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Situated some 400kms north of Khartoum on the banks of the Nile, most travellers come to the dusty market town of Karima for one sole purpose – to view its extraordinary collection of ancient sites. They represent the Napatan and Meroitic cultures of the second kingdom of Kush, and offer vestiges of its political, social and cultural makeup.
The most prolific are scattered around the base of Jebel Barkal, a low, flat-topped mountain that was used as a landmark on ancient trade routes between Arabia, Africa and Egypt. Around 1450 BC, the Egyptian Pharaoh Thutmose III extended his domain to Jebel Barkal, establishing the stronghold of Napata. The Egyptians believed that their God Amon resided in this ‘Holy Mountain’ and it is also the burial place of a Muslim saint. For this reason, Jebel Barkal is still today considered sacred by local inhabitants.Read more
First ‘discovered’ by European explorers in the 1820s, Jebel Barkal’s settlement includes nine temples, palaces, administrative structures and pyramids and more are yet to be identified. One of the most beautiful is the Temple of Mut, which is dedicated to the Egyptian Goddess and decorated with frescoes. The field of pyramids, similar in style to those at Meroe, is the Necropolis, part of the royal cemetery of the Napatan Kings and Queens.
Karima and its surrounds have such a wealth of ancient treasure that the entire area, more than 60kms long, has been classified by UNESCO. Just across the river at Nuri there are 82 tombs, most with pyramidal superstructures and in varying degrees of dilapidation. They contain burial chambers, some which are decorated, and chapels and houses stand elsewhere. Although Napatan pyramids look similar to their Egyptian counterparts there are some differences; they never reached more than 30 metres in height and construction and finishing differs. Perhaps the most significant is purpose. Napatan pyramids had a commemorative function – they were never conceived to preserve the dead.