Places We Go / Sudan

El-Kurru, Sudan

As I have described in previous posts on Nubia/Sudan, a Kushite army (in what is Sudan today), led by King (Pharaoh ) Piye, launched a successful invasion of Egypt around 727 BC, creating what became known as the Twenty-fifth dynasty of Egypt.

Following the death of King Piye, his son, Taharqa, assumed the throne. However, in 671 BC, the Assyrians invaded Egypt and overwhelmed Pharaoh Taharqa’s forces, eventually driving them to the south. Despite provoking numerous revolts, Taharqa would not be successful in reclaiming his lost territory in Egypt and he died in Thebes (Thebes was in what is known as Luxor today) in 664 BC. He was buried in Nuri, Sudan.

Taharqa’s nephew and successor, Pharaoh Tanwetamani, sought to resurrect the family business and reclaim Egypt from the Assyrians. Gathering another Kushite army, Tanwetamani marched down the Nile River and realized his ambitions – defeating the Assyrian forces they encountered and seizing Egypt.

However, the victory was short-lived. The Assyrians soon sent a large army to Egypt and routed Tanwetamani’s forces in the Nile Delta, driving them south to Thebes (which the Assyrians ransacked so thoroughly that it never recovered).

The crushing defeat by the Assyrians ended once and for all the Kushite/Nubian control over Egypt. Thereafter, Tanwetamani ruled only Nubia/Kush until his death in 653 BC.

The way this connects is that both Pharaoh/King Tanwetamani and Piye were buried at the cemetery for the royal family in El-Kurru.

On the surface, there is not a lot to distinguish El-Kurru from other piles of rocks scattered across the ancient world. The largest remaining structure on the site is a small mound that is just slightly over 9 meters high. Initial impressions can be somewhat deceiving though. For example, that small mound, pictured below, was once a towering pyramid, similar to those at Nuri:


However, it is when one gets below the surface of El-Kurru that things get really interesting… When we visited, it was not possible to access all of the tunnels and tombs beneath the surface of El-Kurru (and they were all pitch black, which made photography quite difficult anyway). Fortunately, a friendly local on the site had a light and led us into the ‎subterranean tomb of Pharaoh Tanwetamani – a tomb that serves as a representative sampling of the others, particularly in regard to how amazingly well the art and hieroglyphics inside were preserved by the dry desert air of Sudan.

A look back to the surface after descending the steps to the entrance to the burial chamber:


The ‎burial chamber of Pharaoh Tanwetamani is decorated in the classical ‎style we associate with ancient Egypt. The ceiling is painted as a sky full of stars, while the walls tell the life story of Tanwetamani. However, there is a distinctive Nubian twist on this art as evidenced by the cobras – an important Nubian symbol – in the bottom left of the picture below:



As an interesting “oh by the way”, the Kushite rulers were well known for their love of horses. In the royal necropolis at El-Kurru, a large section of the cemetery was set aside specifically for horses, whose bodies were adorned with elaborate trappings of silver, gold, faience, and shells.

However, the above details just scratch the surface.  There is still much more to be discovered at the El-Kurru site…






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