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Nile floods threaten Sudan UNESCO heritage site at Merowe

September 10 - 2020 MEROWE
A shield of sandbags has been erected to protect the borders of the Royal Town of Merowe (SUNA)
A shield of sandbags has been erected to protect the borders of the Royal Town of Merowe (SUNA)

In addition to the tragic human cost of more than 105 lives, countless livestock, and entire towns and villages devastated, the record levels of the Nile over recent days are threatening the ancient town in Merowe, which contains internationally important archaeological sites and has been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2011.

These include including a temple to the Egyptian god Amun and the Royal Baths. The official in charge of the restoration of the Royal Baths site, Omeima Hasabelrasoul said this week that “the damage is not significant”, as a shield has been erected to protect the borders of the royal town.

The Minister of Information, Culture, and Tourism, Feisal Mohamed Saleh, visited the site this week and lauded the efforts to protect the site, although a part of the outer wall of the ancient town is submerged.

Archaeological sites of the Island of Merowe (UNESCO / Ron Van Oers)


On Tuesday, the General Authority for Antiquities and Museums said that preliminary surveys indicate the impact on some archaeological sites in Nile River state, most notably the Royal Baths, parts of which are flooded, while floods are still threatening Jebel Barkal, Naga, and three other sites in the area.

The authority declared a State of Emergency and began conducting surveys and erecting water barriers in the sites affected by the flood waters.

The director of the French archaeological unit in Sudan, Marc Mayo, announced that the archaeological area of El Bejrawiya in Merowe – previously the capital of the Meroitic Kingdom – is under threat by flood waters.

The vast pyramid field of the Island of Merowe (UNESCO / Ron Van Oers)


* First excavated in 1912 by the University of Liverpool, the Royal Baths in Merowe (also written as Meroe) are now the focus of a joint research project between the German Archaeological Institute and the National Corporation for Antiques and Museums. The sites of Merowe, Naga, and Musawwarat Es Sufra, were the heartland of the Kush Kingdom from the 8th Century BCE to the 4th Century CE. Otherwise known as ‘The Island of Merowe’ because of its position at the confluence of Blue Nile, the White Nile and the Atbara River, Merowe, the principle Urban Centre of the rulers of the Meroitic civilization provides stunning examples of urban ruins, burial chambers, and pyramids. The pyramidal field is also known as the most extensive in the world.

There are many unsolved and unexplored aspects to the site including hieroglyphics which are as yet indecipherable, ancient water management systems and reservoirs (hafirs) and extensive evidence of early industrial activity such as iron working. In addition, there is evidence of the fusion of artistic and architectural influences from Greco-Roman as well as Egyptian and African styles. Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2011, the ruins of Merowe are considered to be a great testimony to the vast cultural exchange of art, architecture, religion, and language that once took place between the Mediterranean and Africa.

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