The Catacombs on El-Shoqafa Hill are a network of intricate underground corridors and chambers that form a real labyrinth. The tombs that are carved into the rocks lie deep beneath the modern city. They belonged to the Greeks and Romans who inhabited Alexandria in the first and second centuries, and the tombs were not discovered until 1900. We are going to visit them during our trip to Egypt.
A winding staircase leads to the catacombs and the tombs are arranged on three levels. Unfortunately, the lowest one is flooded by groundwater. The underground is dark, silent, and the air is musty. The central shaft leads to the first level, then to the vestibule and the rotunda. The passage located after the left side leads to the triclinium - a large hall, in which there were stone benches along three walls, for funeral services were organized in this room. At the end of the feast, all the utensils from which they were eaten and drunk were shattered because it was believed that it was bad luck to re-use the utensils used at the funeral. Tones of pottery scattered around the area gave the place its contemporary name - Kom El-Shoqfa, which means "hill of shells".
The room east of the rotunda is known as the Caracalla Hall. The 3rd century Roman emperor, that this was named after was famous for his cruelty to Christians. According to legend, the bones laid in the grave here belong to a young Christian who died as a result of persecution in 215.
It is worth paying attention to the burial chamber below the room. The reliefs decorating its walls depict scenes from the myth of Osiris, god of the underworld. A mummified body is lying on an Egyptian funeral bed, which is guarded by Isis, the wife of Osiris, and his sister Nephthys. Other decorated chambers are located north of the rotunda.
The most interesting graves in the whole of the catacombs are on the lower level. Steep stairs lead to them. There are many galleries with niches (in Latin loculi) where the bodies of the dead were laid. First of all, you have to see the central burial chamber. Its walls are decorated with reliefs, and the motifs shown on them are evidence of the intertwining of Greek, Roman and Egyptian cultures. Typically Egyptian elements, such as the winged sun disc or the uraeus (royal cobra), appear next to the geometric patterns characteristic of Greek art. Right at the entrance to the burial chamber, the figures of Anubis (the jackal-headed god of mummification) and the syncretic god Set-Typhon look out from reliefs. Interestingly, these gods, the first from Egyptian mythology, the second from Greek, are dressed in costumes of Roman legionnaires. The unknown author of the decorations wanted to convey that in the world of the dead, these two cultures were intertwined. On the walls you can see a relief depicting Osiris lying on a funeral bed. The decoration is complemented by floral motifs and Medusa heads, which were elements of Greek art.
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