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Tour in Catacombs of Kom el Shoqafa - Wonder of Medival World


An exclusive Tour in Catacombs of Kom el Shoqafa - Wonder of Medival World

Tour in Catacombs of Kom el Shoqafa - Wonder of Medival World

Catacomb of Kom el Shoqafa Location

It's location in one of the most popular areas in Alexandria called Karmouz, it's close to the ancient Serapeum temple, and pompey pillaron the borders of the western cemetery in ancient AlexandriaIn the ancient time, Alexandria was divided into 3 parts, part which was dedicated to the Greeks, part for the Egyptians, and part for the Jews, the part in which the Egyptians lived was the village of Raqouda, which is now Kom el Shoqafa.

Why is the Catacombs of Kom el Shoqafa a wonder?

  • It had a great importance due to its vastness, abundance of its decoration and the complexity of its planning, it considered to be one of the finest and clearest examples of the intermingling of ancient Egyptian art and Roman art, and it is considered to be one of the finest examples of funerary architecture in Alexandria, in addition to it is the oldest unique Roman, and the largest general Roman cemetery that was found in Alexandria, it was one of the Seven Wonders of the Medival world.

why this site called Kom el Shoqafa?

The word (Kom-El-Shoqafa) it's an Arabic word, which means (Mount of the Shards), in this area there were many cemeteries, and the ancient Egyptians had a Pharaonic habit which was holding a banquet for the visitors of the deceased in the cemetery after the burial of the deceased, but there was a custom they took it from the Romans, that they did not take the pottery vessels in which they used in the cemeteries to their homes, as they believed that this was bringing evil spirits to their homes, and it would change their lives into worse, So they were broken these pottery vessels in this site, due to the large number of funeral banquets in this place, there were large number of broken vessels, so cleaning these place from shards took about three years, therefore this area was called Kom Al-Shuqafa which mean  the mount of the broken shards.

why this site called Catacomb?

The name of Catacomb  is a term used for graves excavated under the earth's surface, as the word Catacomb (cta meaning below, comb meaning cavity), due to the similarity in planning between it, and the Christian catacomb tombs in Rome it was called catacomb, it was a private tomb, but later it converted to public cemetery.

catacombs of kom el shoqafa history

  • These site was discovered by chance on September 28, 1900this coincidence was made by a donkey, as it was fallen into the main hole of the tomb at a depth of 12 meters, while they were looking for the cause of the donkey's fall, they have known that there were monuments in this site, the excavation had begun in this area since 1892, and it was opened to the public in 1995, after groundwater was withdrawn from the second floor.

Who built the catacombs of Kom El Shoqafa?

  • It was designated for an aristocratic Roman family living in Alexandria in the middle of the second century AD, not designated for a royal family, and because it was a wealthy family, they spent lavishly on designing the cemetery in the Pharaonic style, so, they used engineers to dig the tomb, and build the well, and professional painters to paint in i's walls with Pharaonic and Roman drawings, the cemetery continued to be used later until fourth century AD, by adding many corridors and halls to it, until it became one of the largest mass graves in Alexandria.

  • Its dug into the solid rock to a depth of about 35 m (about 115 ft), the cemetery consists of three floors including the first and second floors are opened to visit, while the third  are flooded with ground water.

Catacombs of Kom El Shoqafa description

Tour in Catacombs of Kom el Shoqafa - Wonder of Medival World

The Entrance consists of a spiral staircase with 91 steps, lead to three floors, the steps of the lower staircase are higher than the steps of the upper staircase, as the height of the steps gradually decreases until they almost disappear when approaching the surface of the earth, this was a genius design from the engineer  to make the visitors of the deceased not feel tired while climbing the stairs, as for lighting the stairs, it came through small rectangular openings in the wall on the sides of the stairs.

  • From these rectangular openings, the family and friends of the deceased stand to see the process of farewell to the deceased, the spiral staircase revolves around a well, it is about 30 meters deep with a vaulted ceiling, the well was used to lower the mummy, to prevent any damage to it, as the stairs were too narrow, to allow  for the mummy to pass through it.

Tour in Catacombs of Kom el Shoqafa - Wonder of Medival World


  • The staircase leads to a vestibule with two Niches on both sides, the top of each niche take the shape of a seashell, as it symbolizes to the beauty god Aphrodite, as it is believed that she was created in a seashell, while the inferior part contains a half round bench, cut into the rock which was used by the visitors to take some rest after descending the stairs of the tomb. 

Tour in Catacombs of Kom el Shoqafa - Wonder of Medival World

Catacombs of kom el shoqafa map

Tour in Catacombs of Kom el Shoqafa - Wonder of Medival World

Tour in Catacombs of Kom el Shoqafa - Wonder of Medival World


  • The vestibule leads to a circular hall called the "Rotunda", it's  Latin word, means a circle, in the center of this hall there is a well-leading to the 2nd story of the tomb, it is surrounded by a small enclosure wall called the "parapet", on top of which is a dome supported by six pillars, there were Five heads of statues made out of Alabaster were found in that place, and they now put on display in the Greco-Roman Museum in Alexandria Egypt, to the left of the rotunda there is a corridor which leads to a chamber called Triclinium.

Triclinium (funerary banquet hall)

Tour in Catacombs of Kom el Shoqafa - Wonder of Medival World

Triclinium (funerary banquet hall) is located off the rotunda, it was cut into the rock, and it was used by relatives of the deceased, to eat meals in the different festivities in honour of the dead, such as  (The birthday of the deceased, Roses festival).

The ceiling of the hall is supported by 4 pillars, 2 pillars of them which faced the entrance, provided with openings to hold lamps to light the hall.

The hall contains three benches takes the shape of the U letter, there is a passage around the benches, to allow the servants to move easily (This was some kind of etiquette), in front of the benches there was a wooden table in the middle of the room, but it was completely disappeared now, these hall was similar to the dining halls of wealthy Roman homes.

Tour in Wonder of Medival World

Tour in Catacombs of Kom el Shoqafa - Wonder of Medival World

From the central rotunda, there are stairs consist of 15 steps, lead down to the second floor, as the main burial chamber located, while the ceiling of the staircase is decorated with a shell, which symbolizing the goddess Aphrodite.

Façade of  the main chamber in Catacombs of Kom el Shoqafa 

Tour in Catacombs of Kom el Shoqafa - Wonder of Medival World

Facade of the main burial chamber was similar to the façade of the ancient Egyptian temples, there are two composite columns, the facade consist of mixture elements between Egyptian, and Greco-Roman art, 

The Egyptian elements represented in the winged sun disk, the Falcon God Horus, and cobra, While the Greco-Roman elements was represented in two giant serpents called Agathodaemon were carved, holding staff caduceus, and wearing the double crown of Egypt, Agathodaemon, meanwhile, is Greek god associated with good food and plenty, which is a reference to funeral rites that included feasting in the tomb, above each one there is shield, it was decorated with the head of Medusa.

Tour in Catacombs of Kom el Shoqafa - Wonder of Medival World

The Myth of Medusa 

The Myth of Medusa said that, Medusa was a beautiful girl, but she had sex with Poseidon in the temple of god Athena, that made god Athena angry from her, so, she was cursed by turning her into ugly woman, and turned her hair to snakes, not that only, she makes everyone who looked to Medusa eyes was cursed also, by turning them into stone, t

Tour in Catacombs of Kom el Shoqafa - Wonder of Medival World

On both sides of  the entrance of the main burial chamber, there are 2 niches, with two statues, one of them belongs to a man insides a niche, and the other is a woman, both statues were sculpted with features from the Egyptian art such as the clothes, and features from the Roman art, such as the curly hair style, and the Facial features.

Tour in Catacombs of Kom el Shoqafa - Wonder of Medival World

Tour in Catacombs of Kom el Shoqafa - Wonder of Medival World

Main burial chamber

  • The Main burial chamber considered to be the heart of the place, it is the most luxurious burial tomb had ever discovered in Alexandria, the owner of the tomb is unknown because there was no inscription in it, but it's possible that the ruler of Alexandria in the 2nd century was the owner of it because it is so unique,it has a vaulted roof supported by four square pillars, whose capitals take the shape of Papyrus.

The sarcophaguses

There are three sarcophaguses in the main burial chamber, the main coffin was for the father, the second for the mother, and the third for the son or the eldest daughter, it were made from sand stone, the sarcophagusesand its lid were cut completely from one block of rock, now we have to ask an important question, how they put the deceased in the sarcophagus, while it was made from one block of stone?!, the body of the deceased was placed in the sarcophagus through an opening in the back wall of the tomb, then, it was blocked with stone after burying the deceasedthe sarcophagus was decorated with a skull of a bull, which was symbolizing offerings and sacrifice, as well as clusters of grapes as it was intended to bring happiness to the deceased in the eternity life.

Tour in Catacombs of Kom el Shoqafa - Wonder of Medival World

Tour in Catacombs of Kom el Shoqafa - Wonder of Medival World

Above the sarcophagus, there is an important scene which representing a funeral bed, it takes the shape of lion wears the crown of god osiris, between the two legs of the lion, there is a feather of goddess Maat, she symbolizes to justice, the deceased was placed on the bed, in order to be mummifiedunder the bed there are  group of pottery vessels were placed in which the parts of the most damaged bodies removed from the body, such as (the heartbrainviscera and lungs) were reserved in these jars called Canopic jars, originally there were supposed to be four jars, but here they are 3 jars only, most likely the artist did not find enough space to represent the 4th jar, because the body of Anubis is occupying this space. 

  • Next to this bed, the god Anubis represented in a scene holding a jar in his left hand, that is supposed to contain some liquids, that were used during mummification, while his right hand is touching the mummyAnubis is wearing a Roman dress and on top of his head is the sun disk with a cobra on each side.

There is another scene depicting an emperor, who is offering the feather of Maat (Maat was a goddess of justice in ancient Egypt) to a God  Ptah, between them there is an altar in the shape of the lotus flower, it was noted, that the feather of Maat was an ostrich feather because it was the only feather have two equal sides from it's beginning to the end, the ancient Egyptian thought this represents justice.
On the right of the coffin, there is a scene of the deceased appears in front of the goddess Isis to make offerings to her, holding a page of papyrus expressing the good deeds he did throughout his life.

Tour in Catacombs of Kom el Shoqafa - Wonder of Medival World

  • The walls to the right and to the left, there is another scene represent a Roman emperor wearing his crown, and presents offerings to the bull god (Apis), while Isis the ancient Egyptian god standing with her wings, to protect the deceased in the other world.

Tour in Catacombs of Kom el Shoqafa - Wonder of Medival World

Tour in Catacombs of Kom el Shoqafa - Wonder of Medival World

On both sides of the doorway, there are two statues of Anubis (the god of the dead), it was unusually here represented with a dragon’s tail, he holds weapons such as a shield, and a spear in his hands, to protect the tomb, and turns towards the entrance.

It is interesting to know, that the atmosphere inside this cemetery is always moderate, even in the winter or summer, and the reason for this phenomenon is not known yet, after getting out from this room, there are 2 corridors, one in the east and the other in the west, each one leading to many Luculi, they are more than 300 (loculi).


Tour in Catacombs of Kom el Shoqafa - Wonder of Medival World

Loculi  is considered to be a tomb, it was used by poor people, to bury their deceased in later era, as they were not rich enough to build their own tombs like the real owner of this cemetery, it is consist of holes in the walls, it was arranged in rows on top of each other, everyone was closed by a slab.

Hall of Caracalla

The current entrance to the Hall of Caracalla is not the real one, as in antiquity this part was completely separate from Catacomb tomb, what is interesting to know, that these interconnected passages, was made by grave robbers, at the moment, the original entrance is closed.

The famous Roman Emperor Caracalla ruled Egypt in 215 BC, and he was short in stature, fat, and issued many comic laws, which made the youth of Alexandria mock him, which made the emperor angry, he decided to take revenge on them, by organizing a massacre for them, so he invited them to a big banquet in  Stadium of Alexandria, as they were more than (20 thousand) Alexandria's youth, then, he ordered his soldiers to slaughter them all mercilessly, to be an example to all who mock from the  Emperor, this considered to be the first massacre in human history.

Naming this hall  (Hall of Caracalla) was a mistake, as the matter was confused by the discoverers of the place, when they found bones, they mistakenly thought that it was belongs to the bones of the Alexandrian youth, who were ordered to be slaughtered by the emperor, the correct name of this place is the hall of the goddess Nemes, which was the goddess of equestrian, and races in the Roman era, there is a glass box full of horse bones, belongs to the holy horses which won races during the Roman era. 

Tour in Catacombs of Kom el Shoqafa - Wonder of Medival World

Inside the hall there is a part without a roof in which there was an altar for offerings (it's  not the original), there are two doors in this hall, one leading outside, and the other leading to a well where rainwater collects, and both are closed now.

Tour in Catacombs of Kom el Shoqafa - Wonder of Medival World

Some important tips that the tourist guide must say it, before starting this particular tour.

  1. We don’t recommend the visit for people who have problems with narrow, and deep areas, or claustrophobic problems.
  2. The tomb is like a puzzle with many tiny rooms, and corridors, so make sure to follow the guide, to avoid lost inside it.
  3. The Cameras are not allowed inside the Catacombs, so you can either leave it on the bus, or keep it in the lockbox beside the ticket office.
  4. There is no cell phone signal inside the Catacombs, so make sure that if you have an important call or SMS to finish it just before you take your first step down.

catacombs of kom el shoqafa entrance fee

80 LE for foreigners, 40 LE for foreigners student, 20 LE for Egyptian, 5 LE for Egyption students



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Asmaa Ahmed

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