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The Forgotten Nubian Pyramids of Menroe

About 200 km northeast of the Sudanese capital, Khartoum, in a valley known as Nubia, lies the remains of three ancient Kushite kingdoms. Here, one can find the largest concentration of ancient Pyramids ever built.

Although less famous than the Pyramids at Giza in Egypt, and smaller in size than their Egyptian cousins, the Nubian pyramids are no less remarkable. These pyramids were built around 2,500 years ago, long after the Egyptians had stopped entombing their Pharos in massive tombs, a practice that nearly bankrupted them. The Nubian kings, however, were clearly fascinated by these mammoth structures and attempted to imitate them.

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Photo credit: Hans Birger Nilsen/Flickr

The Kush Kingdom flourished for 900 hundred years from around 800 BC to 280 A.D. and held power over a vast area covering much of the Nile Delta and as far south as Khartoum. Meroe served as the capital during the final phases of the empire. Here, at their capital city, the Nubians built about 80 radically downsized pyramids over the tombs of kings and queens of the Kushite kingdom. They range in height from 20 feet to 100 feet, and rise from fairly small foundation that rarely exceed 25 feet, giving the sides of the pyramids steep angles. One of the largest of the pyramids built for the rulers of Kush was for a woman, Queen Shanakdakheto (170-150 B.C.E.). The sides of the pyramids are adorned with decorative elements from the cultures of Pharaonic Egypt, Greece, and Rome.

Altogether, the Kush rulers built more than 250 pyramids—more than twice the number of pyramids in the entirety of Egypt. They are distributed in a small region in the Sudanese desert.

Like the ancient Egyptians, the Nubian kings were mummified and laid to rest, covered with jewels, in wooden coffins, before they were entombed. Nearly all of the pyramids have been plundered ages ago. At the time of their exploration by archaeologists in the 19th and 20th centuries, some pyramids were found to contain the remains of bows, quivers of arrows, archers' thumb rings, horse harnesses, wooden boxes, furniture, pottery, colored glass, metal vessels, and many other artefacts attesting to extensive Meroitic trade with Egypt and the Hellenistic world.

Today, Meroe is the largest archaeological site in Sudan, and one of the main tourist attractions in Sudan. But the country, devastated by civil war, now receives fewer 15,000 tourists per year.

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Photo credit: retlaw snellac/Flickr

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Photo credit: Mark Fischer/Flickr

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Photo credit: mauro gambini/Flickr

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Photo credit: David Stanley/Flickr

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Photo credit: Andrew Heavens/Flickr

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Photo credit: David Stanley/Flickr

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Photo credit: Judy McCallum/Flickr

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A couple of reconstructed pyramids show how they looked before they were plundered. Photo credit: Christopher Michel/Flickr

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Reliefs inside the walls of the burial chambers. Photo credit: Hans Birger Nilsen/Flickr

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Photo credit: Hans Birger Nilsen/Flickr

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Photo credit: Hans Birger Nilsen/Flickr

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Photo credit: Hans Birger Nilsen/Flickr

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Photo credit: Hans Birger Nilsen/Flickr

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