Gebel Barkal and the Sites of the Napatan Region, Sudan

A masterpiece of creative genius demonstrating the artistic, social, political and religious values of a human group for more than 2000 years

By UNESCO World Heritage

Location (2003) by Gebel Barkal and the Sites of the Napatan Region, SudanUNESCO World Heritage

Gebel Barkal and the Sites of the Napatan Region comprise five archaeological sites on both sides of the Nile in an arid area considered part of Nubia. Together they cover an area more than 60 km long.

Introduction (2003) by Gebel Barkal and the Sites of the Napatan Region, SudanUNESCO World Heritage

The sites (Gebel Barkal, Kurru, Nuri, Sanam and Zuma) represent the Napatan (900 - 270 BC) and Meroitic (270 BC - 350 AD) cultures of the second kingdom of Kush. They include tombs, with and without pyramids, temples, burial mounds and chambers, living complexes and palaces.

Sacred mountain (2003) by Gebel Barkal and the Sites of the Napatan Region, SudanUNESCO World Heritage

Gebel Barkal

Gebel Barkal is a natural hill, measuring 300m long and 250m wide, which rises 100m above the plain surrounding it. Since antiquity, the mountain has always played a special role in the religious life and the folklore of the people of the region.

Temple B500 (2003) by Gebel Barkal and the Sites of the Napatan Region, SudanUNESCO World Heritage

The excavations and surveys of the hill and its surroundings have revealed several temples, palaces, administrative structures, pyramids and other kind of tombs.

Nine temples have been discovered in total, all at the foot of the hill and facing the Nile. The biggest of the temples is number B500, dedicated to the god Amon, measuring 46 by 160 m. 

Pyramids of Gerbel (2003) by Gebel Barkal and the Sites of the Napatan Region, SudanUNESCO World Heritage

The necropolis – the field of pyramids – is part of the royal Napatan-Meroitic cemetery. The Napatan-Meroitic pyramids reach the maximum height of 30 m and have a different construction and stone finishing technique to the Egyptian models.

El-Kurru, Burial Chamber (2003) by Gebel Barkal and the Sites of the Napatan Region, SudanUNESCO World Heritage

Kurru

El- Kurru is a Napatan cemetery situated at a distance of 20 km from Gebel Barkal. It includes several royal tombs with evidence of various royal family members having been buried there. The cemetery was in use between the end of the 9th and the 7th centuries BC.

Pyramid K.1 at El-Kurru (2003) by Gebel Barkal and the Sites of the Napatan Region, SudanUNESCO World Heritage

The are different types of tombs in the cemetery, from the most simple, which are covered with a small tumulus, to the most elaborate that have a pyramid on top. 34 tombs were excavated by American archaeologist, George Reisner between 1916 and 1918. 

Pyramid, Nuri (2003) by Gebel Barkal and the Sites of the Napatan Region, SudanUNESCO World Heritage

Nuri

The cemetery of Nuri contains 82 tombs, all excavated by Reisner. Most of the tombs have pyramidal superstructures. The first burial in Nuri was in the year 664 BC and the last in around 310 BC. 

Sanam site (2003) by Gebel Barkal and the Sites of the Napatan Region, SudanUNESCO World Heritage

Sanam

The site of Sanam includes a residential area which has never been excavated and a vast ‘popular’ cemetery which saw more than 1,500 burials. A large temple, measuring 41.5 by 61.5 m, has been excavated and studied. 

World Heritage inscription (2003) by Gebel Barkal and the Sites of the Napatan Region, SudanUNESCO World Heritage

Gebel Barkal and the Sites of the Napatan Region were inscribed on the World Heritage List in 2003 under Criteria (i)(ii)(iii)(iv)(vi).

Ancient tomb, Kurru (2003) by Gebel Barkal and the Sites of the Napatan Region, SudanUNESCO World Heritage

Criterion (i): The pyramids, palaces, temples, burial chambers and funerary chapels of Gebel Barkal and the Sites of the Napatan Region and their related relief, writings and painted scenes on walls represent a masterpiece of creative genius demonstrating the artistic, social, political and religious values of a human group for more than 2000 years.

The corbel vaults of the tombs of Kurru constitute a new building technique which influenced Mediterranean architecture from the 7th Century BC onwards.

Interior, Temple of Mut (B 300), Gebel Barkal (2003) by Gebel Barkal and the Sites of the Napatan Region, SudanUNESCO World Heritage

Criterion (ii): In terms of their architecture the sites of the Napatan Region testify to the revival of a once almost universal religion and related language: the Egyptian old script and the worship of the State God Amon.

Temple of Amun, Gebel Barkal (2003) by Gebel Barkal and the Sites of the Napatan Region, SudanUNESCO World Heritage

Criterion (iii): Gebel Barkal and the other sites of the property bear an exceptional witness of the Napato-Meroitic (Kushite) civilization that prevailed in the Nile Valley from the 9th Century BC to the Christianization of the country in the 6th Century. 

This civilization had strong links to the northern Pharaonic and other African cultures.

Hathoric columns, temple B 300 (2003) by Gebel Barkal and the Sites of the Napatan Region, SudanUNESCO World Heritage

Criterion (iv): The typology of the buildings, their details and the layout of the ensemble of the pyramids of Gebel Barkal, Nuri and Kurru with their steep angles and decorated sides, together with the painted rock-cut burial chambers, represent an outstanding example of funerary architecture and distinctive art that prevailed over a long period of time (9th Century BC- 4th Century AD).

The mounds of Zuma represent a continuation of some aspects of this burial tradition up to the 6th Century AD.

Pyramids at the background (2003) by Gebel Barkal and the Sites of the Napatan Region, SudanUNESCO World Heritage

Criterion (vi): Since antiquity the hill of Gebel Barkal has been strongly associated with religious traditions and local folklore. For this reason, the largest temples (Amon Temple for example) were built at the foot of the hill and are still considered by the local people as sacred places.

Gebel Barkal and the Sites of the Napatan Region (2003) by Gebel Barkal and the Sites of the Napatan Region, SudanUNESCO World Heritage

The pyramids, tombs, temples, palaces, burial mounds and funerary chambers set in the desert border landscape on the banks of the Nile, are unique in their typology and technique. 

The remains, with their art and inscriptions, are testimony to a great ancient culture that existed and flourished only in this region.

Credits: Story

This exhibit was created by the UNESCO Office in Khartoum.

More on Gebel Barkal and the Sites of the Napatan Region and World Heritage: https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/1073/

Photos: UNESCO Office in Khartoum, Ron Van Oers/UNESCO,  Retlaw snellac, Mauro Gambini,  and Laurent de Walick.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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