Tuesday, September 22, 2015

The Catacombs of Kom el Shoqafa

Catacombs of Kom el Shoqafa

The Catacombs of Kom el Shoqafa – `Mound of Shards’

The catacombs of Kom el Shoqafa which means `Mound of Shards’, a historical archaeological site is situated in Alexandria, Egypt and considered as one of the Seven Wonders of the Middle Ages. The name comes from heaps of broken pottery in the area and archaeologists presume that they could have been left in ancient times by the relatives who visited the tomb with food and drink with them.

Those visiting the tombs were against the idea of taking the vessels back home and would shatter them, leaving them behind in piles. Archaeologists are of the belief that the Catacomb of Kom el Shoqafa started in the second century AD and was utilised to confine the dead for the next 200 years.

This was an era in the history of the city of Alexandria when there was a mixture of various cultures and there was the ancient history of the great Egyptian kingdoms of thousands of years back. In 332 B.C. Alexandria the Great who had conquered the land, established the city and began the dynasty of Greek rulers who brought in their own culture to the metropolis. Eventually, in 31 B.C. the Romans gain control of the city and added their traditions.

Paris of Antiquity

All this made Alexandria which was the capital of Egypt by that time into what according to some was known as `The Paris of antiquity’. The elements of all three great cultures were combined by the people and though much of this seems to have disappeared from modern Alexandria, deep in Kom el Shoqafa catacombs, the intellectual blend of those times seems to be still apparent.The catacombs does not seem to be the only ones constructed in ancient Alexandria and such structures were part of a Necropolis – city of the dead which were perhaps constructed towards the western area of the town.

 Rest of the Necropolis, were probably destroyed over the centuries by new construction or earthquakes. Archaeologists presume that Kom el Shoqafa initially began as a tomb for a single wealthy family though expanded into a bigger burial site for reasons unknown. Probably the facility was ultimately run by a corporation which was maintained by members who could have paid regular dues.

Funeral Hall – `Triclinium’

In ancient times on the surface above the catacombs there was perhaps a large funerary chapel and from the remains of this structure is an 18 ft. wide, round shaft that descends into the underground structure. Running around the exterior of the shaft though separated by a wall is a spiral staircase having windows into the shaft enabling light coming in from the surface which illuminates the stairs.

It is probable that the shaft was used in lowering down the bodies of the deceased to the deeper levels through a rope and pulley system instead of being carried down the steps. There were seats caved into the stone where visitors could rest at the intersection of the uppermost undergrounds level and the stairs.

From here a small passage leads to the rotunda room that overlooks a round shaft and continues down to the lower level. Towards the left of the rotunda room is the funeral hall known as the `Triclinium’ and it is here that the relatives participate for annual ceremonial feast in honour of the dead.

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