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The Catacombs (The Roman Cemetery of Kom El Shouqafa)

Greco roman

The Catacombs ( The Roman Cemetery of Kom El Shouqafa)

 

The Catacombs lies in the district of Karmouz to the east of Alexandria. The area was called Kom El Shouqafa or a pile of shards.

 

This cemetery dates back to the 1st century A.D and it was used until the 4th century A.D. It was discovered in 1900, when by pure chance a donkey drawn cart fell into a pit, which led to the discovery. The word Catacomb means underground tunnels

 

The ones in Alexandria is called the catacomb as well because its design was very similar to the Christian Catacombs in Rome. Most likely it was a private tomb and later converted to a public cemetery. It consists of 3 levels cut into the rock, a staircase, a rotunda, the triclinium or banquette hall, a vestibule, an antechamber and the burial chamber with three recesses In, where in each recess there is a sarcophagus. The Catacomb also contains a large number of Luculi or grooves cut in the rock.

After decreasing the level of the subsoil water in 1995 the 2nd level was opened to visitors but the lowest level is still submerged by some subsoil water till now. The entrance leads to a spiral staircase of 99 steps that goes around a shaft which was used to descend the body of the deceased by means of ropes to prevent any damages to it. Some slits were cut on the sides of the shaft to admit the entering of the daylight through the staircase which was used only by the visitors. The staircase leads to a vestibule with two niches on both sides. The top of each niche takes the shape of a shell while the inferior part contains a half round bench cut on the rock which was used by the visitors to take some rest after descending the stairs of the tomb.

The vestibule leads to a circular hall called “rotunda”, in the center of this hall is a shaft was cut leading to the 2nd storey of the tomb and surrounded by a small enclosure wall called “Parapet”. On top of the parapet is a dome supported by 6 pillars, between these pillars there were some figures of human heads, some of them were discovered and transferred to the Greco-Roman Museum in Alexandria. To the left of the rotunda, is a vestibule, which leads to a chamber cut in the rock. Its ceiling is supported by 4 pillars and it contains 3 benches cut in the rock and takes the shape of the letter U. This chamber was called Triclinium. Most probably, the room was dedicated for visitors, where they ate.

 

Before accessing the main chamber there are 2 corridors one in the east and the other in the west, each one leads to a large number of Luculi. After you descend to the hall that passes the Rotunda there is a small hall in front. In this vestibule, we see to the east a statue of a man inside a niche while to the west there is a statue of a woman inside a niche, both statues were sculpted and made in the Egyptian way of making statues, with some features of Greek art. The façade of this hall is supported by 2 composite columns, containing a mixture of Egyptian and Greco-Roman elements. Among the Egyptian elements; is the winged sun disk, the Falcon God Horus and the Uraeaus or the cobra, while the Greco-Roman elements are represented in the pediment, at top of the chamber.

 

The façade of the main burial chamber is decorated with some Greek elements such as shield of goddess Athena, which on top of it there is the head of the Medusa and as we know according to the ancient Greek myths the Medusa was able to petrify anyone who looks into her eyes. The representation of the Medusa here was to protect the tomb.

Under the Medusa is a huge serpent with a double crown. Once we enter the burial chamber which was completely cut into the rock we see 3 large recesses, each one contains a sarcophagus. The burial chamber has a vaulted roof supported by 4 square pillars whose capitals take the shape of Papyrus.

 

The sarcophagus and its lid are cut completely from one block of rock. The body of the deceased was placed into the sarcophagus through an opening in the back wall, and then it was blocked after burying the body by stones.

The sarcophagus is decorated with flowers, the head of Medusa, god Dionysus and other mythical gods. There is a representation of the deceased in a laying position. The most important scene on the front wall above the sarcophagus represents a mummy lying on a funerary bed.

Next to the bed god Anubis is holding in his left hand a jar, it is supposed to contain some liquids which were used during mummification while his right hand is touching the mummy. God Anubis is wearing a Roman dress and on top of his head there is the sun disk and on each side there is a cobra.

Underneath the table there is a representation of the three canopic jars for the viscera; originally they were supposed to be four jars which represented the 4 sons of Horus; Habi, Amasty, Dwamoutf, and Qbh-snwf. Most likely the artist did not find enough space to represent the 4th jar “Dwamoutf” which take the shape of a jackal or Anubis because the body of Anubis is occupying this space. Anubis in this case represents the two gods.

 

Next to this, God Thut the Egyptian god of knowledge and wisdom, is standing wearing the double crown holding the scepter with a hand and a jar, with the other hand. Near the end of the lion shaped table god Horus is standing wearing the double crown of Upper and Lower Egypt. The remaining scenes represent a lady standing, above her head there is a sun disk, she is raising her hands in the prayer position. In front of the lady, is a priest wearing a long garment, giving the lotus flower and a jar to the lady.

 

The right recess of the burial chamber contains nearly the same design and elements. It contains a sarcophagus with the same decorations. The most important scene on the right recess represents a figure of an Emperor or a ruler who is wearing a short kilt. He is putting the double crown on his head, holding a necklace with both hands, presenting it to the sacred bull Serapis. Behind Serapis, is a goddess stretching her wings, may be representing the goddess Isis.

There is another scene represent a mummy holding a big scepter, in front of her god Anubis is standing. There is also a representation of an altar between Anubis and the mummy from which the incense smoke is raising. There is a scene depicting an Emperor who is offering the feather of Maat to a god probably, Petah. Between them there is an altar which takes the shape of the Lotus flower.

How to get there

located in a very local area in Alexadria,

You may take a tax ifrom your hotel to the Sherif street , and then turn left to EL-twifikia street, pass the local market you willl pass buy the pompies pillar

Turn right onto El-Nasereya, Continue onto El-Nasereya until you find the gate way of the site

Interesting tips

Wear sensible footwear when visiting the various sites. High heels and open toe shoes are not advisable. The floors of most sites are either sand or rough-cut, uneven stone. Inside many tombs, wooden floorboards have been installed, but thin heels could get caught in the gaps between the floorboards.

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