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Sudan: Pyramids of Begrawiya

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Pyramids of Begrawiya | Sudan | Africa

[Visited: March 2014]

We had informed ourselves about transportation from Karima to Atbara the evening before, and were told that there were buses leaving every hour. We want to be at the pyramids well before sunset, especially because it will be full moon as well, and calculate that some six hours should be sufficient to reach the most important historic site of Sudan. The next morning, we are at the bus station again, are sent to a different place, where we put our bags on the roof of a minivan. But apart from the few passengers in the bus, no one else shows up, and traffic seems to be very slow. Hours pass, and we leave my local phone number and walk around town - oh, the joy of having a local SIM card! I even take a dip into the Nile, get dry, and back to the bus where, finally, something seems to be happening. There are no more passengers, and after having waited for more than four hours, it is decided to use a smaller minivan. We are now on the way quite soon, and the driver is a fast one. I cannot help but calculate our chances to be at the pyramids in time for sunset. We make a halfway stop, which takes too long for my taste, but when we cross the river Nile again just south of Atbara, I am happy we can get off. From here, we hope to find a bus towards Shendi, but we first have to drive to Ed Damer. But there are no more buses to Shendi; we are told to go to Atbara instead. That will surely not bring us to Begrawiya in time; it is already past 5pm, and the sun will set around 7. We decide to take a rickshaw to the highway, and manage to convince the driver to go as fast as he can in his noisy vehicle. We walk past the toll gate, and are lucky: the first pickup truck that passes, is happy to offer us a ride, but only goes halfway the pyramids of Begrawiya - or Meroë, as they are often called. We are driving south fast, and have to get off some 40 km north of Begrawiya. One guy actively helps us to get a ride, stops a truck, and the policeman who has just boarded, gets out again and climbs on the back of the truck. On our right, the sun is sinking towards the horizon fast - it is a race against the clock. When we get off at the pyramids, it is less than half an hour before sunset. We walk towards the pyramids, that are glowing in the warm light coming from behind us, and a deep sense of satisfaction overwhelms us: we made it after a day-long chase! We get a warm welcome at the entrance to the site, and are invited to sleep behind some ruins, and assured there are no animals to fear here.

Picture of Pyramids of Begrawiya (Sudan): Pyramid and sand dune in the early morning

We watch as the full moon rises in the sky, making the silhouettes of the pyramids stand out in the night. After watching the spectacle of the moonrise over the desert landscape with the ancient structures as silent witnesses of the rich history of Sudan, we nibble on some snacks, drink water, and prepare for a night on the sand. The temperature drops, but never gets too cold, and we actually have a good night sleep, only interrupted more than usually because of the discomfort of sleeping on hard sand. This even despite the fact that the night has been very bright under the full moon, and only a few stars were visible. When we wake up, daylight is already on its way, and we quickly get some stuff together; we do not want to miss the sunrise that is announcing itself so convincingly. We see a desert mouse dash away, and walk towards the east. The full moon is now sinking between and behind the pyramids and finally losing its strength. From behind us, the sun rises, sending its powerful rays of light towards the tops of the pyramids. The scene unfolding before our eyes is spectacular. After a few minutes, the pyramids seem to be on fire, turning from orange to red. But the sun is merciless, and after more time, the vividness of the colours fades, and assume the dark-grayish shade that they actually have. A National Geographic team has been recording the scene, and asks us to keep the sand dunes as pristine as they are - to which we gladly agree, because the sight of the gently curving dunes above which the pyramids rise is awesome.

Picture of Pyramids of Begrawiya (Sudan): Pyramid rising from a sand dune

When the thrill of the sunrise has gone, we walk to the second, smaller row of pyramids, some of which have been restored, and enter a few to study them from the inside. Sand has blown inside, and there are some decorations still visible. When the morning is well under way, we walk back to where we have left our bags, and have a small something to eat and drink. Then, when the sun is burning on our heads, we visit the main row of pyramids, the northern cemetery, approaching them from the western side. A discovery tour of the interior of the pyramids follows. Some have reliefs that have faded badly, while others have surprisingly well preserved and, in some cases restored, interiors. One of the most remarkable things of the pyramids of Begrawiya is that the tops of most of them are missing. In the 19th century, the Italian adventurer Ferlini was convinced that treasures were hidden in the tops, and just chopped them off. Unfortunately for history, his first pyramid actually did contain jewellery. Encouraged by this find, he then continued to chop all the other tops off, but never again found anything valuable; which is only logical, because such precious items would normally be placed beneath the pyramid and not in its apex. In any case, the tops have gone, and so has the jewellery: it can be admired in museums in Munich and Berlin. We walked all the way on the ridge of the sand dunes, between the pyramids, until we reached the very last one. We walked down to the plain again, walking away to take in the sight of the mighty pyramids that are set like a crown on top of the desert sand. Back at the entrance gate, the caretaker, or gaffer, gave us some cold water that tasted great after our morning-long exploration of the pyramids, and prepared tea on a fire. It was time to leave again; we walked back to the highway we had left the previous day, and it took surprisingly long to finally hear the sound of brakes on a large truck.

Picture of Pyramids of Begrawiya (Sudan): Pyramids at sunrise
Picture of Pyramids of Begrawiya (Sudan): Moonset between two pyramids of the northern cemetery
Picture of Pyramids of Begrawiya (Sudan): Early morning light casting shadows of the pyramids on the sand
Picture of Pyramids of Begrawiya (Sudan): Pyramid touched by the first rays of sunlight behind a sand dune
Picture of Pyramids of Begrawiya (Sudan): View of the southern cemetery pyramids
Picture of Pyramids of Begrawiya (Sudan): Sunrise over one of the decapitated pyramids of the northern cemetery
Picture of Pyramids of Begrawiya (Sudan): Pyramids of the northern cemetery in the early morning
Picture of Pyramids of Begrawiya (Sudan): View of one of the pyramids of the northern cemetery from the southern cemetery across the desert
Picture of Pyramids of Begrawiya (Sudan): Two of the restored pyramids, with complete top, in the morning sun
Picture of Pyramids of Begrawiya (Sudan): Panorama of the northern cemetery pyramids from the top of a sand dune
Picture of Pyramids of Begrawiya (Sudan): The northern cemetery pyramids seen from a distance
Picture of Pyramids of Begrawiya (Sudan): Gods and hieroglyphs carved out of the wall of the entrance hall of one of the pyramids of the northern cemetery
Picture of Pyramids of Begrawiya (Sudan): Sand dune with part of the row of pyramids of the northern cemetery in the background

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