As Seen in…
Places to visit in Sudan and on our North Africa tours
Why visit Sudan?
The name Sudan – literally ‘land of the black people’ – once widely used, has come to refer to the now partitioned country that straddles the upper Nile valley, centred on the confluence of the two great tributaries in the Blue and White Niles. Despite its surrounding aridity, the region has thrown up some of the world’s great civilisations and, unknown to most, astonishingly ruled over the Pharaonic kingdoms for the best part of a century. Along the great river, Neolithic cultures gave way to the Kingdom of Kush.
The capital, Kerma, was dominated by Egypt: by 1500 B.C. they had annexed Kush, bringing art, architecture, religion and language. The Pharoahs can still be admired in the dramatic red sandstone of 3 palaces and 13 temples beside the holy mountain of Jebel Barkal. By the 8th century, Kush’s independent power grew and in the 740s B.C. Upper Egypt and later the Nile delta were conquered. The period known as ‘The Kingdom of the Black Pharaohs’ with its capital at Napata saw a flowering in construction of magnificent ceremonial edifices: at Nuri the rows of 20 decaying temples still impress the wanderer who comes upon this monument to Nubian royalty.
Perhaps Sudan’s most vivid site though is Meroe, Kushite capital from 590 B.C., where dark, steeply angled pyramids, truncated by millennia of weathering, stand elegantly atop ridges in the silky bleached sands. This final flourishing of the old civilisations built an empire that covered most of modern Sudan: tombs, stelae, palaces, irrigation systems alongside thriving cultural and mercantile exchange left wonderful sites for the intrepid to explore, such as Naqa’s rust-coloured temples. By the medieval period a new Nubian kingdom arose and by the 6th century A.D. Nubia embraced Christianity and, almost uniquely, repelled the Arab invaders to herald in a Golden Age of Coptic Christianity until the 1200s. Churches, adorned with splendid frescoes are still to be viewed in Dongala.
The kingdom waned and collapsed under successive waves of Bedouin and then Ottoman invasions, leading to the Funj state. British-Egyptian imperialism in the late 1800s was temporarily checked in Khartoum by the rise of the ‘Mahdi’ and the massacre of General Gordon’s forces, but Kitchener’s forces reasserted control and led to the British-Egyptian condominium of 1899 which endured until independence in 1956. A period of civil wars and coups d’etat ensued and peace finally was established via the partition treaty of 2011 when South Sudan formed a separate state. To today’s visitor, the country is a network of ancient sites and unheralded lost civilisations.
To walk these places is to immerse yourself into a world of stark enduring natural beauty and a sense of grand social transience.