from PhilipCoppens Website
It is hard to keep up with the neighbors, especially if your neighbor is Egypt. Hence, whereas Egypt typifies pyramids, the Nubian pyramids, south of Egypt’s border, are often seen as the Nubians trying to keep up with the Egyptians, but utterly failing to do so.
Still, there are 223 pyramids in ancient Nubia, roughly double the amount of pyramids in Egypt.
However, they are small in size; skeptics could argue it is quantity, rather than quality. Nevertheless, the 20th century British writer Basil Davidson described Meroë, one location in which a huge concentration of Nubian pyramids is located, as one of the largest archaeological sites in the world. Unfortunately, all the tombs at Meroë have been plundered, most infamously by Italian explorer Giuseppe Ferlini (1800-1870) who smashed the tops off 40 pyramids in a quest for treasure in 1834.
Ferlini tried to sell the treasure of Queen Amanishakheto’s pyramid (involving exquisite gold amulets, signet rings and necklaces) when he returned to Europe. Collectors did not believe that such a treasure could come from black Africa; they thought he was trying to pass off fakes. Indeed, they were jewels of great quality and beauty and often influenced by Greek art; customers didn't expect to find deep in the heart of Africa depictions resembling those of Egyptian or classical Greek art.
Still, Ferlini found only one cache of
gold and it is unsurprising that he is not too fondly remembered in
Originally influenced by their northern neighbors, eventually, the Nubians were even able to invade, conquer and unify Egypt, when the king of Napata ruled as a Pharaoh of the 25th Dynasty, a rule that ended with the Assyrian conquest in 656 BC.
After taking control of most of Egypt, Piye set out for Heliopolis to worship the sun god and celebrate his coronation as king of Egypt, before returning to Napata.
The first series of Nubian pyramids were built at the site of el-Kurru and included the tombs of King Kashta and his son Piye (Piankhi), together with Piye’s successors Shabaka, Shabataka and Tanwetamani, and 14 queens’ pyramids.
The Napatan pyramids were sited at Nuri, on the west bank of the Nile in Upper Nubia. This necropolis was the burial place of 21 kings and 52 queens and princes. The oldest and largest pyramid at Nuri is that of the Napatan king and 25th Dynasty Pharaoh Taharqa.
Drawings and written reports of the early 19th century reveal the truncated top of the inner pyramid projecting from the top of the decaying outer pyramid. The outer pyramid was the first of a type with stepped courses and planed corners. It had a sloped angle of about 69 degrees. An enclosure wall tightly encircled the pyramid, but Reisner was not able to unearth any traces of a chapel.
The bench’s four corners had been cut away to receive the legs of the bed, so that the bed platform lay directly on the bench.
This is conclusive proof that these pyramids were tombs, but it is in the pyramid of Nuri that is the most elaborate structure.
King Taharqa was the first to build in this location and his pyramid is, by Nubian standards, impressive: 51.75 meters square and between 40 to 50 meters high. The entrance was by an eastern stairway trench, north of the pyramid’s central axis, reflecting the alignment of the original smaller pyramid.
Three steps led to a doorway, with a molded frame, which opened to a tunnel, widened and heightened into an antechamber that had a barrel-vaulted ceiling. Six massive pillars carved from the natural rock divided the burial chamber into two side aisles and a central nave, each with a barrel-vaulted ceiling. The entire chamber was surrounded by a moat-like corridor, with steps leading down from in front of the antechamber doorway.
In about 350 AD, the army of the Aksumite King Ezana invaded the island of Meroë. By then the capital had already been abandoned and the region was in the hands of a people whom the Aksumites referred to as the Noba.
In a generalized way, we could state
that pyramid building was a particular preoccupation of the
Heliopolitan priesthood; temples were the main bailiwick of the
Amunite priesthood, who had risen to the forefront of Ancient Egypt
during the Middle and New Kingdom, when the capital had moved to
Thebes/Luxor. It seems that with the Nubian invasion – which had
largely only been possible because of the demise in power of
Thebes/Luxor – the Heliopolitan priesthood was once again on the
The city he founded there was called Napata. The Egyptians remained only about 300 years.
Their conclusion was that the Napatan rulers deliberately restored religious sites that had been abandoned by the Egyptian pharaohs when they evacuated Nubia some three centuries before.
The Nubian kings used “Amunite temples”, but converted them to Heliopolitan sun worship. But they did not totally abandon the Amunite beliefs; after all, these Nubian temples had been built according to strict Amunite guidelines, and therefore would include features specific to that cult.
Due to the reverse direction of the Nile at this location, Taharqa’s tomb, though still on the “west” bank, paradoxically lay to the east, the place of sunrise and rebirth. Gebel Barkal, on the “east” bank, lay paradoxically to the west, the place of sunset and death.
The second explanation is religious. The sacred mountain Barkal (Barkal is Arabic, meaning both "holy" and "pure") measures 74 meters, is made from sandstone and has a flat top. Seen from the west, it looks like the royal Egyptian ureaus, topped by the white crown. For the ancient Egyptians, the site must have been considered as the Creator God himself having sculpted the mountain, indicating it should become a royal, sacred location. From the east, it looks like the serpent with the sun disc on its top.
It was to be the eternal link between the creator god Atum-Ra and Mankind, and between the eternal king and the living king. We therefore find that in Nubia, the pyramid and the sites on which they were built contained far more symbolism than merely a funerary aspect – the sites were directly linked with kingship.
And, as such, they conform to “the