Travelling some years ago down to Rameses II great Temple at Abu Simbel on the Sudanese border thoughts turned to the great and historic land which lied beyond, the ancient land of Nubia and its capital al-Kharṭūm (Khartoum) , where the rivers which supported the earliest human civilisations, the Blue and White Nile, come together. At Abu Simbel Rameses the Great had built his huge temples with their 18 metre high carvings of him as deities to warn invaders from the South that the Land of Egypt was not to be trifled with.
Ancient pyramids are famous for being located in Egypt, but who would think that neighbouring Sudan would have even more of them? Sudan pyramids are forgotten about despite being UNESCO World Heritage Site. About 200 kilometers north of Sudan’s capital Khartoum, there are a group of deserted pyramids despite being a UNESCO World Heritage site. The site is called the Island of Meroe because an ancient, long-dried river once ran around it. The area served as the main residence of rulers of the Kush kingdom that were known as Black Pharaohs. The pyramids range from six-meters tall and are believed to be around 4600 years old.
Nubian pyramids are pyramids that were built by the rulers of the ancient Kushite kingdoms. Prior to the Kushites building these pyramids, there had been no pyramid construction in Egypt and the Nile Valley for more than 500 years.
The area of the Nile valley known as Nubia, which lies within present day Sudan, was home to three Kushite kingdoms during antiquity. The first had its capital at Kerma (2600–1520 BC). The second was centred on Napata (1000–300 BC). Finally, the last kingdom was centred on Meroë (300 BC–AD 300).
Kerma was Nubia’s first centralised state with its own indigenous forms of architecture and burial customs. The last two kingdoms, Napata and Meroë, were heavily influenced by ancient Egypt; culturally, economically, politically, and militarily. The Kushite kingdoms in turn competed strongly with Egypt. In fact, during the late period of Ancient Egyptian history, the rulers of Napata conquered and unified Egypt herself. The Napatans ruled as the pharaohs of the Twenty-fifth Dynasty. The Napatan domination of Egypt ended with the Assyrian conquest in 656 BC.
The UNESCO World Heritage Site citation states:
“Gebel Barkal and the Sites of the Napatan Region
These five archaeological sites, stretching over more than 60 km in the Nile valley, are testimony to the Napatan (900 to 270 BC) and Meroitic (270 BC to 350 AD) cultures, of the second kingdom of Kush. Tombs, with and without pyramids, temples, living complexes and palaces, are to be found on the site. Since Antiquity, the hill of Gebel Barkal has been strongly associated with religious traditions and folklore. The largest temples are still considered by the local people as sacred places.”
Sudan is not the most obvious tourist destination. Western sanctions mean credit cards don’t work and iPhones crash on arrival, with few visitors witnessing the wealth of attractions on offer. Untouched by commercialism, the pyramids are also smaller, drastically less crowded and free of the touts and hustling “guides” who pester patrons of Giza. A ticket seller at the site in Meroë said it usually receives around 10 visitors a day, meaning there are good odds of exploring them entirely alone – a rare privilege at any historical monument in the 21st century.