Catacombs of Kom el Shoqafa
Catacombs of Kom el Shoqafa image courtsey: touregypt.net
An underground city for the dead
As deep as the netherworld
Egypt is famous not only for its Pyramids which are tombs for the dead and rise to tremendous heights so as to kiss the heaven, but these tombs of Kom el Shoqafa or Mound of Shards (Lofus Kiramaikos in Greek) do just the opposite; they go deep in to the grounds to embrace the netherworld. The Catacombs of Kom el Shoqafa may not be as famous or visible as the pyramids but they are equally astonishing and perhaps more intriguing than the Pyramids –the mother of all wonders. No wonder they are listed as one among the Seven Medieval Wonders of the World.
What are these catacombs?
These Catacombs are subterranean funeral halls; cut in rock; with galleries for the dead one’s coffins, places for conducting last rites; staircases and dining halls for the ritual feasts to be held associated with the funeral etc all carved in rock. In olden days Christians of the Roman empires also were resorted to bury their dead in subterranean catacombs to evade desecration by the oppressive regimes. Kom el Shoqafa structures were of Pagan sects. The Pharaoh-Cult members believed in rebirths of the dead; hence placed the bodies of the dead intact in sub terrene caves cut in rocks.
A fusion of three great civilizations,
The Catacombs are located in a fishing
Tunnels of the 20th century bow your heads in shame!
The Kom el Shoqafa; though not a big ‘city’ is big enough to house as much dead as they required and enough space was provided to conduct the last rites of the dead as per their existing customs, staircases and tunnels to connect all these together. As dead ones need no recreational facilities; so many facilities can be supposed to be more than enough for them. The construction can easily equal the modern-day subways and tunnel in the technology adopted for its construction but as far as aesthetics are concerned it was far superior to our 20th century subways and monotonous tunnels!
A virtual museum!
This underground cemetery is believed to have built in the 1st century at the time of the Antonine Emperors are also known as Mound of Shards meaning a mound of broken materials like glass stones etc. Members of the ‘Pharaonic cult’ were following Pagan rites as the organized religions were not in vogue two statues one of a man and the other a woman, the Sun God with wings flanked by two falcons, gods of the Roman and ancient Egyptian order like Sobek (the crocodile tailed god), Anubis (the god with head of dog) and the likes. The fusion of the arts and architecture of Imperial Roman Empire, Hellenistic (Greek origin) as well as the Egyptian styles is the main importance this site is that it is a typical case-study for the students of archeology, in that aspect itself it surpasses the Pyramids and remains one of the most memorable monuments of Egypt.
The strange thing is that the whole site was lying unknown till until one Friday 28the September, 1900 though there were excavations going on here for ancient monuments for several decades. It is said that a donkey that happened to fall in to a pit! Yes; no joke; a donkey accidentally fell in to a deep pit in the ground and the donkey’s trail led to discovery of this site! This story is contradicted by more reliable sources as while excavating land for stones; one Alexandrian by name Monsieur Es Sayed Aly Gibarah happened find the extraordinary things and he informed the Alexandria Museum authorities and it was thus the secret of an ancient cemetery was discovered by the world. The credit is shared by one Betti on the museum.
It was a virtual treasure that was unfolded before the authorities who came hearing the news; something the authorities could not find for decades straightly came before them to be ‘discovered’; all filled with mud and water. When the dirt was pumped out and washed there gradually appeared a funeral complex with all paraphernalia. In the beginning a deep stairway with 99 steps that led them to a vestibule in the ground level which had two opposed niches (recess in the walls) well paved with alabaster (a type of marble used in classical works) believed to be resting place for the visitors.
In the first stage include a platform for funeral rituals, a vestibule with double exedra (arcade for assembly), a rotunda (hall with a dome), a Roman style triclinium (a big dining-table with chairs at three sides) and what else?
In the second stage there were the main accessible from the rotunda through staircase tombs Hundreds of chambers and numerous sarcophagus tombs (‘sarcophagi’ literally means body eater as these types of rocks absorb body matter they are called so), and what else? Magnificent statues, decorations on all proper places, images, ornate carvings and practically everything needed for a funeral hall.
A perfect creation!
The whole complex is nothing short of a complete funeral complex; all cut in a rock with a depth equal to the height of a five storied building a shaft of six meter in diameter provided to let light and fresh-air in. This shaft had holes with the stairways to light up the stairs. The real delight for the archeologists is the names provided on the tombs of the dead. The scripts written, the motif, the engravings, statues and even the coffins are all treasures not only to the archeologists but all who love their heritage and history.
Millenniums never end!
In a sense catacombs were escape roots to the oppressed and the hunted to preserve their rituals and heritage, and at the same time it has become a medium for them to communicate with people who happened to see it after twenty long centuries. A tale of oppression suffered by some people and their brave survival strategies; along with expression of creative talents in the middle of sufferings. When the people of the 21st century see and appreciate their culture the souls of these people even heave a sigh of relief, let us hope these people rest in their tombs in eternal peace for far more millenniums to come!.