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Ancient Sudan / Nubia / Religion /
Gebel Barkal
Other spellings for Gebel: Jabal; Jebel. For Barkal: Barkol

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Gebel Barkal

Gebel Barkal, Sudan: Temple of Amon

Photo: Krzysztof Grzymski/Saudi Aramco

Gebel Barkal, Sudan

Gebel Barkal, Sudan

In Ancient Upper Nubia, sacred mountain close to ancient Napata.
It is situated on a large bend on the northern side of the Nile, near modern Karima in northern Sudan, about 400 km north of Khartoum, Sudan's capital.
Both the ancient Egyptians and Cushites believed that this mountain was the very home of the god, Amon. In Ancient Nubian religion, Gebel Barkal became the place where all gods were born, and not only that, it was from this point the creation of the world took place.
The mountain is 98 metres high, but rises dramatically from the surrounding landscape. The mountain pinnacle may have been considered a phallic symbol. Seen from the west, it looks like the royal Egyptian ureaus topped by the white crown. From the east, it looks like the divine serpent with the sun disc on its top.
The mountain itself may have been shaped into a gigantic statue, but little information has been found to substantiate this. One theory states that Amon was carved into the mountain, facing a rearing cobra.
At the site as many as 13 temples and 3 palaces have been identified. The most important, and still most impressive, is the Temple of Amon. Next to the pinnacle is the ruined Temple of Mut, which still has two columns with delicate carvings of Hathor.
With the decline of Egyptian influence in the 11th century BCE, the Temple of Amon would gradually fall into disrepair, until Piy in the 8th century had it restored and greatly expanded, makings its total length 150 metres. Taharqa would also make important contributions. Also at this precinct, there are several depictions of the Bes divinity.
To the west of the mountain, there is a burial ground of about 20 pyramids, clad in local sandstone. The area was used by royals in the 3rd century BCE, representing an intermediate period between Nuri and MeroŽ. The condition of these are among the finest in Nubia.
Gebel Barkal and its region also became important for economic reasons, since this was an ideal crossing point for the Nile river, easily allowing caravans to crossing the desert from Kawa to MeroŽ.
Gebel Barkal is often classified under Napata, and vice versa. Gebel Barkal is the sacred mountain around which much of the cultic activities were centered, as well as motived. Napata was the city and capital of the Kingdom of Cush.
"Barkal" is Arabic, meaning both "holy" and "pure."

Originally, the site belonged to the Kerma culture.
1450 BCE: The territory of Egypt is extended under King Tuthmosis 3, and Gebel Barkal becomes its southern limit. He has a Temple of Amon built, and founds the city of Napata.
13th century: King Ramses 2 has the Temple of Amon expanded.
Early 10th century: A theory states that due to instability from Libyan immigration, priests of Amon from Thebes seek refuge in Napata. Here they help build a new political structure that eventually would come to defeat Egypt, and restore the old customs and beliefs.
Before 750 BCE: Napata becomes the capital of Cush.
Second half 8th century: King Piy enlarges the Temple of Amon.
590: Napata is sacked by King Psametik 2 of Egypt, and MeroŽ becomes new capital of Cush. Napata would remain the religious capital of Cush, in which it remained the site of the royal cemetery.
Around 270: MeroŽ replaces Napata region as the royal burial ground.
1820's: European explorations into Gebel Barkal begin.
1916: US archaeological excavations begin.

By Tore Kjeilen