The Kom El Shoqafa Catacombs, are an archaeological site based in Alexandria which was nominated as one of the 7 wonders of the medieval world. The necropolis is formed by a series of tombs, statues and objects of different styles from the Mediterranean areas. There are references to the funeral cult of the Pharaohs of ancient Egypt, to the Arabic world, Greek influences and about the Roman Empire.

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Some of these statues still present in the site have Roman clothes, others are typically Egyptian and some other are a mixture of both. To access the tombs there is a flight of stairs, used in ancient times to carry corpses and that leads to the tombs dating back to the Roman Adoptive emperors, 2nd century AD.

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The sepulchre was then used continuously from the 2nd to the 4th century then it was completely forgotten until mid 1900, when it was discovered by a donkey, which accidentally fell right into it.

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The sarcophagi inside the catacombs are 3, along with the remains of other humans and animals who were buried there subsequently. The catacombs were probably reserved to just one family, but it is not clear why they got enlarged to host many other individuals. Amongst those there are Caracalla’s victims in the room with his name, citizens of Alexandria who got slaughtered by the Roman emperor in 215 AD.

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The historical episode of Caracalla is meaningful:  Julia Domina, Caracalla’s mother, was laughed at by the Alexandrians who were comparing her to the Jocasta, accusing her of an incestuous relationship with her son, even though never proven. The son, to avenge the satire which involved his mother, gave the order to his soldiers to kill all the inhabitants of the city. He slayed the council but also poor people, women and children on the streets and in the houses of Alexandria. Not entirely satisfied, he ordered the construction of a wall in the middle of the city with his soldiers on top of it, so that the citizens could not communicate one another. In little time, although the madness of the Roman emperor, Alexandria came back to be the 2nd most beautiful city of the Empire after Rome.

Source: “Storia universale dal principio del mondo…Vol.15

The catacombs were in the Western Necropolis of Alexandria and it was spreading within 3 levels carved into the rock in which the 3rd is nowadays completely flooded. The first level has a central area which unfolds into 6 branches, and in its central part there is a triclinium, equipped with rocky seats once covered with cushions, used by the relatives to feast during a burial or while there was some funeral celebration.

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The stone stairs conduct to the 2nd level, which has been made wonderful by the many sculptures and friezes. There are lotus leaves and acanthus, low relief of Egyptian Gods, figures with Greek and Roman clothes on. On this level there are 3 enormous sarcophagi made out of stone with fixed lids. The lids as well were made in stone, so in order to place the corpses inside, it is believed that they were put through inside the sarcophagus from an opening facing the outside. A corridor hosts 91 cavities which could welcome up until 3 mummies each.

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Below: one of the access points with columns and low relief. Picture by Roland Unger shared via Wikipedia – licence Creative Commons

Below: some cavities for burials. Picture by Rüdiger Stehn shared via Wikipedia – licence Creative Commons

Below: the Egyptians Gods guard the buried ones. Picture by Jerrye & Roy Klotz, MD cshared via Wikipedia – licence Creative Commons

Below: one of the 3 sarcophagi with Egyptian decorations. Picture by  Roland Unger shared via Wikipedia – licence Creative Commons

Below: some cavities ready to host mummies. Picture by Rüdiger Stehn shared via Wikipedia – licence Creative Commons

Below: the entrance to the catacombs from the outside. Picture by Roland Unger shared via Wikipedia – licence Creative Commons

* The 7 Wonders of the Medieval World were chosen during the end of the 800’s and the beginning of the new century and they include the structures like the Kom El Shoqafa catacombs as well as the Colosseum and Stonehenge, even though thy have very little to do with the period known as “Middle Ages” going between 476 AD and 1492.

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Matteo Rubboli

I am a publisher specialised in the digital distribution of culture and founder of the portal Vanilla Magazine. I don't wear a tie or branded clothes, I keep my hair short so I don't have to comb it. That's not my fault but just the way I've been drawn as...

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