Pilgrimage in Kush

Musawwarat es-Sufra

The Great Enclosure at Musawwarat es-Sufra.
Aerial view of the Great Enclosure at Musawwarat es-Sufra (2008). Photograph by Thomas Scheibner.

Musawwarat es-Sufra is an enigmatic site in the savannah north of Khartoum. The largest architectural complex at the site is the so-called Great Enclosure, which includes buildings, plazas, and courtyards. The original purpose of the Great Enclosure remains unknown, but it was a special focus of pilgrimage during the Meroitic period, when thousands of graffiti were carved on its walls.

The Great Enclosure measures about 250 meters on each side. It was built on a series of raised terraces and incorporates three main temples in addition to chapels and other small buildings. Corridors and ramps link many of the structures within the enclosure. Other constructions at the site include a temple to the lion god of Kush, Apedemak, and an enormous reservoir that collected rainwater for irrigating gardens in the enclosure.

Musawwarat is not part of a larger city. It is an isolated complex a two-days’ journey from the Nile. One of the sculptures in the Great Enclosure depicts an elephant, and because elephants were used in warfare during the Meroitic period, it has been suggested that the complex was used to raise and train elephants. Most scholars today, however, think that it was a religious pilgrimage center, and the abundance of Meroitic graffiti at the site support this interpretation.