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Sudan: Jebel Barkal

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Jebel Barkal | Sudan | Africa

[Visited: March 2014]

While on the minivan from Kerma to Karima, my eyes are drawn to a peculiarly shaped mountain, and the passenger next to me confirms my thought: this is Jebel Barkal, the main reason we are on our way to Karima in the first place. It is, literally, the Holy Mountain, and its free-standing pinnacle is thought to represent a cobra, the protective reptile of king Amun. We would later actually find depictions of the mountain with the face of the king inside, and the cobra appearing in front of his face, just like the pinnacle of the mount, and a similar scene exists on a relief of a temple in Abu Simbel in Egypt. Finding a place to sleep is not difficult: we find a homestay at a place that is owned by someone working at the museum, and even though it is Friday and the museum is not supposed to be open, we walk into the museum after leaving our stuff in our room. To me, the most impressive objects are the chunks of rock with carved elephants, lying amidst the rubbish just outside the museum walls. It is a rich culture that can treat such finds in that way; many more finds can be found in other museums inside, and mostly outside, Sudan. Of course, there is more than the small museum, and the caretaker locks the door, and walks us to the temples at the foot of Jebel Barkal, and inside the Temple of Mut, which is built into the face of the mountain itself, and which has a sturdy door that can be closed. When our eyes have adapted to the darkness, and when we have found our small torches, we start to see the colourful hieroglyphs covering the walls. It is fascinating to see these millennia old depictions come to life again in the light of a torch.

Picture of Jebel Barkal (Sudan): Temple of Amun with Jebel Barkal in the background

When we get out of the temple, we walk around Jebel Barkal, to the row of pyramids on the western side. They are pointy, they look quite well preserved, and they offer a view of Jebel Barkal from a different angle. Since it is Friday, there are lots of families with kids on and around the mountain: for the locals, the Holy Mountain apparently is a good place to spend their free afternoon. We decide to climb Jebel Barkal, and when we reach the edge of the mountain on the eastern side, we are right above the temples we have walked through before. Now, we have great views of the outlines of the temples below us. We find a great place to watch sunset: we can see the pyramids, the temples, and the vanishing sun. Running down the sandy side of the mountain is fun; we help an old lady who is scared. The next morning, we are off to explore other parts in the region, but not before having a look at the mountain in early morning light. We drive around Jebel Barkal on our way to the royal cemetery of El Kurru, to the pyramids of Nuri, and back to the city, where we are in time for another sunset over the holy mountain. We first go to the entrance of the temple of Mut, where two columns with sculpted faces stand right under the pinnacle. We now settle for the pyramids, and see them shining always brighter under the setting sun, until their orange colour turns into grey, and it is time to walk back and hunt for food.

Picture of Jebel Barkal (Sudan): Columns with carved faces at the entrance of the Temple of Mut and at the foot of Jebel Barkal

The next morning is our last in Karima, and I am out before the sun, and climb Jebel Barkal again to see the sun rise. Now, the Holy Mountain is mine. Seeing the first rays of the sun over the landscape of the Nile, with the pyramids of Nuri in the background, from the top of the mountain is a grand experience. I walk to the western side of the plateau, from where I can see the pyramids of the Napatan kings, still lying in the shade of the Holy Mountain. I watch the line of the sun gain ground, pushing the last vestiges of the night away for another hot day, until the sun reaches the top of the triangular structures, casting long shadows on the sand behind. How many thousands of times have these pyramids seen sunrise! I descend on the sandy patch again, as it is fun to run down the cold sand, but it is only now that I notice how much rubbish lies around the slopes of the mountain - how can people treat a sacred place like this? I walk around the western base of the mountain, pay a visit to the temple of Amun which mostly lies in ruins, but of which remain rows of columns and sculpted rams. It is time to leave, and when I walk off the terrain, I turn around one more time for a farewell view of the Holy Mountain which is now basking in the morning light.

Picture of Jebel Barkal (Sudan): View of the pyramids seen from Jebel Barkal
Picture of Jebel Barkal (Sudan): The temple of Amun lies at the foot of Jebel Barkal
Picture of Jebel Barkal (Sudan): Ram at the temple of Amun at the foot of Jebel Barkal
Picture of Jebel Barkal (Sudan): Jebel Barkal in the afternoon, with a cemetery in the foreground
Picture of Jebel Barkal (Sudan): The western side of Jebel Barkal holds a cemetery and the pyramids
Picture of Jebel Barkal (Sudan): Two of the pyramids at Jebel Barkal
Picture of Jebel Barkal (Sudan): The pyramids of Jebel Barkal in the late afternoon
Picture of Jebel Barkal (Sudan): The first sunlight reaching the pyramids of Jebel Barkal
Picture of Jebel Barkal (Sudan): Caretaker walking towards the pyramids near Jebel Barkal in the late afternoon
Picture of Jebel Barkal (Sudan): Pyramid on the western side of Jebel Barkal at sunset
Picture of Jebel Barkal (Sudan): Hieroglyphs on the walls of the temple of Mut, inside Jebel Barkal
Picture of Jebel Barkal (Sudan): Stone with slaves carved out on display at the museum near Jebel Barkal
Picture of Jebel Barkal (Sudan): Artifact on display in the tiny museum at the foot of Jebel Barkal

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