Catacombs of Kom El Shuqqafa
The Underground Tombs In Alexandria
Situated near Pompey’s Pillar, the Catacombs of Kom El Shuqafa is the largest Greco-Roman Necropolis in Egypt. It consists of a labyrinth of Graeco-Roman tombs dating to the first two centuries AD. This complex warren of tombs, discovered in 1900 on Abu Mansur Street in the Karmouz area, were cut into the rock beneath the modern city.
It is well known that the Catacomb was discovered in 1900 when a donkey accidentally fell into the access shaft. The rest of Catacombs of Kom El Shuqafa was founded through digging deep into the ground for more than 35 meters forming a necropolis of 3 levels with the lowest being inaccessible nowadays due to the flood of the water.
Access down a spiral stairway leads to three levels of burials dating to different periods in antiquity, although the original tombs may have belonged to just one wealthy Alexandrian family. The central shaft leads to a vestibule with vaulted niches and to the Rotunda, a secondary shaft with a domed ceiling. A doorway to the left passes into the Triclinium, a large pillared hall with stone couches which was used for funerary banquets.
To the east of the Rotunda is a separate large hall known as the ‘Hall of Caracalla’, said to contain the bones of young Christians who were massacred by that emperor in 215 AD (but with no historical basis). Beyond this hall is a burial chamber painted with scenes of Isis and Nephthys protecting the mummy of Osiris on a couch in the Egyptian style. To the north of the Rotunda, a stairway leads down to a lower story which contains the most interesting tombs. Here are many galleries of loculi (where the deceased were placed) and the walls of the main tomb are decorated in a fusion of Egyptian and Graeco-Roman themes, dating back to the Emperors Domitian and Trajan.
Egyptian symbols such as the winged sun-disc and uraeus mingle with Hellenistic elements such as the pine-cone staff of Dionysus. Flanking the entrance to the burial chamber are carved reliefs of Anubis and Seth-Typhon in the guise of Roman legionaries.
Again we can see the image of the deceased lying on a funerary couch protected by Egyptian deities amid the decoration of floral garlands and Medusa heads. Not far from the entrance to the Kom El-Shuqafa catacombs are the ‘Tigraine Tomb’ and the ‘Wardian Tomb’ from the western necropolis complex which has been relocated and reconstructed here and again contains decoration in pharaonic and Greek style.