It is hard to imagine that any life could possibly thrive in Sudan’s arid desert landscape. But then out of seemingly nowhere, pyramids rise out of the dusty sand. This is not a mirage: it’s Meroe.
Once the heartland of a kingdom ruled by Nubian kings and queens who overthrew the Egyptian pharaohs and reigned Meroe from the eighth century B.C. to the fourth century A.D. Known as the 25th Dynasty, their control shared many cultural and architectural similarities with the Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans.
Sudan’s pyramids aren’t as big and certainly are not as frequently visited as Egypt’s, but they are still a striking example of the ingenuity of civilizations past. At many of the sites, you will find that you are the only adventurous soul to make the trek to this distant domain. There are close to 200 of these ancient pyramids, mostly with narrow bases and steep angles rising between 20 to 100 feet. Some are made of stone, while others are covered in a layer of plaster which was painted once upon a time.
The Royal Necropolis of Meroe in the Bayuda Desert is scattered with 40 tall and slender pinnacles, each in various conditions, chipped away by the winds of time and by plunderers eager to find treasures within. Crumbling golden tips tumble into the sand, lopped off by European explorers in the 1800s. In the 20th century, Roman-era treasures of silver, bronze, ivory, gold, and pearl were found within, miraculously preserved. Inside, colorful paintings of the king’s life climb up the shadowed walls. The Meroites had access to gold from their mines, creating intricate gold work, like the cobra-inspired ring found in a tomb.
Explore the archaeological site of Naga with your Ker & Downey guide. Enter between the elaborate columns of a first-century temple dedicated to a lion-headed god. Its vaulted walls and ceilings are a canvas of bas-reliefs of the deity, pharaohs, and noblemen. Towering statues of rams welcome you to dig into history.
Archaeologists have yet to discover what really lies beneath the apricot dunes blanketing this UNESCO-listed site. A beaker with a frieze of cobras was unearthed in Meroe. Elephant statues and reliefs of gazelles and giraffes line the walls and columns of a large temple in Mussawarat, leading historians to wonder if these magnificent creatures once roamed this arid terrain. There are hints that the Kushites grew barley and sorghum on this once fertile soil. What other ancient mysteries are buried, waiting to be ceremoniously unveiled?
Sleep under the starts in tents with the pinnacles of the pyramids forming dark silhouettes in the inky sky. Sharp black, basalt, volcanic mountains also rise from the flat landscape.
Life is as rare here as the falling rains. Bisharin nomads in long white robes live a quiet existence in small huts established near rare water wells, just a stone’s throw away from the archaeological sites. Caravans of camels and donkeys still roam the remote expanse of Meroe, a place untouched by time in so many ways.