The valley of Musawwarat es-Sufra

The valley of Musawwarat es Sufra is located c. 160km to the north-east of Sudan’s capital Khartoum. In contrast to most other sites of the Meroitic period, which are situated close to the banks of the Nile, Musawwarat is located about 35km inland in the dry savannah of the Butana. The monuments are located in a picturesque valley, surrounded by sandstone plateaus about one day’s journey by donkey from the live-giving river. The valley of Musawwarat is dissected by a wadi, the bed of a temporary stream, running from north-east to south-west. The water of this seasonal river in the past fed huge artificial water reservoirs, so-called hafirs, of which two had been constructed in the valley. These reservoirs helped sustain the people of Musawwarat and indeed, they were a prerequisite for the extensive building work that took place at the site. Considering the dimensions of the Great Hafir, which had been excavated in antiquity to a maximum depth of c. 15m and to a width of 200m, the water reservoirs themselves are feats of engineering.

A one-room temple dedicated to the local lion god Apedemak was erected in the immediate vicinity of the Great Hafir. The temple had collapsed already in antiquity and it was re-erected in 1970 by the first excavator of the site, Fritz Hintze. Apart from the Great and Small Hafirs, the Lion Temple and the Great Enclosure at the centre of the site, further structures marked the sacral landscape of the valley of Musawwarat: several small temples and shrines as well as the Small and Smallest Enclosures. Much of the building material for the monumental structures of Musawwarat came from sandstone quarries that are dotted around the edges of the valley and beyond. While there are plenty of religious installations in the valley of Musawwarat, there is only little evidence of habitation or of burial grounds. This suggests that the site, in contrast to its neighbour Naga, may have had primarily sacral connotations and functions.

Text: Cornelia Kleinitz (2011, last update: 01/08/2014)

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Aerial view of the Great Enclosure in the valley of Musawwarat (photo: Cornelia Kleinitz, 2008)

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Plan of the valley of Musawwarat es Sufra (plan: Archaeological Mission to Musawwarat es Sufra, 2009)