of Meroe:
Google Earth View: To view satellite imagery of the ‘northern cemetery’ pyramids on Google Earth, click here. This opens a new window, so when you are finished, just close the Google Earth page and you will be straight back here to continue browsing. It is worth taking a few minutes to explore the other sites – the southern cemetery about 500m to the south, and the Royal City on the river bank about 3 km to the east.
Other Links: Official UNESCO Site Details