When you think of ancient Egypt, chances are that very specific images float through your mind. Perhaps you conjure up thoughts of creepy mummies or that ever-mystical sphinx.
However, there is more to the history of Egypt than its legends; it’s what lies waiting within its tombs. In its day, Egyptian cities like Alexandria were home to a unique combination of cultural influences.
One of the best examples of this is the tomb of Kom el Shoqafa. The story of how it was discovered is almost impossible to believe, but once you hear it, you’ll be amazed!
According to legend, the tomb of Kom el Shoqafa was thought to be lost forever. That is, until a donkey got involved. According to the story, a donkey that had been walking over the site fell through the earth, thus revealing this impressive forgotten tomb.
Local records don’t seem to mention the donkey that made this discovery, which makes it seem like an old wives’ tale at best. According to the records, in 1900, Monsieur Es-Sayed Aly Gibarah reported the rediscovered tomb to a local museum. He claimed to have been digging for stones nearby when he spotted the opening in the ground.
Archaeologists were skeptical at first, but they set out to investigate the site just to be safe. What they found blew them away. The tomb of Kom el Shoqafa turned out to be the largest burial site ever discovered from the Greco-Roman period. What made it even more special were the artifacts from various cultures that they found within the tomb.
Alexandria’s history is a unique one. When Alexander the Great founded the city 331 BCE, it was the first time that both Greek and Egyptian culture began to coexist. The city became a sophisticated center for learning, culture, and the arts. That tradition of shared cultures continued when the Romans conquered the city in 30 BCE.
The Kom el Shoqafa catacombs were thought to have been utilized in the 2nd century AD. There are almost no other sites on Earth that showcase a combination of Egyptian, Greek, and Roman influences, which makes this tomb a spectacular find.
The tomb gets its name, Kom el Shoqafa, from the ancient Greeks. It loosely translates to mean “mound of shards.” It earned this name for the piles of broken pottery that once carried food and drinks that would be left behind by visitors to the tomb.
When it was first made, Kom el Shoqafa was most likely just a tomb for one particular family. Over time, however, that changed, and more bodies were buried in it. Tombs like Kom el Shoqafa used to make up a huge part of what was known as the Necropolis, or the City of the Dead, which was comprised of a system of catacombs that was believed to have existed in Western Alexandria.
Archaeologists believe that Kom el Shoqafa was once topped by a massive funeral chapel above the surface of the tomb. However, now only an 18-foot opening is all that remains of this once impressive structure. They believe this shaft was equipped with a pulley system to help lower the dead into their tomb.
The top-most level of the tomb of Kom el Shoqafa no longer contains much, but the secondary level contains a wealth of ancient Greek influences. There is a temple in the ancient Greek style, followed by other architectural indicators of Greek influence.
The tomb of Kom el Shoqafa is one of the most well-preserved burial sites in all of Egypt. What makes it so special is this unique blend of cultures. It is also part of the reason why the tomb has been called one of the seven wonders of the Middle Ages!
Whether it was discovered by a clumsy donkey or a man digging for stones, what really matters is just how exceptional this find is. What an important part of ancient history! Thank goodness it was rediscovered.
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