The Catacombs of Kom El Shoqafa, descending three levels beneath the city, might not be one of Egypt’s top attractions, but they’re certainly worth a visit.
Alexandria is a city in Egypt that never fails to attract vast numbers of tourists. One of the reasons for this is because the area has been under the control of several different cultures, with each culture influencing the region accordingly.
Located in the Karmouz district of Alexandria, one will find the fascinating Catacombs of Kom El Shoqafa. While this ancient necropolis might not be included in all Egypt package tours, and while it might not be regarded as being one of the country’s top attractions, it is certainly well worth a visit. In fact, they are nowadays officially one of the Seven Wonders of the Middle Ages.
A Brief History Of The Tombs
The tombs, when compared to some other similar sites, are actually quite massive, and descend three levels beneath the city above. Historians and archaeologists believe the tombs were carved into the existing bedrock over a period of several years. Records also tend to suggest that the work was funded by one family, even though the site later became more of a common burial place.
As with the Anfushi Tombs which are also in Alexandria, the Catacombs of Kom El Shoqafa also exhibit a very obvious fusion of Greek; Roman and Egyptian cultures. For example, many of the statues inside the necropolis are clearly Egyptian as far as basic style is concerned, but many are “dressed” in Roman clothes. Common belief is that the family who funded the necropolis wanted to hold on to ancient Egyptian tradition.
From the first century AD to the fourth century AD, the tombs where essentially used as a cemetery, and the final resting place for as many as 300 mummies, even though it should be mentioned that so many mummies have never physically been found.
Based on what little evidence there is, most researchers belief that the tombs were largely forgotten about after the fourth century, and then finally rediscovered in 1900. Interestingly enough, the discovery of the tombs was purely accidental, and had it not been for the unlucky donkey that fell down one of the shafts, we might still not have known about them.
To date, archaeologists have only unearthed three sarcophagi, along with a number of human and animal remains which were placed in the area at a later time in history.
Visiting The Catacombs of Kom El Shoqafa
Access to the Catacombs of Kom El Shoqafa is via a spiral stairway located in the center of the complex. Visitors are allowed to stroll around freely although only the top two levels are open to the public since the bottom level is typically underwater.
The first level is mostly dominated by a large funeral banquet hall where family and/or mourners would gather. The banquet hall also has a number of rock-carved chairs; couches and tables, which is one of the reasons why experts believe the tombs were originally made for one particular family.
Descending the stone stairway to the second level, one is greeted by an unusually eerie feeling, thanks to the many sculptures which still remain to this day. One could almost say the sculptures make it feel as though the tombs have never truly been evacuated.
You’ll also see three very large stone coffins which were made in such a way so that they cannot be opened. The question is: how did they manage to bury people in the coffins if they cannot be opened? Researchers believe that the bodies must have been dragged into the coffins from a tunnel which runs around the outside of the main funeral chamber.
Additionally, you will see several rock-carved niches, with each one being big enough to hold three mummies. If you choose to access the first level through a breech in the outer rotunda wall, you’ll also see the rather gruesome Hall of Caracalla. This hall was used as a mass burial site when countless people were massacred under the orders of Emperor Caracalla in 215 AD. When the hall was first rediscovered, a vast number of human and animal bones were recovered.
Getting To The Catacombs of Kom El Shoqafa
As with a number of other attractions in Alexandria, it can be very difficult to find parking space if you choose to drive to the Catacombs of Kom El Shoqafa yourself. A far better option would be to either take a taxi, or else take the public tram which stops just a short walk away from the entrance to the tomb.
If you would like to visit the Catacombs of Kom El Shoqafa when you’re in Egypt, please explore our tours. We have been offering Egypt tour packages and high quality custom Egypt tours for more than half a century already, so we have a good idea of what our customers want. Our dedicated team of customer service representatives can also tailor a tour to your needs, so if you don’t see what you are looking for, please let us know.