El-Kurru, the day I went down to a 3,000-year-old necropolis alone


Please, if you are going to read this story, put the background of the music of Indiana Jones (Oli, you too even if you come from another generation). Yes okay, I am not the first one who has done it or the last one who will do it but believe me if I tell you that it is a unique privilege that a traveler can rarely do in his life. In the background, Jebel Barkal emerges on the horizon as the nerve and religious center of the Kingdom of Napata that gave the Black Pharaohs of Nubia a capital at the time of its greatest splendor as kings of Egypt. Beyond its temples and shrines there aretwo necropolis that, when you enter them, make you feel that archaeologist with a hat We always dream. The first one we saw yesterday at sunset at the pyramids of Nuri But today comes the time that so many times I have dreamed and something or someone (thank you grandmother Chavetas) wanted me to do it completely alone. The underground tomb of the pharaoh Tanutamani, successor of Taharqa, opened before me while my classmates finished another visit. There, only with my green lantern and that imaginary hat, I have descended the stairs that separated me from the dark burial chamber of El-Kurru until the anteroom has been illuminating those wonderful ancient paintings perfectly preserved.

Today is that day that justifies a trip in itself. Today is the day I descended alone to a necropolis almost 3,000 years ago.

Karima Old Railway and Market

Unfortunately, our driver Ameer has received the news of his father's death this morning and says goodbye to us to return with a car to Khartoum (we give him a tip of 400 SDG as is tradition in these cases). We will be all day with two cars on a day without major transfers (we will have to squeeze a little and as we return to eat at the Nubian house where we stayed, chef Sharaf does not come to the visits) and have already sent another 4x4 vehicle from the capital to be with us tomorrow.

THE PLAN IN KARIMA: Karima will be our base from yesterday afternoon until tomorrow at noon since the ruins of Napata, the city-state of ancient Nubia on the west bank of the Nile River that we were talking about in the introduction next to the hill of Jebel Barkal. And what will we see during these two days?
- The main necropolis of the kingdom of Napata between 800 and 650 BC in El-Kurru with underground tombs such as that of Pharaoh Tanutamani, successor of Taharqa, which is my great wish today
- Another necropolis that replaced the previous one between 700 and 300 B.C. in the pyramids of Nuri (In addition to Sanam Abu Dom between 700 and 425 B.C. which brings together the tombs of the Black Pharaohs of the XXV dynasty that ruled Egypt, including the most powerful Pharaoh Taharqa, and we saw yesterday at sunset
- The sacred mountain of Jebel Barkal, with the most important religious center in the kingdom of Napata with 13 temples and 3 palaces at its feet and the nearby pyramids and tombs that we will see this afternoon and tomorrow.

Meanwhile, after breakfast, Mohamed has proposed to go to meet Karima market. Why? why? I want to go to that place that we all know ...

The initial thoughts change at the moment that Mohamed tells us that in this market we can take pictures except in the station area and that in addition some locals want to have coffee / tea with us. This country-level country is wonderful! One promises me that I will send him the video he prepares for his country (I will) and tells us that he works in Saudi Arabia on oil issues and returns every 4 months to Sudan, which makes one think that everyone (be the country that is of the world) we have a home, believe it or not.

The Karima market is more similar to a souk than others of these previous days. Here you can buy a little of everything and they even have import clothes, usually Asian, at laughing prices. In fact, my teammates get some things and even the guide himself ends up buying a jacket. From Patri I haven't talked to you much in this diary, really I think she is the only one who fully enjoys travel since the rest we often see places through the viewfinder. She does not use a camera or cell phone to take photos, her images are in her head that after all are the best memories.

TO Javi I think he would lose it even in his own house. He is the most independent of the group and likes to "escape" with some ease. I also think that he is the one who best furnished the head of the whole group and when you have a conversation with him you appreciate that he can talk to you about anything with enough criteria and if not, wisely, he does not open his mouth as we do others.

The market ends in the old railway that leads to Port Sudan, an area of ​​the Red Sea open to tourists also that will remain for a future trip. Here we are not allowed to make "many photos" or rather they guide us not to take them to the "garbage" part. The Sudanese is very concerned with that, he does not want tourism to show images of a poor country but his wonders, which are many, to welcome more people. With the secession of South Sudan which is where the oil wells are, many believe that they should bet on tourism and motives have, of course

Sudan is going through a very critical moment of misery as we have commented these days and that, however beautiful the photos are, exists.

A Byzantine monastery in al-Ghazali

It is clear that Mohamed wants to make me suffer even if he does not know because I have it inside. Where do we go now? The route of the day was going to be to get closer to El-Kurru, something like that painted on our map.

Outside the Nile Valley, in a canyon called Wadi Abu Dom that crosses the Bayuda Desert and was once a busy trade route because it was filled with water, is located a ruined and abandoned monastery that is known to have worked until the 11th century. There they receive us their "vigilantes".

We have not commented on it but in Sudan there are no archaeological sites, no entrances or fences or anything like it to access any site. What there is is a kind of "guardians" who follow the tradition from their parents and their parents' parents. Nura is the daughter of the current caregiver and will soon be the next manager because his predecessor already needs a retirement.

Going back to Al-Ghazali Monastery, Mohamed has brought us here because it is a unique church in the Byzantine monastic architecture more important than it seems in the history of Sudan, especially from the Makuria period where we had already seen the most important in Old Dongola, capital of the kingdom of Makuria in the medieval Christian era. It was found by American archaeologists and excavated since the 50s, now a Polish expedition, and the theory says that it was one of the great investments of Emperor Justinian of Costantinople, with a structure comparable to that of the famous monastery of Santa Catalina in Sinai. Mohamed proposes us the challenge of looking for the 2 Nubian crosses and the first one is not very hard to find

And the second? Continuing with history it is believed that the monastery was the ceramic production center not necessarily associated with the presence of monks, which gives us an idea of ​​the power and wealth of Makuria. The strangest thing is that on the wall this has been found a row of 15 rooms-toilets (Each toilet was a room, something unique), such a large sanitary complex not seen anywhere else in Nubia. Ah, now yes, I had to fly to Perejildo to find the second crosson the perimeter of the construction seen from the air.

Archaeologists have also been able to identify the cult of the four archangels (Michael, Gabriel, Raphael and Uriel) although for angels, the ones we have with us. I won't get tired of saying it, what a wonderful people! This photo for grandma Keys, I know you keep traveling with me every day (and with Paula, Oli and Nico).

From al-Ghazali we have returned byWadi Abu Dom proper, a canyon that still carries water at certain times of the year ...

... although our goal of the day, FINALLY, was another.

El-Kurru and the Pharaoh's Underground Tomb Tanutamani

Yes Nuri It corresponded to an era between 700 and 300 B.C., the necropolis of El-Kurru is even older, between 800 and 650 BC., and is divided into three parts by two wadis although there are many hypotheses to be resolved on it in the air. For example, there is a period burial of Pharaoh Sheshonq I of ancient Egypt (850 BC) before the Kingdom of Napata about 200 years, but also pyramids belonging to Kashta and his wife Pebatjma, another row with those of Piye, Shabaka and Tanutamani and other so many of Black Queens of which we will already speak to you. Even four rows of graves containing burials of horses. Of all of them there are two with perfectly preserved paintings which, after opening the village guardian (since they are hermetically locked), are Visible down a flight of stairs cut in the rock, the K.16 of Tanutamaniand K.1. that is believed to be from his mother, Queen Qalhata. We are heading to the latter although, unfortunately, they are in full restoration work and they will not let us in.

Go ahead I don't know what I'll find in Meroe but I think I can say that I am facing the moment of the trip and a traveling life, that many times imagined in my childhood while I sat open-mouthed at the misadventures of Mr. Jones. And it all came up because someone wanted it that way, right Grandma Keys?

While my classmates were inspecting the previous staircase and descending one by one as Mohamed indicated, a small child caught my attention and I retraced my steps, rising on the ground to approach her, with the luck that I saw the guard appear on the way to the mastaba of Tanutamani(This underground tomb has no pyramid already outwardly and many others also because most have been looted as blocks of sandstone for the buildings of the villagers themselves). What I am going to try to explain from these moments I do not even know how to do it because I think that since I ran to get to the road until my companions started coming, blood stopped coming to my brain and I was not even able to get photos (the photos are taken from a later video that tries to reproduce the moment and that one day I will edit).

Can you imagine the moment of adrenaline that involves seeing a staircase carved into the rock that descend into the deepest darkness of the necropolis and know that there only for me, without tourists -or my own companions-, without distractions, without adulteration? In fact, even the guard does not go down with me, looking for accommodation on a rock near the door.

Even the flashlight seems to be taken from a movie! There will be about 30 or 40 stairs that take me to a second door with bars, this one if open. I am in the subsoil of the great pyramid that was here, more than 8 meters from the current plateau and an anteroom begins to illuminate before me with WONDERFULLY PRESERVED PAINTS I can almost (shouldn't) touch.

I have not been to Egypt. That, together with the fact that I never think that in my life I will be able to enter completely alone in a funeral chamber of almost 3,000 years (specifically 2,672 years), makes this trip, this day, this precise moment, is already located in my great memories of travel forever (and that Oli, if one day you read me, I think it would be a good place to point in your list of essentials that your father made) and that will not be until after a few minutes when Mohamed comes down and begins to interpret all these paintings.

Contextualizing a little El-Kurru, it was excavated by the colonial archaeologist George Reisner between 1918 and 1919 but, nevertheless, he barely left annotations of five structures because it seems that he did not dig them thoroughly because the pyramid ceiling sank 5 members of their excavation and decided to leave it. This makes the archeological site still, today, one of the most important sources of discoveries every year and that Reisner himself had already been able to recover gold chests with beautiful jewels buried with the Kushite kings. For example, recently found graphites of the Meroitic period with human figures, horses, demons and geometric shapes. Noah arrives, which has been the next one that has come running behind me.

The Pharaoh Tanutamaniwas the successor of Taharqa and all these paintings that we see represent the mummified pharaoh already inside his sarcophagus, his heart before Horus and multiple gods that accompany him to the next life as Isis, the mother goddess; Anubis, the jackal, the guardian of the dead; Thoth, the baboon, the god of wisdom ...

All the scenes are part of a funerary text of Ancient Egypt that was used since the beginning of the new Empire and which the Kushites, the Book of the Dead, endorsed.

THE ENIGMAS OF NUBIA (VOL8): The Book of the Dead and more about superstitions

Like the Egyptians, the Kushites also believed in the life after death and this led them to mummify themselves buried with objects such as jewels (sometimes even with them on top of the wooden sarcophagus) to cross the underworld. Among those pieces, there are some especially striking papyri, a series of magical formulas to travel the hereafter compiled in the so-called "Book of the Dead" (previously on walls or the sarcophagus). Thus, for example, the "formula 154" prevented the decomposition of the body and was inscribed in the bandages of the mummy, others were destined to overcome the judgment, etc ...

But superstitions are not there. Not long ago, in an excavation in the Dangeil cemetery south of the Fifth Waterfall, an ancient Egyptian symbol adopted by the Kushites was found. It was about one of the greatest treasures that an archaeologist can find, a ceramic box with a ritual role for protection against the "evil eye" with the Eye of Uadyet

He atmosphere is very very charged here inside. It's too hot. It is striking to see that the bottom of the camera has lost the paintings. It seems that there were some floods a while ago that flooded the underground tomb

Mohamed finishes his explanations and tells us that we are one of the people who have spent more time in this place (we have been more than 1 hour). The guardian has told him that 2 days ago nobody comes. Juve and I resist climbing, I suppose it is a kind of farewell to a place with a certain mystical halo.

AND where is the mummy of Tanutamaninow? It is known that he died in 653 B.C. but his sarcophagus disappeared long ago and he lost track of him. Between the 7 statues that Charles Bonnet discovered in Kerma There was one of his. Who knows? more puzzles to solve ... although there is something that leaves my body shaking when Noe leaves the chamber alone, without talking to us and goes to the car. He has been meditating for a while, something that among other benefits allows him to perceive certain sensations that others do not even understand. "I have felt very bad vibrations down there as if going down was an offense to the ghosts that live there" tells me. Tanutamani had a horrible death? Does it have to do with the charged environment? Or with the collapse that the Reisner expedition experienced? I will never know…

Sunset on top of Jebel Barkal (and a petrified forest)

Everything that comes after that increased heart rate, that accelerated breathing or that state of euphoria in the form of adrenaline is a downturn of the copon. It doesn't matter that "Petrified Forest" which Mohamed takes us later ...

... a paleontological site with fossils of trees turned into stone from a place that was a palm grove at the time ...

... or the group meal with Sharaf and his delicious dishes that came later at our house in Karima. It took me a long time to "step on" Sudan again, absorbed in my thoughts and to write down these lines in my notebook.

We have rested for a long time because the sun has been hitting hard throughout the midday before leaving walking to what will be the farewell of the day. We return to perceive that the relaxed Islam of Sudan does not force you to deny a conversation with foreigners, fun, music or even those looks of complicity You find throughout the trip. A "Mara Yamila"(namely as it is written), something like" beautiful girl "that Hawari has taught us to say, always get a smile even if you are in the most suburb of Karima (rather, everything Karima is like that)

Our destiny is that huge mound, Jebel Barkal, nerve center of everything we've been seeing again and again in our visits since yesterday afternoon and it's only 20 minutes from where we slept. In the distance other pyramids, those of Karima that we will visit tomorrow

But the day has been very intense, we will not make a visit to the use of the sacred mountain (which is the main course of tomorrow) but David and Noe want to take us to a place that they consider very special from their old trip. We climb?

The top of Jebel Barkal, completely flat, is the best viewpoint we will find In the whole adventure. From here you can perfectly see the Karima pyramids on one side, the city itself and the Nile in the background and, above all, enjoy one of the most relaxed and comfortable moments of an expedition that began more than a week ago and that accumulates hours of exhaustion.

Down on one of their faces, the temples and palaces excavated by European explorers in the 19th century and that they are part of what was the kingdom of Napata, current World Heritage Site by UNESCO since 2003 along with the necropolis, including El-Kurru

Although there will be time to explain tomorrow, and possibly you have to put a lot of imagination, but that cobra that appeared in the crowns of the pharaohs as a symbol of protection is carved into this mountain and it is the main reason to consider this sacred place.

Noe, however, already knows what his place is in this privileged viewpoint. The sun is falling across the horizon near one side that has a huge dune that will allow us to run down at the end of this beautiful moment. From here, the photos are over ... we deserve it!

We rest now, after dinner, in our small local house in Karima with the most beautiful memories of the trip. I admit it, I was excited as the child inside me but in such an intense way that I had not remembered it for a long time. Go down those stairs and see the paintings of that dark and ancient burial chamber illuminate, I will remember forever as "The day I went down completely alone to the underground tomb of Pharaoh Tanutamani in El-Kurru." I keep my hat, bedtime.

Isaac (along with the Pobes Expedition), from Karima (Sudan)

EXPENSES OF THE DAY: 400 SDG (approx 7.40 EUR)