ruins of a monumental church linked to the medieval Nubian kingdom discovered in Sudan | Smart News
Archaeologists from northern Sudan have uncovered the ruins of a cathedral that was probably the seat of Christian power in the Nubian kingdom of Makurie 1000 years ago.
As the Art journalEmi Eleode reports, the remains, discovered in the underground citadel of the capital of Makuria, Old Dongola, possibly the largest church ever found in Nubia. Researchers say the structure was 85 feet wide and about as tall as a three-story building. The walls of the apse of the cathedral, the most sacred part of the building, were painted in the 10th or early 11th century with portraits believed to represent the Twelve Apostles, Jesse Holth reports for ARTnews.
“Its size is important, but so is the location of the building – in the heart of the 200 hectare city, the capital of the Combined Kingdoms of Nobadia and Makuria ”, explains the archaeologist Arthur Obluski, director of the Polish Center for Mediterranean Archeology (PCMA) at the University of Warsaw, which carried out the excavations, in a declaration.
The team found the site in February using remote sensing technology. But as Obluski tells the Art Journal, he and his colleagues had “not expected to find a church but rather a town square that could have been used for community prayers.” Previously, researchers believed that a church outside the city walls served as Old Dongola’s cathedral.
Just east of the apse of the church, archaeologists found the dome of a large tomb. The layout reflects that of Faras Cathedral, another Nubian town located north of Old Dongola near the modern border of Sudan and Egypt. But the dome of the newly discovered complex is much larger – about 24 feet in diameter, compared to Faras’s tomb, which is only about 5 feet in diameter. Extrapolating from the tomb of Faras, which belonged to Joannes, the bishop of Faras, Obluski says that Old Dongola’s tomb could be that of an archbishop.
Salim Faraji, a specialist in medieval Nubia at California State University, Dominguez Hills, who was not involved in the excavations, recounts Dark AtlasMatthew Taub that the find “is not at all surprising given that Old Dongola was the seat of a powerful Christian kingdom in medieval Nubia which conducted foreign diplomacy with Muslim Egypt, Byzantium and the Holy Roman Empire.”
Through Encyclopedia of World History, the kingdom of Makuria was a great power in the region between the 6th and 14th centuries AD. Old Dongola, located on the Nile, became an important city from the 6th century. Its inhabitants used waterwheels to irrigate the land for agricultural purposes. Following a truce 652 known as Baqt, the Christian kingdom enjoyed an essentially peaceful relationship with Egypt for six centuries. Muslims received protection during their passage through the kingdom and were allowed to pray in a mosque in Old Dongola. With Egypt, Makuria traded with the Byzantine Empire and Ethiopia.
Obluski tells Dark Atlas that Makuria was a “fairy tale kingdom” that has now been largely forgotten. At its peak, it was as large as Spain and France combined; Old Dongola was as big as modern Paris at one time. The kingdom “stopped the advances of Islam in Africa for several hundred years”, even as the Muslims “conquered half of the Byzantine Empire”, Obluski adds.
Among the best-known Makurian period sites of Old Dongola is the Throne Room, a royal building later transformed into a mosque. Archaeologists have also discovered large villas that belonged to state and church officials. The city housed dozens of churches whose interior walls were painted with frescoes, some of which are now on display in the national museum in Khartoum. Old Dongola is also known for the beehive shape islamic tombs built after Mamluks of Egypt took over the region at the beginning of the 14th century.
Researchers are now working with an art conservation and restoration team to secure the church‘s paintings and possibly prepare them for display.
“In order to continue the excavations, the weakened and chipped wall plaster covered with decorative paint must be reinforced, then carefully cleaned of layers of earth, dirt and salt deposits which are particularly harmful to the murals”, explains Krzysztof Chmielewski, which heads the curatorial efforts of the Warsaw Academy of Fine Arts, in the statement. “When a suitable roof is erected over this precious find, it will be possible to begin the final aesthetic conservation of the paintings.”