THE CATACOMBS OF KOM EL SHOQAFA

 

The Catacombs of Kom el Shoqafa (meaning ‘Mound of shards’ or ‘Potsherds’) is a historical archaeological site located in Alexandria, Egypt and is considered one of the Seven Wonders of the Middle Ages.

The necropolis consists of a series of Alexandrian tombs, statues and archaeological objects of the Pharaonic funeral cult with Hellenistic and early Imperial Roman influences. Due to the time period, many of the features of the Catacombs of Kom el Shoqafa merge Roman, Greek and Egyptian cultural points; some statues are Egyptian in style, yet bear Roman clothes and hair style whilst other features share a similar style. A circular staircase, which was often used to transport deceased bodies down the middle of it, leads down into the tombs that were tunneled into the bedrock during the age of the Antonine emperors (2nd century AD). The facility was then used as a burial chamber from the 2nd century to the 4th century, before being rediscovered in 1900 when a donkey accidentally fell into the access shaft. To date, three sarcophagi have been found, along with other human and animal remains which were added later. It is believed that the catacombs were only intended for a single family, but it is unclear why the site was expanded in order to house numerous other individuals. The Catacombs of Kom el Shoqafa is, according to some lists, also one of the seven medieval wonders of the world. One of the more gruesome features of the catacombs is the so called Hall of Caracalla. According to tradition, this is a mass burial chamber for the humans and animals massacred by order of the Emperor Caracalla.

The Catacombs in Alexandria are so called because the design was very similar to the Christian Catacombs in Rome. Most likely it was a private tomb, 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 it; in each recess there is a sarcophagus. The Catacombs also contain 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. The entrance leads to a spiral staircase of 99 steps that goes around a shaft, which was used to lower the body of the deceased, by means of ropes, to prevent any damages to it. Some slits were cut into the sides of the shaft to allow the daylight through to the staircase that was used by the visitors. The staircase leads to a vestibule with two niches on both sides. The top of each niche is in the shape of a shell, while the inferior part contains a half round bench, cut into 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 the “rotunda”. In the centre of this hall a shaft was cut leading to the 2nd storey of the tomb and surrounded by a small enclosure wall called the “parapet”, on top of which is a dome, supported by 6 pillars. Between the pillars there were some figures of human heads, some of which 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, which was also cut into the rock. Its ceiling is supported by 4 pillars, and it contains 3 benches, again cut in the rock, and takes the shape of the letter U. This chamber was called the “Triclinium”. Most probably, the room was dedicated for visitors, where they would have dined.

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~ by ferry1984 on July 21, 2011.

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