Underground Catacombs Of Alexandria: Ancient Time Capsule Which Remained Hidden For Almost Two Millennia

 Catacombs of Alexandria are the largest and most important burial site dating back to the Greco Roman period in Egypt.

They are situated in the vicinity of Pompey’s Pillar, a Roman triumphal column, and represent the largest of its type of construction that can be found outside of Rome and Constantinople.

Entrance of the principal tomb chamber. Credit: Clemens Schmillen – CC BY-SA 4.0

The catacombs (Kom El Shuqafa, which means hill of treasures), were discovered unearthed accidentally at the beginning of the 20th century when one day a donkey-drawn cart fell into a pit, which led to this important historical discovery.

The ancient place, dating back to the 2nd century AD, is indeed, particularly interesting because its architecture and decorative art have been influenced by Roman, Hellenistic, Pharaonic, and ancient Egyptian art.

The underground structure is like a time capsule, which remained hidden and undisturbed for almost 2 millennia.

Credit: Clemens Schmillen – CC BY-SA 4.0

The necropolis – underground tunnels dug inside the rock to a depth of 35 meters (115 feet) – consists of three levels, all located underground, but the lowest level of the catacombs suffered due to the flooding, which took place in the area, so it is now inaccessible.

Still, there are structures such as a spiral staircase of 99 steps, a shaft used to lower the body of the deceased by using ropes, a rotunda, a banquette hall, and a vestibule with two shell-shaped niches. In one niche to the east, there is a statue of a man, and to the west, there is a statue of a woman.

Central panel with Anubis mummifying a body. Credit: Clemens Schmillen – CC BY-SA 4.0

Both statues were sculpted with the influence of Egyptian art, with some features Greek. In the vestibule, there is an antechamber, and a burial chamber with three recesses on it; in each recess, there is a sarcophagus.

Other elements being the result of mingling cultures are the winged sun disk, the Falcon God Horus, and the Uraeus or the cobra.

The necropolis consists of a series of statues, human heads, Alexandrian tombs, and archaeological objects of the Pharaonic funeral cult, strongly influenced by the Hellenistic and early Imperial Roman periods.

Decorated sarcophagus and panel with Apus-bull. Credit: Clemens Schmillen – CC BY-SA 4.0

The catacombs were used for the last time in the 4th century AD.

The city of Alexandria was originally established by Alexander the Great, the most famous Greek King and army leader, in 332 BC and soon became the cultural and commercial center of the Mediterranean Sea region.

The Catacombs of Alexandria are the result of the mingling of the Greek and the Pharaonic cultures that lived side by side. At first, these were private tombs, which later became a public cemetery.