Meroe – The Cute, Dazzling Pyramids of Sudan

Think pyramids. Do you flash Egypt? Or Mexico and Guatemala? Maybe even China and Peru? But how about Sudan?

They’re here, too. And, if that’s not enough to get you going, Sudan has more pyramids than Egypt.

AND they are older!

There are a number of ancient pyramid sites near the Nile. But I’ll focus on the most famous and most breathtaking pyramids at  the site of Meroe. Also known as Begrawiya, 200+ km north of the Sudanese capital, Khartoum.

During its peak, the Meroe Empire reached along a 1,000+ km stretch of the Nile valley.

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.

Meroe’s wealth came from an iron-smelting industry and the presence of gold deposits, and a far-reaching international trade that connected with India and China.

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.

man-on-donkey-near-meroe-pyramids-sudan

man-on-donkey-near-meroe-pyramids-sudan

It was a brilliant, memorable day.

The pyramids, for sure. Wonderous amid the sand dunes.

But also the adobe villages along the desert route.

And with the taxi driver bursting into sudden song between picking his nose or cleaning his ears with his car-keys.

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Looking to the main group of pyramids (Note: more pyramids in top-right + in the center, a lone Sudanese guy with a seated camel).

Back in the town, I had an cafe evening encounter with 3 medical students over chocolate ice-cream, fruit-juice and cheese-sausage pastries – all which they insisted on paying for (in typical Sudanese / Islamic hospitality).

The day ended flat on a rope-bed and attempted-sleep, camped-out amid many men on beds there in an open-air, starry-night courtyard of a crumbling, colonial inn during a searing mid-Summer’s night.

TRAVEL ADVICE for the Sudan Pyramids of Meroe

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.