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The Archaeological Sites of the Island of Meroe contain the best preserved
relics of the Kingdom of Kush at the height of its power. Meroe became their principal residence in the 3rd century BC, after transferring the royal burial ground from Napata (Gebel Barkal). Its proximity to the Nile made it a viable location for human existence.

The nominated area consists of 3 parts: the royal city of Meroe (town and cemetery), and the religious sites of Musawwarat es-Sufra and Naqa. Most notable are the more than 200 pyramids that have survived.

The city’s downfall started in the mid-4th century, after being captured by the Kingdom of Axum.


Paul Tanner (UK):
It is good to see Meroë on the list for possible inscription in 2010. One of the “Top 50 Missing” identified by users of this Web site, it is incontrovertably “World class” and needs to be present on any credible UNESCO list, even though “Egyptian civilisation” is already quite well represented. I visited it in Dec 2005 – just we 3 visitors across the whole evening, night and morning we spent there - so different from the crowded sites in Egypt! Meroë is primarily about pyramids (Photo - there are an amazing 200 or so of them) and atmosphere – which you must sense as you clamber up and down the sand dunes to enter the enclosures just like some Victorian explorer getting there for the first time – oh and look out for the tablets with Meroitic script too!

The T List documents rather strangely call it “The Island of Meroë”. I say strangely because it isn’t an “island” and is in fact located a distance away from the Nile, very much in the sandy desert. It appears that this phrase was used by Classical writers to describe the entire region from Atbara in the North to Khartoum in the south – at these 2 extremities, around 300kms apart, the main Nile is joined by the Atbara and Blue Nile rivers. These rivers on 3 sides led to use of the term “island” with some poetic license! The area was the heartland of the Meroitic civilisation around the 3rd Century BC at which time it was breaking away from centuries, first of political, and then of cultural subservience to Egypt. Use of Meroë by kings of the area continued through to around 200AD with links also to Aksum. The great sites of an earlier “Kushite” period when the Nubian provinces were in the ascendant some 4 centuries before Meroë are within the existing inscription of Jebel Barkal. There are in fact 3 significant Meroitic sites and, from the T List description, it appears that the other 2 at Naqa and Musawwarat es Sufra (both some distance south of Meroë) are to be included within the nomination. Interestingly, before the submission of Sudan’s latest T List each of the 3 sites was on the list separately – Sudan must have figured/been advised that the 3 sites together would make a more compelling nomination – hence the adoption of the “Island” title to encompass all 3! I visited these 2 also and would recommend anyone to try to take them all in rather than just see Meroë. However, unlike Meroë, they are some way off the main road (c 30kms) and you will need a private vehicle (and ideally a knowledgeable driver) to reach them (they are relatively close together) – whereas a bus will get you to Meroë. Naqa is primarily 1st century AD and shows Roman influences. Among other interests, Musawwarat has a fine restored temple and magnificent carvings. Both demonstrate Kushite “African” cultural influences but, unless you are an expert Egyptologist, you will need a good guide to point out the relevant aspects. You would ideally need at least 2 days from Khartoum return to take in all 3 sites – we overnighted twice (in tents) first at Naqa and then at Meroe before continuing north west across the Bayuda desert to “Merowe” and Jebel Barkal. Meroë does possess an upmarket “camp” of permanent tents run by an Italian company but we found the experience of “wild” camping almost in the ruins magical.

A word about “Merowe” is perhaps called for. First it is a totally different place from Meroë (!!) and second it is the site for the building of an enormous dam by China at the 4th Cataract. This will impact your visit to Meroë in that an unsightly line of Pylons (of the electrical non-Egyptian variety!) disfigures the view – carrying power from the new dam to Khartoum. It also means that a spanking new road will have been built across the Bayuda desert making it rather easier to visit both Meroë and Jebel Barkal.

What could prevent inscription? Well, at all 3 sites the management regime seemed somewhat “thin” – security is limited to some barbed wire and a poorly paid “ghaffir” who collects the permits which you are supposed to have obtained and paid for beforehand in Khartoum or Atbara – a significant nuisance if you are travelling up the Nile from Egypt by public transport! The reconstruction of the Musawwarat temple was done by Humboldt University so presumably should be ok by ICOMOS. But those electricity pylons? The main problem will be the earlier years of destruction and the extent to which it has been controlled. One problem shouldn’t occur again :- At Meroë in 1834 the treasure hunter Ferlini blew the tops off some 40 pyramids – unfortunately he struck gold with his first explosion and just kept going in the hope of a second success which never came. They aren’t meant to have “flat tops”!
Date posted: July 2009

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Site info

Archaeological Sites of the Island of Meroe
Country: Sudan
Inscribed: 2011
Cultural Heritage
Criteria:  (2) (3) (4) (5)
Category: Archaeological site, Classical (other)

Site history:
2011 Inscribed
Reasons for inscription
2010Incomplete - not examined

Site links

Official website:
»Royal City of Meroe

In the news:
Not available

Related links:
» Nubische Altertümer im Netz.
» The Musawwarat Graffiti Archive.
» Naga - Excavation-Project.
» The Meroitic State: Nubia as a Hellenistic African State. 300 B.C.-350 AD.

Getting there

This WHS has 4 location(s).


Brick architecture .
Cemeteries . Dynastic Burial Places . Pyramids .
Blown up .
Nile . Sahara .
Specified on Herodotus' Oikumene .
Human Activity
Historical Graffiti . Language isolate . Writing systems .
Individual People
Johann Ludwig Burckhardt . Prince Pückler .
Built in the 3rd century BC .
History of the World in 100 objects . In the British museum . Visited by Nicolas Hulot .
World Heritage Process
Controversial at inscription . First sites filling gaps cited by ICOMOS .

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