El-Kurru: The Site

Cemetery at El-Kurru.
Reconstruction of the cemetery at El-Kurru. 3D model by Franck Monnier.

Egypt conquered and ruled over Kush for over 400 years. When the Egyptian empire collapsed and withdrew from Kush around 1070 BCE, a local political authority gradually arose in its place.

The elite of this new Kushite dynasty chose to be buried at El-Kurru, a site on the Nile River in northern Sudan. For 200 years, powerful individuals were buried here, including kings who conquered Egypt beginning in about 750 BCE and ruled there as the 25th Dynasty. Some queens of Kush were given royal burials in their own section of the cemetery.

The tombs at El-Kurru began as traditional Kushite burial mounds but soon developed increasingly Egyptian forms until they were small, steep pyramids with attached offering chapels. Beginning with the pyramid of King Piankhy, who conquered much of Egypt, the subterranean burial chambers were decorated in Egyptian style, with painted scenes and funerary spells written in Egyptian hieroglyphs. The last king of Kush to rule over Egypt, Tanwetamani, was also the last king to be buried at El-Kurru, in about 640 BCE.

Three hundred years later, around 325 BCE, a king returned to El-Kurru to build a pyramid and unique rock-cut temple to preserve his memory. This was a turbulent time in the history of Kush, and this ruler was making a connection to the great king Piankhy. However, the structures were never fully completed, and the king was never buried there.

Several centuries later, pilgrims began to visit the king’s pyramid and temple, as we know from the devotional graffiti that adorn their walls and columns.