Think pyramids. Do you flash Egypt? Or Mexico and Guatemala? Maybe even China and Peru? But how about Sudan? … They’re here, too.
Looking to the main group of pyramids (Note: more pyramids in top-right + in the center, a lone guy with camel).
There are a number of ancient pyramid sites near the Nile. But I’ll focus on the most famous and most breath-taking pyramids at Begrawiya, 200+ km north of the Sudanese capital, Khartoum.
Knowledge of the Meroe pyramids was first brought to the European world by Frédéric Cailliaud in 1821. It had once been the capital of the Napata / Meroitic Kingdom (circa. 800 BC — 350 AD) and deciphered Meroitic texts name the city as Medewi or Bedewi.
The importance of Meroe increased from the reign of Arrakkamani (c. 280 BC) when the royal burial ground was transferred from the old northern capital, near modern-day Karima.
Meroitic culture developed from the 25th dynasty of ancient Egypt, which had originated in Kush (the Kushites were an earlier Nubian civilization; some days before, I’d visited the Dafufar – mudbrick temple ruins of their capital city near Kerma). During its peak, the Meroe Empire reached along a 1,000+ km stretch of the Nile valley.
Research tells us that the pyramids were built over burial chambers. Bodies were either burned or buried – but not mummified. Reliefs carved across inner-chapel walls show the names and representations of royalty and chapters from the Book of the Dead.
Meroe’s wealth was due to a strong iron-smelting industry, the presence of gold deposits, and an international trade involving India and China.
It was a brilliant, memorable day. The pyramids, for sure. Wonderous amid the sand dunes. But also the adobe villages along the desert route, with the taxi driver bursting into sudden song between picking his nose or cleaning his ears with his car-keys.
To an evening cafe encounter with 3 medical students over chocolate ice-cream, fruit-juice, and cheese-sausage pastries – all which they insisted on paying for (typical Sudanese / Islamic hospitality). The day ended flat on a rope-bed and attempted sleep in the heat, camped-out amid many men on beds, there in an open-air, starry-night courtyard of a crumbling, colonial inn.
Meroe pyramids of Begrawiya – travel advice
GETTING THERE: I stayed in Shendi – only 2 dire accommodation options: super basic + crappy or expensive + rundown. From there, I hired a taxi to the site, about 40 km away, for 100 SDP with waiting time. If it’s not mid-day in summer, it would be better to take a bus from Atbara to Shendi or Khartoum and get off; as it’s about 1/2 km from the highway. It’s visible; you can’t miss it. Then hitch or flag down another southbound bus to KH.
TRAVEL TIPS + INFO: Admission fee: 50 SDP. Afternoon is awesome light. You will probably have the entire site to yourself (as I did). Camping is possible away from the site. Summer heat is unbearable here, except dawn + dusk hours. No facilities at site except a security hut. Take water. But some villages and a gas station, with new rest-house, are a few km away.