Joining the Pharos statue in Alexandria, Egypt as two of the world’s wonders, the Catacombs of Kom el Shoqafa are underground tunnels which were used as private tombs.
Unlike the Pharos which was built in c.290 BC and then destroyed in the 1300s, the Catacombs of Kom el Shoqafa were built in the 1st century AD and still exist today. In fact, they were only discovered in the year 1900 when one unfortunate donkey disappeared into an opening where the catacombs lay beneath. Even today they can be explored by the general public, who enter the tombs via a spiral staircase, where bodies were once lowered in by ropes to the chambers below. As well as well organized and beautiful tombs, there is also the Hall of Caraculla, which was essentially a mass grave.
When they were built, the Catacombs of Kom el Shoqafa were intended for the exact purpose that their name suggests: as a tomb. There are many different types of architecture found here, comprising Egyptian, Roman and Greek culture and style, which was typical of the time and of the traditions relating to tomb design in the 1st century AD. However, their original creation was intended for just one family and indeed there have been three original sarcophagi found within them. However, they were later expanded and built upon so that other people – non family members – could also be buried there, yet no archaeologists know exactly why.
Because the Catacombs of Kom el Shoqafa were covered over for so many centuries, they have been left in much the same state as when they were built. Visitors can still walk down the spiral staircase that leads onto the tombs, and see the well down the middle of these stairs where bodies were carefully lowered to their burial site. Even the designs on the walls when you reach the chamber below is still intact and certainly reminiscent of 1st century AD Egyptian style.
On this first level lies a banquet hall where the living would feast and remember the recently deceased. Also here is the gruesome Hall of Caraculla mass burial chamber where both people and animals were buried followed their death at the hands of Emperor Caracula. On a lower level, down another set of spiral stairs however, is a chamber adorned with sculptures and statues. Here there are the three sarcophagi and around the edge of this chamber there are 91 separate wall sarcophagi; each of which would fit three mummified corpses.
Considering they are many hundreds of years old, the Catacombs of Kom el Shoqafa are in incredibly good condition, and they are a great testament to the architectural style of the time.
How to Get There:
For anyone who wishes to visit these eerie, yet fascinating and awe inspiring catacombs, travel is easy. Alexandria has its very own airport (known as either Nhouza airport or Alexandria Internation airport) so you can fly directly to the area.
From the airport you can take a taxi to your hotel and then a minibus to the catacombs themselves, or alternatively one of the many double decker buses that operate in the city. Public transport is certainly recommended, as this is a tourist area where buses and trams are prevalent, and also shield you from the hot sun that you shouldn’t walk in for too long. The extensive tram network is, in fact, the oldest in Africa.
Where to Stay:
Because Alexandria is a main city in Egypt and one with a busy port, there is no shortage of budget, mid range and luxury hotels.
If you’re on a tight budget then try the Radisson Blu Hotel a little further out of the centre of the city, where rooms start at just $141 per night, or perhaps the Sheraton Hotel Montazah at $120 per night. For a great mid-range hotel, try the Sofitel Cecil Alexandria where rates are usually around $226 per night and finally, for a luxury stay take a look at the Four Seasons Hotel where the average room price is $530 per night.