The monuments of Musawwarat es Sufra are the remains of a singular sacred site with numerous temples and other structures dating mainly to the Meroitic period (c. 300 BC-AD 350). The well-preserved site is located in the dry savannah of the Butana, far from modern settlement along the Nile. Several artificial water reservoirs helped sustain Musawwarat and its people. The largest of these ‘hafirs’ measures 200m (660ft) in diameter.
In the heart of Musawwarat is the so-called Great Enclosure, a unique building complex of temples and terraces, surrounded by a maze of interconnected courtyards, passageways and ramps. Excavations have shown that it was re-built and extended periodically. The function of the Great Enclosure is still much debated and various suggestions as to its purpose have been put forward. These include a school, a hospital, an elephant taming station, a pilgrimage site, a hunting castle, the main sanctuary of the lion god Apedemak, or a national shrine. Today it is generally accepted that the monuments of Musawwarat were part of an important religious centre and that it attracted visitors from afar – even from beyond the Meroitic realm.