Jebel Barkal, Nubia
or  Gebel Barkal
A Traveler in Nubia

Source: Calliope
Publication Date: 10/01/2003

Author: Richard A. Lobban, Jr., Professor of Anthropology and African Studies, Rhode Island College

THE YEAR WAS 1847, AND THE FRENCH ARCHITECT PIERRE TREMAUX WAS IN NUBIA. He had come to sketch sites and scenes in North Africa and along the Nile River. At the time, the area was controlled by the Ottoman Empire, whose capital was Constantinople (present-day Istanbul), Turkey.

After traveling by steamship from Cairo to Aswan, Tremaux sailed to Korosko and then crossed the Nubian Desert into Berber, Khartoum, and eastern Sudan. He hoped to find out if the source of the White Nile River was in southeastern Sudan, and he planned to search for gold. Tremaux recognized the importance of documenting what he saw and kept a detailed record of his travels, including maps of central and eastern Africa, the Great Desert of Korosko, and the gold mines of the eastern Sudan. His knowledge of geology and minerals contributed to the accuracy of his drawings. Tremaux did not, however, confine himself to recording only land details. He also described the hairstyles, beadwork, ornamentation, dress, furniture, wildlife, weaponry, domestic ware, and sculpture found in the region.

Tremaux was fascinated by the flora and fauna he saw as he journeyed through the area, and a few of his 56 illustrations focused solely on plants. His study of palm trees shows several varieties in their characteristic forms. Four plates detailed animals, including elephants, monkeys, serpents, wild fowl, and hippopotamuses. A fifth captured, in exquisite detail, a group of travelers riding with a camel caravan.

Tremaux did not concentrate solely on contemporary sites. He appreciated history and visited ancient places and temples along the Nile valley at Thebes, the West Bank, and Philae, and in Lower Nubia. To see as much as possible, he returned by a different route and stopped at places rich in history, such as Meroe, Naqa, Musawwarat, Napata, Dongola, and Abu Simbel. Napata, in particular, intrigued him, and in the book he later wrote he devoted an entire chapter to describing the pyramids, temples, and animal symbolism, and the royal cemetery at Nuri. Tremaux wrote, "In Napata, like Meroe, one may still recognize in front of the pyramids areas of disturbed ground that excavators made in order to penetrate under the pyramids and take precious objects that had been buried with the deceased people. These violations were not just made by the local inhabitants."

Using his training as an architect, Tremaux studied and described the shape of the pyramids at Meroe. He also explained in what ways those at Meroe differed from those in Egypt. At Jebel Barkal, he measured the Amun temple and recorded its length to be about 196 feet. He also noted that two pylons (gateways) and a row of ram sphinxes were still visible. About the temple, Tremaux wrote, "The sanctuary could be entered to find a lovely granite altar covered with sculptures and a hieroglyphic inscription of Taharqo with his cartouche, all dedicated to the supreme god Amun."

In 1854, the Geographic Society in Paris published Tremaux's account in a large, illustrated book titled Voyages to the Eastern Sudan and Northern Africa. Although demand resulted in a second edition being published in 1862, in the years that followed, the book did not receive wide-spread circulation. One reason may have been that the text was not translated into other languages. Soon, it was all but forgotten. Today, his descriptions are invaluable, because many of the areas he sketched in Lower Nubia have vanished under the deep waters of Lake Nubia.

Lake Nubia is a man-made lake. Actually, it is part of Lake Nasser, an artificial lake that was created in the 1960s, when the Aswan High Dam was built in southern Egypt. The southern third of the lake is not in Egypt, but in neighboring Sudan (ancient Nubia). It is this portion that is referred to as Lake Nubia.


What part of ancient Nubia is now under water?


A) Khartoum

B) Lower Nubia

C) Upper Nubia

D) Jebel Barkal


B) Lower Nubia is the northern part of ancient Nubia. Today, the area is in southern Egypt and, as a result of the Aswan High Dam, it is now under water. Upper Nubia is in the southern part of Sudan.

Copyright 2003 Cobblestone Publishing, Co.
Source: Photos of Africa

Sudan (Jebel Barkal), Meroitic period, 2nd century B.C.
Stuccoed and painted sandstone
Height: 24 5/8 in. (62.5 cm)
Harvard University - Museum of Fine Arts Expedition, 1921

This sandstone shrine, found in the great Temple of Amen at Jebel Barkal, originally housed a statue of the god Amen hidden behind a sealed doorway. Once thought to imitate the form of a traditional African house, the shrine actually is a model of Jebel Barkal itself, the three-hundred-foot, sacred “Pure Mountain” behind whose cliff Amen was believed to dwell. On either side of the opening of the shrine are carved images of a Nubian king and a winged goddess, standing above a stylized papyrus swamp. Nubians believed that Jebel Barkal was the “primeval hill” of Egyptian mythology, where the creator god first gave himself form and, amid the primordial swamp, caused the sun to rise on the first day of time.