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Meroe

Meroe was the southern capital of the Kingdom of Kush for several centuries between 850 BCE and 350 CE. Early signs of culture in Nubia (northern Sudan and southern Egypt) first appear from around 3500 BCE, when Egypt was in the period of the Old Kingdom. Over time, the Nubian Kushite kingdom became increasingly powerful and consequently the Egyptians began to feel threatened, which prompted an invasion where they attempted to subdue their close neighbours.

Having given in to occupation, Kush effectively became a province of Egypt between 1500 and 1100 BCE. During this time the Egyptians controlled all the trade and the mineral wealth, in particular the gold mines - this is what made Egypt the richest nation in the world during this time, and led to the two cultures being assimilated and becoming one. The Egyptians eventually withdrew from Nubia around 1100 BCE, and in the ensuing vacuum a group of powerful kings arose.

The kings of the Kush had aspirations far beyond their frontiers - one of them, Pharaoh Kashta, was invited by the powerful priests of Amun in Thebes to intercede on their behalf in the internal conflict between the reigning Egyptian Pharaohs. Consequently he and his successor Piankhy received the blessings of the priests, proceeded north, conquered and reunified the warring states of Egypt and thus began the rule of the "Black Pharaohs" from 760 BCE through to 660 BCE. 

The Kushite Pharaohs did more than rule - they reinvented Egypt with a cultural renaissance. Some of the finest treasures, temples and artwork date from the period of Nubian rule, known as the Kushite or 25th Dynasty. However their reign in Egypt was shortlived, as at the zenith of their glory the Assyrians invaded Egypt and the Kushite Pharaohs were forced to flee south with their armies and court to their homeland of Nubia. Despite attempted invasions from Egypt, the Kingdom of Kush continued to flourish under an unbroken line of kings until the 4th Century CE, when it finally collapsed due to internal rebellion. At the same time, Egypt was endiring successive invasions from Persia, the Greek state of Macedonia (under Alexander the Great) and finally by Rome.

Perhaps the most splendid of all the Kushite temples and pyramids are those at Meroe, Naqa and Musawwarat. The pyramids at Meroe are the most impressive in Nubia and the site is very well preserved and restored. By the 4th Century BCE, the Kushite kings had moved south down the Nile and set up the royal city in and around Meroe. The southern culture gradually prevailed over Egyptian culture and the area became a powerful centre of trade between the north and the south. The site of Meroe was home to a large population supported by advanced irrigation and a centralised political system - Roman baths, royal palaces, pyramids and temples all tell the tale of an advanced Egyptian-style civilisation.

Today the site is virtually unvisited. Scattered across the sands of the desert are numerous steep pyramids with entrance pylons. The guardian of this Nubian site has been there since 1977 and has probably seen every visitor who has passed through since then. While the mainstream tourists flock to the Egyptian ruins to our north, you will have this remarkable site to yourself. Only a few travellers and a handful of tour groups a year come here.