May Egypt and Sudan reunite

Sudan: A Journey to the Jewel in the Desert

When Napoleon saw the pyramids of Giza on his Egypt campaign, there was only desert all around. Today, these wonders of the world are surrounded by the rapidly growing districts of the urban juggernaut, Cairo.

If you want to experience pyramids like the French general once did, you have to look for it around 2,000 kilometers further south, in Egypt's neighboring country Sudan. The buildings there are around 3,000 years younger, much smaller, more pointed and more numerous than their big brothers in the north. Visiting these mysterious tombs and other ancient sites along the Nile offer a travel experience rarely found anywhere else in the world. Because unlike in Egypt before the corona pandemic, visitors have these sites almost to themselves.

Open to the world

Although tourism has increased in recent years, it is still sparse. Until recently, the reputation of Africa's second largest country was too insecure and too violent. The Sudanese, who combine Arab and African cultures, are rightly considered to be particularly friendly. And since the overthrow of the long-term dictator Umar al-Bashir in 2019, the country with its new civil government has been making great efforts to open up to the world.

There are hardly any hotels and restaurants, credit cards don't work, and there is even a lack of fuel. But since Sudan has now been removed from the US terrorist list and can thus also be reconnected to the international financial system, the country is a promising tip for the time after Corona. Even now you can enter the country with a negative PCR test. Individual travel is tedious, but the car, guide and accommodation can be easily organized by one of the local travel agencies. We did the same during our visit shortly before the outbreak of the pandemic.

"Black Pharaohs"

We followed the Nile from the capital Khartoum north to just before the border with Egypt - the traditional ten-day travel route that can also be reversed when coming from Egypt. Around 4,000 years of history are traversed. The Egyptians controlled Nubia for centuries and shaped its culture and architecture. But the Egyptian yoke was thrown off again and again; In the 7th century BC the "black pharaohs" ruled Egypt as the 25th dynasty, the legendary Taharqa even penetrated as far as Assyria.

A huge Taharqa statue dominates the National Museum in Khartoum, an inconspicuous building from the 1960s with a great collection. Several Egyptian temples that had been saved from the floods of the Aswan Reservoir were rebuilt in the park; In the building itself there are countless Nubian statues and works of art as well as Christian frescoes from an early medieval cathedral. The fact that Sudan was primarily Christian up to 1400 is often forgotten in view of the strong Islamic character today.

Khartoum is a relaxed but rather faceless city with an old airport right in the center. It was founded by the British colonial rulers at the point where the Blue and White Nile meet. The best photos can be captured on a boat trip. We visited the picturesque souk in the old capital Omdurman on the other side of the Nile and a camel market outside the city before we drove north in a jeep for a day on a well-developed highway, always looking for gas stations where some gas could be bought . In the dusty stations, there was usually only bread, lentils and eggs as food. In view of the often very Spartan guest houses, many tour groups prefer to stay in tents in the desert.

Unearthed

The excavations make up for the lack of comfort. Around the third cataract of the Nile - one of those rapids that make the river in Sudan not navigable - is the Kerma fortress from the 2nd millennium BC. And the quarry of Tombos, where we got in touch with an American archaeologist who was measuring an old city wall with his team. The next morning we crossed the Nile by boat from the small settlement of Wawa to get to the ruins of the ancient Egyptian temple of Soleb - a pharaonic monumental building from the heyday of the New Kingdom that we had all to ourselves. The only reference to civilization was the guard, who demanded entry in dollars and who also printed out the tickets with his device.

Half a day's journey south we came to one of the two great archaeological sites of Sudan, the city of Karima with its temples and pyramids from the time of the kingdom of Meroe or Kush, which dates from 400 BC. existed until 300 AD and received the Egyptian heritage. You stand at the foot of a sacred mountain, Jebel Barkal, which should be climbed in the early evening to watch the sun set over the historic landscape.

Threatened

Who is buried below the eight pyramids - the burial chambers are laid deep underground - remains unknown. Unlike in Giza, the outer walls were built here and then the cavity was filled with rubble and earth. When the outer walls crumble, the filling oozes out. The interior of a tomb with well-preserved wall paintings and hieroglyphs can be seen in the cemetery of al-Kurru, where Taharqa's father Tanotamun is buried among many others.

Tarhaqa, the legendary Pharaoh, was the first ruler to have a pyramid built; it stands on the extensive cemetery of Nuri and, like the other buildings there, is threatened with decay. Not only the desert wind, but also the water of the Nile, which rises because of a nearby dam, is bothering them. There is not enough money for even the simplest protective measures.

Bedouins, not tourists

Halfway back to Khartoum, in the midst of a surreal desert landscape, lies the country's greatest attraction, the black pyramids of Meroe, of which around a hundred can still be seen and some are well preserved despite the destruction caused by nature and humans. The Nubian kings and nobles were buried here for 600 years. In front of the pyramids are small mortuary temples with reliefs of Egyptian and their own deities and a strikingly realistic style. The fact that many of the pyramids are missing the tip is the fault of the Italian adventurer Giuseppe Ferlini, who looked for treasures in them in 1834 - and unfortunately found them too. Thanks to imitators, that cost more pyramids a head.

Afterwards, on the way back, you should definitely turn onto the rumble paths that lead to the ancient sites of Naqa and al-Musawwarat as-sufra - with their magnificent lion temples, the outer walls of which are decorated with scenes from the life of the Nubian god of war Apedemak. We saw no other tourists there, only Bedouins laboriously scooping water from a deep well.

It would be hoped for Sudan that more guests will finally come to the country in the coming years - and that the experience for visitors remains as it is. (Eric Frey, RONDO, January 17, 2021)

Arrival & accommodation

Getting there: With Egypt Air via Cairo or with Turkish Airlines via Istanbul to Khartoum. Land entry from Egypt to Wadi Halfa is also popular. Visa at the embassy in Vienna.

In the country: Local tour operators such as Amal Travel, managed by Ali Elnour ([email protected] - my tip), or Waleed Arafat from Lendi Travel ([email protected]) take care of transport and accommodation.