World Monuments Watch

Site History and Significance

An Ancient Burial Ground

Located on a small plateau adjacent to the Nile River in Nubia, the site of Nuri became a royal burial ground for the ancient kingdom of Kush starting in the middle of the seventh century BCE. During this time, five Kushite rulers gave Egypt its 25th Dynasty of pharaohs, also known as the Nubian Dynasty or the Black Pharaohs. The founder of the dynasty, Piye, built a pyramid for himself in the royal cemetery at El-Kurru, reviving the ancient Egyptian tradition of pyramid-building after a long period of dormancy. One of his sons, Taharqa, chose the new site of Nuri for his own pyramid, and many of his successors were also buried at the site, as were other royals of Kush. Over time the site hosted hundreds of burials, even after the Kushite capital moved. 

Today, Nuri is seen as a rich archaeological landscape, where Kushite and Egyptian legacies merged with later Hellenistic and Roman influences, indigenous African traditions, as well as Christian, Arab, and Ottoman histories. This view of Nuri and ancient Nubia reverses the racial prejudice of some modern scholarship, which often dismissed Nubian accomplishment as a mere reflection of Egyptian cultural influence. 

A Rising Tourism Destination Threatened by Groundwater

The site is poised to attract visitors as more foreign tourists travel to Sudan, but the pyramids are in urgent need of protection to ensure their survival. Wind-driven sand slowly erodes their sandstone surfaces, especially those most exposed. More dramatically, rising groundwater at Nuri has inundated rock-cut burial chambers lying beneath the sandstone pyramids. The increase in the water table is a complex phenomenon, affected by natural and human forces, including irrigation for agriculture. The prospect that more land will come under cultivation in the near future due to the effects of climate change on food production is all the more worrying. 

2022 World Monuments Watch

Joining Sudan’s National Corporation for Antiquities and Museums and the Nuri Archaeological Expedition, an international group of Nuri scholars who carry out research at the site, the 2022 World Monuments Watch represents an effort to preserve the monuments of Nuri in the context of threatening external forces exacerbated by climate change, while also paving the way for future tourism that can benefit neighboring communities.

Learn More

Through the World Monuments Watch, WMF collaborates with local partners to design and implement targeted conservation programs—including advocacy, planning, education, and physical interventions in the historic built environment—to improve human well-being through cultural heritage preservation. 

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Last updated: March 2022.

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