Glory of Meroë

Amal Chatterjee
8 min readAug 23, 2020

Synopsis : What are we if we do not value of our heritage? How can any nation go forward that does not know or value where it came from? The ancient kingdom of Sudan based in Meroë ruled over the entire land from Meroë to Alexandra but the sand of time has obscured its history except a few pyramids found in Meroë and some ruins along the Nile. The neglect and indifference to its past glory does nothing to preserve it.

How many of you have ever heard of Meroë let alone where is it? Many of you have visited the great Pyramids of Giza near Cairo and have wandered through the vast Cairo museum to look at the numerous statues and mummies that are well preserved just like we did last year. We wondered at the great civilization it represented over thousands of years and the beauty of their potteries , their jewelries,.

We were stupefied to see the splendor of their past history so well preserved , it boggles the mind. We saw the glitter of polished statues with perfect symmetry in black granite or alabaster that were made thousands of years ago by artisans with primitive tools that is so wonderful.

We saw the dazzling colors of paint in their crypts of decorated walls full of hieroglyphs in the valley of the kings in Luxor and the temple of Hatshepshut . We saw the wonderful temples of Luxor and other temples just across the Nile that stand as witness to their glorious past they left behind in their temple arts, sculptures and their history etched in great detail in their stone obelisks and numerous temples.

I have published some blogs that you may like to see here about Egypt that we visited and were so impressed. ( A memorable journey to Egypt and The Cairo museum)

But have you ever heard of Meroë ? It is in Sudan that very few tourists ever visit or know about. But long ago the Pharaohs of Sudan ruled the entire kingdom that stretched from Meroë to Alexandria and left behind the pyramids and numerous temples along the stretch of Nile that is being gobbled up by the ever expanding sands of the desert.

Sudan is not a well known country and definitely not a country the tourists visit because it had a long simmering war in the Darfur region in the west and in the south that made Sudan a country most people wanted to avoid visiting. The security being an issue, the visitors were subjected to rigorous screening, numerous military check points and other restrictions but I was stationed in Sudan working as the project manager of a UN project that often gave me the opportunity to visit Ed Damer where I had my staff . On my way I stopped at Meroë pyramids near Shendi north of Khartoum and was impressed by their beauty even in ruined states .

There are more pyramids in Sudan than all of Egypt but they are not as grand as that of Giza. They seldom reach a height of over 30 feet but are just as impressive. The etchings and the hieroglyphs still visible are of very fine quality but the vandals have destroyed most of them looking for hidden treasures. Some have callously scratched them with graffiti like Mohamed loves Fatima etc. because they do not value their past being a Muslim country now.

Now there are some efforts by the Sudanese government to repair some of the damage to the Pyramids in Meroë and in other sites so it is a welcome step taken by them to preserve what they still can. Sudan has numerous sites of great archaeological importance that need immediate attention because vandals still try to damage them in search for hidden treasures.

There is a site that once had a huge gold plated marker on top of a mountain that flashed in the bright sun and served as a beacon to guide the travelers through the vast desert but now there is just a tell tale sign of it and no gold.

Sudan was reputed for its gold and the source of slaves in the past so the Romans and the Egyptians before them tried to conquer it but stopped going further south of Sudan because the real black Africa to them was an unknown territory full of swamps , mosquitos and dangerous tribes so only Herodotus ventured further south.

We know of Sudan only in bits and pieces because of the rule of Great Britain there, the murder of Gen. Gordon and the revenge taken of his murder by the fanatic hordes of the madman called Mahdi in Khartoum by Gen. Kitchener later but this part of the history of Sudan has faded and has given rise to the present day Islamic Republic of Sudan where the fanaticism rules. They have tried to erase all vestiges of their British rule but some still remain in some parts of Sudan.

I have traveled through many parts of Sudan as the project manager of a large project that had many sites to cover from the Western Darfur to the north of Khartoum up to Ed Damer. What surprised me was the indifference of the Sudanese to their glorious past that was so unlike the Egyptians. No Egyptian worth his salt would be so callous toward their heritage as the Sudanese but at one time the Sudanese Pharaohs ruled the entire region up to Alexandria. It was no doubt the most glorious period in their history but hardly any Sudanese mentions it.

It is now up to the Sudanese government to make people aware of their glorious parts and allocate resources to preserve what can still be preserved. There are many archaeologists and people interested in the preservation of the Sudanese historic sites including the people funded by the UNESCO and other countries that are mapping various sites and restoring what can be restored.

What is interesting is the fact that the sites that are declared as the World Heritage sites by the UN such as Meroë are now drawing attention to a period of their history that most Sudanese take for granted and hardly pay much attention to it. Perhaps a push for tourism like in Egypt will bring in the dollars that then can be used to improve their historical sites the way Egypt has done.

I have some videos to show you what an Australian traveler has filmed while traveling from Egypt to Sudan along the Nile focusing on the Nubian people and the ruins of numerous historic sites he found all along the river that still serves as the life line of the country. Whether you visit Egypt or Sudan, you will notice that beyond the narrow confines of the Nile on both sides , there is nothing but the barren desert .

From the air you will see green narrow patch of land on both sides of the Nile where people live and grow their crops as they have always done since the antiquity. The kings and Pharaohs fought for this narrow strip of land and built their empire based on the resources that this arid land could provide.

What is so astonishing is the fact a black Pharaoh of Kush rose to prominence to rule the entire Nubia and Egypt 4000 years ago when the rest of the world slumbered totally oblivious of the great civilization that flourished along the Nile in Sudan. What the world still is unaware of is that there are still remnants of Sudan’s glorious past scattered all along the Nile that bear witness to what once was and is being swallowed by the unrelenting sand of the desert.

Note : These three videos are sourced through U tube

The story of the Kusheites and their empire that covered most of Egypt as well as the northern part of Sudan is told by Zeinab Badawi in great detail in the video below that needs little explanation. She shows what still remains in Sudan as mostly ruins of once great palaces , pyramids and other structures throwing some light on the long forgotten empire and its rulers. What the sand and time has covered and destroyed will not be known until a thorough excavation takes place at numerous sites but what remains visible shows the glory of the Kush kingdom.

There are numerous Pharaohs and their queens buried in Meroë along with their concubines, servants and slaves who were buried alive along with their masters. So there must be a large number of burial pits or underground burial chambers with untold riches buried in it but very few have been excavated so far. The sand of the desert has obliterated any trace of such crypts. There has not been any systematic effort like in the Valley of the Kings in Egypt near Luxor so Meroë is still engulfed in mysteries.

There are numerous Pharaohs and their queens buried in Meroë along with their concubines, servants and slaves who were buried alive along with their masters. So there must be a large number of burial pits or underground burial chambers with untold riches buried in it but none have been found so far. The sand of the desert has obliterated any trace of such crypts. There has not been any systematic effort like in the Valley of the Kings in Egypt near Luxor so Meroë is still engulfed in mysteries.

Some foreigners tried to look for the riches in the pyramids so blew them up to look for it until the locals enraged at such destruction of their heritage chased them out but the damage was done.

Today Sudan is going through a revolution where a long entrenched dictatorship is overthrown by a freedom loving people who are once again coming out of the stupor created by their centuries of indifference and neglect of their glorious past and are paying attention to preserve what remains in Meroe and elsewhere.

Please read my chapter on Sudan in my biography to learn more on Sudan here :

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