Explore Sudan’s Pyramids of Meroë

Uncover a city with over 200 pyramids. This is Meroë, the ancient capital of the Kushite Kingdom, in Sudan’s Nile Valley.

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The Kushite Kingdom

The Kushites extended their influence over Nubia (an ancient region mostly covering Sudan and Southern Egypt) for more than 3,000 years.

The Kushite Kingdom once covered over 932 miles (1,500 km) of the Nile Valley, including the time when it ruled over Egypt from around 760 to 656 BCE. Kushite rulers of that era are commonly called the 'Black Pharaohs'.

Meroë became this civilisation’s third and final capital around 590 BCE. This began what’s described as a golden age for the Kushites.

The Nubian pyramids

Today, the remains of more than 200 uniquely Nubian pyramids can be found in the Sudanese desert, as a lasting monument to a prosperous people.

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The unique design

The unique design

The pyramids of Meroë range in height from 6 to 30 metres, rising from fairly narrow footprints that create the distinctive steep slopes to these structures.

This belonged to King Arkamani the First, one of the more intact pyramids.

Steep by design

These slopes are steep because they were built by using a shaduf – a simple people-powered wooden crane. It was anchored in the middle of the plot, as the pyramid was built up around it.

Who built them?

As with ancient Egyptians, the occupants would design and build their own pyramids in life so that there would be no delay in their journey to the afterlife. Construction could take over a year for the larger pyramids.

What’s inside?

Unlike the Giza pyramids in Egypt, Nubian pyramids have no burial chambers inside. The outer layers of sandstone blocks encase an internal filling of rubble and dirt (and in one recorded case, the remains of a shaduf).

The offering chapel

Here, early explorers found offerings of bows, horse harnesses, wooden boxes, pottery and imported goods from Meroë’s far-reaching trade with Egypt, Rome, Greece, India and China.

The offering chapel of the 12th pyramid in the north cemetery, dedicated to an unknown king.

The occupant in life

The south wall depicts the occupant’s life as a king. The smaller scenes before them probably depict parts of the funeral process, as offerings of cattle were a common practice.

And their afterlife

The north wall depicts the same king being embraced by the goddess Isis, as she was thought to help the dead when they entered the afterlife. But this is not the room where they were laid to rest…

The underground tomb

A buried staircase descends beneath the pyramid, leading to the front of the entrance to a tomb. Beyond were typically one or two intricately decorated chambers, whose purpose was to help preserve the occupant’s spirit in the afterlife.

This is an illustrative example, based on real archaeological data from Meroë.

The antechamber

In the first room, or antechamber, you’d find columns of hieroglyphics and brightly coloured paintings of gods, such as Isis and Osiris. The Kushites and Egyptians had intermingled for thousands of years at this point and shared many gods.

The burial chamber

The second chamber would have similar decorations. Niches in the walls may have held sculptures. This is where the king or queen would be laid to rest on a wooden bed. However, modern archaeological digs have never found any remains.


No royal remains have ever been found (likely to have been stolen by ancient grave robbers), so we can’t know for sure if they were mummified. But associated items have been found – surgical tools, , precious incense and oils.

Here, kings and queens were entombed in death, but what about their stories in life?

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and Queens

Kings with the same name, and opposite views on Kushite culture. Queens that led armies and ruled their kingdoms alone. These are only a few of Meroë’s many rulers.

A lot of our knowledge on Meroë is based on the writings of ancient Egyptians, Romans and Greeks (which is biased and could be untrue). This is because we don’t fully understand the Meroitic language. There were two forms – cursive and hieroglyphic. Today, work continues to fully decipher the Meroitic language. One day this ancient civilisation may finally be able to tell its own story, in its own words.

This language’s icons resemble things such as birds, wheat and people, but their meaning is unclear.
The characters of Meroitic Cursive resemble a flowing script, not unlike modern handwriting.

Retrace the steps of the ancient Kushites by exploring its royal cemeteries on Street View.

The partially buried pyramid of King Kalka Kaltaly – due to the constantly shifting dunes.

Queen Amanitore's unique pyramid – actually a 'mastaba', as it has a flat roof.

Two figures holding swords can be seen on King Adeqetali's offering chapel.


Uncover more about Meroë, and other UNESCO World Heritage sites in Sudan – Gebel Barkal and the Sites of the Napatan Region, and Sanganeb Marine National Park.

In partnership with

This project was made possible thanks support from UNESCO Sudan and our expert historical advisors and fact-checkers – Dr Shadia Taha and Dr Khaled Elgawady.
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Introduction Pyramids of Meroë

Chapter one The Kushite Kingdom

Chapter two The Nubian pyramids

Chapter three The Kings and Queens

Chapter four The Meroitic language



What are canopic jars?

As part of the mummification process, the lungs, liver, intestines and stomach of the deceased were removed and sealed into four separate jars. Each jar was styled as a different guardian, resembling the four sons of Horus.

Reigned 270 to 260 BCE

King Arkamani I

The relocation of the Kushite capital from Napata to Meroë was a gradual process, started 320 years before Arkamani’s reign by King Aspelta. But it was likely that Arkamani ultimately cemented Meroë as the centre of the Kushite civilisation when he became the first king to be buried there.

A pyramid is marked in the lower-left corner on a vintage map of Meroë.
Arkamani the First’s pyramid is located in the south cemetery Voyage a Meroe, Cailliaud, 1826–1827

Allegedly, a tradition had begun in Napata that gave Amun’s high priests authority over the king. At any time they could order the king to abdicate – as if it were an order from Amun himself – by committing suicide. Arkamani had other plans, or King 'Ergamenes' as the ancient Greek historian Diodorus wrote of him… 

'Ergamenes, King of the Aethiopians*, who had received instruction in Greek philosophy, was the first who dared to disdain this command. With the determination worthy of a king he came with an armed force to the forbidden place where the golden temple of the Aethiopians* was situated and slaughtered all the priests, abolished this tradition and instituted practices of his own discretion.' 

Of course, we can’t be sure whether Diodorus’ record is true, or if Arkamani was educated in Greek philosophy. The tale was probably sensationalised for Diodorus’ western audience. We do know the priests were powerful, but other ancient travellers of the time wrote of Meroë, without mentioning what would’ve had to be an unignorable moment in their cultural history.

The truth will only be uncovered when we decipher the Meroitic language. A language Arkamani had a hand in creating.

This is one example of how Arkamani’s reign led to a decline in the influence of Egyptian culture in Meroë. Instead, he encouraged his people to embrace their own identity across art, politics, rituals and architecture – his pyramid was the first to be built in this Nubian style.

* The word 'Aethiopian' is used here as it’s the ancient Greek word for 'Nubian'.

Reigned 221 to 204 BCE

King Arkamani II

Arkamani the Second (sometimes called 'Arqamani' or 'Ergamenes II') was clearly named after his ancestor. The relation however is uncertain, as we don’t have a complete picture of the Kushite royal family tree and the order of succession.

Arkamani the Second stands with gods on either side of him, placing a crown on his head.
Arkamani the Second’s pyramid is located in the north cemetery Voyage a Meroe, Cailliaud, 1826–1827

Either way, he couldn’t be more different from his namesake. It seems that he wanted to restore elements of Egyptian culture into Kushite culture, as opposed to Arkamani the First, who wanted to make Kushite culture more distinct. 

This is evident in the architecture during his reign. It returned to a shared Kushite-Egyptian style, which was more common in the time before Arkamani the First’s reign. This can also be seen in Arkamani the Second’s pyramid, which is much more Egyptian in style.

Other examples would be the monuments and temples that he built in Nubia, close to the ancient Egyptians’ territory. From inscriptions on the monuments’ stonework, we know that he contributed to the building of temples at Philae and Kalabsha. And it’s recorded that he built the temple of Dakka in collaboration with Pharaoh Ptolemy the Fourth of Egypt.

Although these temples now reside in modern-day Egypt, they are still referred to as Nubian temples, as they were built in a style that would have appealed to the Nubian population that once lived there.

Reigned 10 BCE to 1 CE

Queen Amanishakheto

She was depicted as a warrior carrying a bow and arrows. Her imposing figure can still be seen on the walls of her offering chapel. This larger figure was seen as a symbol of power, beauty and wealth.

A vintage illustration from the 1800s depicts a large imposing pyramid that's mostly intact.
Amanishakheto’s pyramid before it was destroyed Voyage a Meroe, Cailliaud, 1826–1827

Amanishakheto was one of several queens who were given the Meroitic titles 'Qore' and 'Kandake'. Qore meant ruler or king, and was also the title used by male rulers. Kandake was used to indicate both a queen and another female member of royalty. Ultimately, these two titles together mean that she was a queen who ruled her kingdom independently.

Her name is mentioned in many monuments across her former kingdom. There is an ancient Egyptian writing that says she had great relations with Rome, and sent an ambassador there.

But little else is known of her life, besides an ornate collection of jewellery that she was buried with. The treasure hunter Giuseppe Ferlini stole this in 1834, destroying her pyramid and many others across Meroë in the process.

Reigned 1 to 25 CE

Queen Amanitore

Amanishakheto’s daughter would grow to be known as a great builder. The sheer volume of construction work during her reign, including the restoration of the large temple for Amun in Meroë, indicates it was a thriving period for the Kushites’ civilisation.

Her pyramid has a unique shape, with stepped sides rather than a smooth incline.
Amanitore's unusual pyramid is actually called a 'mastaba' – as it has a flat roof Voyage a Meroe, Cailliaud, 1826–1827

It seems Amanitore was a co-ruler with her husband King Natakamani, as their achievements were always written about together. But it’s believed that Natakamani died in battle, and she continued to rule thereafter on her own. It’s also thought that she could be 'Candace*, Queen of the Aethiopians**' who’s mentioned in the Bible.

Together, their reign was known to be incredibly prosperous. Many buildings were constructed, and ruined temples were restored. Improved irrigation canals were dug to allow farmers to produce more food. Trade flourished, based on artefacts found in graves during this period, and new caravan routes connected Meroë with ancient Arabian civilisations to the east.

Many queens of Meroë were depicted as fierce warriors that led their armies into battle. In a temple dedicated to Apedemak, their lion-headed god of victory, Amanitore is shown holding her sword high and conquering her enemies.

* 'Candace' is a Latinised version of 'Kandake', which is a Meroitic title to indicate a queen or royal woman, but in the Bible, it was misunderstood to be the queen’s name. ** The word 'Aethiopian' is used here as it’s the ancient Greek word for 'Nubian'