Catacombs of Kom el Shoqafa

The Catacombs of Kom el Shoqafa (meaning “Mound of Shards”) is a historical archaeological site located in Alexandria, Egypt and is considered one of the Seven Wonders of the Middle Ages.

The necropolis consists of a series of Alexandrian tombs, statues and archaeological objects of the Pharaonic funeral cult with Hellenistic and early Imperial Roman influences. Due to the time period, many of the features of the Catacombs of Kom el Shoqafa merge Roman, Greek and Egyptian cultural points; some statues are Egyptian in style, yet bear Roman clothes and hair style whilst other features share a similar style. A circular staircase, which was often used to transport deceased bodies down the middle of it, leads down into the tombs that were tunneled into the bedrock during the age of the Antonine emperors (2nd century AD). The facility was then used as a burial chamber from the 2nd century to the 4th century, before being rediscovered in 1900 when a donkey accidentally fell into the access shaft. To date, three sarcophagi have been found, along with other human and animal remains which were added later. It is believed that the catacombs were only intended for a single family, but it is unclear why the site was expanded in order to house numerous other individuals. The Catacombs of Kom el Shoqafa is, according to some lists, also one of the seven medieval wonders of the world.

One of the more gruesome features of the catacombs is the so called Hall of Caracalla. According to tradition, this is a mass burial chamber for the humans and animals massacred by order of the Emperor Caracalla in 215 AD.

The Catacombs lies on the western necropolis of Alexandria and it consists of three levels cut in the rock, the third level is completely underwater. The Catacombs has a six-pillared central shaft that opens off the vestibule. On the left there is triclinium, the funeral banquet hall where friends and family gather on stone couches covered with cushions. It is believed by the scholars that the catacombs at first were only for one family but was later expanded into a mass burial site.

Down a staircase to the second level is an area eerily alive with sculptures. In the lobby of the building two pillars are topped by the papyrus, lotus, and acanthus leaves of ancient Egypt, two falcons flanking a winged sun decorate the frieze. In the walls are carved figures of a man and a woman. The man’s body has a stiff hieratic pose as its found in ancient Egyptian sculpture while his head is in the lifelike manner of the classic Hellenes and the woman’s figure is also rigid but it sports the Roman hairstyle.

There are three huge stone coffins with non-removable covers along the sides of the chamber. It’s assumed that bodies were inserted in them from behind using a passageway that runs around the outside of the funeral chamber. There is a hallway with 91″ wall in the central tomb chamber and each one providing burial space for three mummies.

Visitors can reach the first level through a breach in the rotunda wall that way probably was not used by the original builders. This way leads to the Hall of Caracalla, in this hall the bones of horses and humans were found

The Catacombs were named Kom El Shoqafa, meaning Mound of Shards, because the area used to contain a mound of shards of terra cotta which mostly consisted of jars and objects made of clay. These objects were left by those visiting the tombs, who would bring food and wine for their consumption during the visit. However, they did not wish to carry these containers home from this place of death so they would break them. So at the time of the discovery, heaps of these broken plates were found

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