The Nubian pyramids are the ancient monuments that were built by the rulers of the Kushite kingdoms (centered on Napata and Meroë) and Egypt. The Nile Valley area, known as Nubia, which is located in present-day Sudan, was home to three Kushite kingdoms during ancient times. The first had its capital at Kerma (2600-1520 BC). The second focused on Napata (1000-300 BC). Finally, the last kingdom centers around Meroë (300 BC-300 AD).

Kerma was the first centralized state of Nubia, with its own autochthonous forms of architecture and burial customs. The last two kingdoms, Napata and Meroë, were heavily influenced by ancient Egypt, culturally, economically, politically, and militarily. The Kushite kingdoms, in turn, competed strongly with Egypt. In fact, during the late period of ancient Egypt’s history, the rulers of Napata conquered Egypt and unified it. The Nabataeans ruled as pharaohs of the XXV dynasty of Egypt. Napata’s domination of Egypt ended with the Assyrian conquest in 656 BC. The Nubian pyramids are recognized as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO and are a striking architectural example of ancient pyramid-development in Africa.

A Panorama image of the pyramids of Meroe in the desert in Sudan
A Panorama image of the pyramids of Meroe in the desert in Sudan

While pyramids, in general, are associated with Egypt, the nation of Sudan has 220 around pyramids, which makes the African country home to one of the most numerous pyramid examples in the world.

The ancient Nubian pyramids were constructed at three distinct sites in Sudan. Just as the Egyptian pyramids, their counterparts in Sudar are thought to have served as tombs for the kings and queens of Napata and Meroë. The Pyramids of the Kushite Kingdoms are very different from the Egyptian examples; the Nubian pyramids were built with a much steeper angle than the ancient Egyptian ones. Furthermore, the Pyramids of Sudan were still erected as late as 200 AD, a time when Egypt had already long-forgotten the majestic achievements of Pharaohs such as Djoser, Sneferu, Khufu, and Khafre.

An image showing the pyramids of Meroë, north of Khartoum in Sudan. Shutterstock.
An image showing the pyramids of Meroë, north of Khartoum in Sudan. Shutterstock.

Depending on which source you look at there were anywhere between 200 and 255 pyramids in Sudan, erected in three specific sites over a course of several hundred years.

The first of Nubian pyramid examples were built at a site called el-Kurru: there, we find the ancient the tombs of King Kashta and his son Piye, together with Piye’s successors ShabakaShabataka, and Tanwetamani. Archaeological surveys have revealed the pyramids were constructed for their queens, several of whom were famous warrior queens.

Compared to the Nubian Pyramids, the Egyptian pyramids are much fewer, although much larger. Egypt is thought to have around 120 pyramids in different states of preservation while Sudan, on the other hand, has anywhere between 200 and 250. The Pyramids of Sudan are nonetheless much smaller than their Egyptian counterparts. The Nubian pyramids were constructed of stepped courses of horizontally laid stones blocks, ranging in size from around 6–30 meters in height. Their pyramids rise from the foundation rarely exceeding 8 meters (26 ft) in width, which results in tall, narrow pyramids inclined at approximately 70°.

The most extensive archaeological site with pyramids in Sudan is centered at Meroë, located approximately 240 kilometers (150 mi) north of the city of Khartoum. It is believed that during the so-called Meroitic period, more than 40 kings and queens were buried at the site.

A close-up image of a pyramid in Meroe, Sudan. Shutterstock.
A close-up image of a pyramid in Meroë, Sudan. Shutterstock.

Many of the pyramids of Sudan were built with a structure identified as an offering temple at their base, decorated with unique Kushite characteristics, not found anywhere else.

If we compare the Kushite pyramids to Egyptian pyramids of similar height, we see structures with a foundation at least five times larger and built with varying inclinations reading from 40 to 50°. The earliest example of Egyptian pyramid building can be traced back to the Third Dynasty reign of Djoser, around 4,700 years ago.

According to experts, just as the ancient Egyptian pyramids and tombs were plundered in ancient times, so were the pyramids of Sudan. Unlike the inside of many Egyptian pyramids–Khufu’s King Chamber as an example– the wall reliefs preserved in the tomb chapels of the pyramids of Sudan reveal that their royal kings and queens were mummified, and then covered with jewelry.

An image of the pyramids of Sudan. Notice that many pyramids have their top missing. Shutterstock.
An image of the pyramids of Sudan. Notice that many pyramids have their top missing. Shutterstock.

The pyramids of Sudan wer explored by archaeologists in the 19th and 20th centuries and many of the pyramids were found to contain an extensive range of different artifacts that help understand the life of people thousands of years ago. Experts have recovered the remnants of bows, quivers of arrows, horse harnesses, wooden boxes, pottery, glass, metal vessels, and many other artifacts attesting to extensive trade between Egypt, Greece, and Meroe.

A particular pyramid excavated at Meroë was home to hundreds of large items such as large stone blocks decorated with rock art, including 390 stones that comprised the pyramid. Archeologists have found ringing rocks that were tapped to create a melodic sound in the pyramid as well.

Many of the Nubian pyramids were destroyed beyond recognition. In the 1830, a man called Giuseppe Ferilini, an explorer and treasure hunter traveled to Sudan seeking treasure. He identified the pyramids as an excellent opportunity and raided, and demolished many of the pyramids which were documents as being “standing and in good shape” by French researcher Frédéric Cailliaud. According to experts, Ferilini is responsible for the control of more than 40 Nubian pyramids.