When we hear the word ‘pyramid’, our minds immediately go to Egypt. There is one other country, however, which hosts more pyramids in a small stretch of the desert than all of Egypt.
While Egypt is home to the world’s biggest and most famous pyramids, it is Sudan which holds the record for the world’s largest collection of these magnificent ancient structures.
Often dismissed as a war-torn country afflicted with civil war and disease, the North African nation has a lot to offer for culture and history enthusiasts with its rich, and long-ignored, archaeological heritage in areas that are far from the conflict hot spots.
The Pyramids of Meroe top the list.
Constructed in Nubia, one of the earliest civilisations of ancient Africa, the pyramids represent the final resting place for the last dynasty of royal Black Pharaohs in the ancient Kushite capital city of Meroe.
A day trip approximately 240 kilometres north of the Sudanese capital city of Khartoum will take you into a stretch of the desert where rows of these striking ancient pyramids loom before you like a mirage.
Over 200 pyramids, grouped across three sites, were erected as royal tombs for some 40 kings and queens who ruled the Nubian Kingdom of Kush on the banks of the Nile for more than 1,000 years during the Meroitic Period, until its demise in 350 AD. Some of Meroe’s and Napata’s wealthiest nobles were also buried there.
Built of granite and sandstone in the Nubian style, the Meroe pyramids are marked by small bases and steep slopes between six and 30 metres in height, in contrast with Egypt’s colossal Pyramids of Giza, the greatest of which is up to 139 metres high.
Compared to some ten million tourists who visited the Egyptian pyramids in 2018, however, roughly 700,000 tourists made their way to Sudan’s Nubian pyramids.
Having the UNESCO World Heritage Site all to yourself without the need to queue up or strenuously navigate your way through crowds of tourists makes the hot drive into the Sudanese desert worth it. Not to mention the route to the pyramids itself, which is dotted with quaint villages that offer a glimpse into the traditional lifestyle of Sudan’s warm and welcoming local population.
Many friendly locals offer camel rides around the pyramids for a small fee. Alternatively, you can walk, so make sure to bring comfortable shoes and water.
Unguarded, visitors are free to enter many of the pyramids where intricate drawings and illustrations adorn the interior walls, piecing together highlights of the reigns of deceased kings.
Many artefacts have been discovered inside the tombs over time, including pottery, coloured glass and quivers of arrows. Italian explorer Giuseppe Ferlini blew up several of the pyramids in his search for treasure in the 1800s, leaving many of the tombs missing their pointy tops.
Having withstood the test of time and vandalism, the pyramids are particularly magical during sunrise and sunset. And if you are brave enough, it is possible to camp overnight and enjoy some stargazing in the pure darkness of the desert.
For a burial site, the Meroe Pyramids are a spectacular historical monument to an ancient civilisation and sure make for a sight to behold.
Check out other destinations in our series to learn more about the heritage and culture of the Middle East and North Africa.