Catacombs of Kom El shoqafa

Catacombs of Kom El shoqafa

Catacombs (meaning underground tunnels) lie in the district of Karmouz to the east of Alexandria. The area was called Kom El-Shouqafa or a pile of shards. The cemetery dates back to the 1st century A.D and was used until the 4th century A.D. It was discovered in 1900 when by pure chance, a donkey drawn cart fell into a pit, which led to the discovery. 


These tombs were tunneled into the bedrock in the age of the Antonine emperors (2nd century A.D.) for a single wealthy family still practicing the ancient religion. As a privately financed project, it is an engineering feat of some magnitude. The Catacombs in Alexandria are so called because the design was very similar to the Christian Catacombs in Rome. It was a private tomb, then converted to a public cemetery. It consists of 3 levels cut into the rock, a rotunda, a staircase, 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.

Though the funerary motifs are pure ancient Egyptian, the architects and artists were schooled in the Greco-Roman style. Applied to the themes of Ancient Egyptian religion, it has resulted in an amazing integrated art, quite unlike anything else in the world. A winding staircase descends several levels deep into the ground, with little chapels opening from it, furnished with benches to accommodate visitors or mourners bringing offerings. There are niches cutouts to hold sarcophagi.

There are two main chambers which are the Vestibule and the Central Tomb Chamber. They are lit by a single electric light bulb that throws the chamber into green, a perfect staging for that composite art. In the center of the facade, the familiar solar disk is carved below frieze of serpents. Left and right are two serpents wearing the crowns of upper and Lower Egypt.
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