The Catacombs of Kom Ash-Shuqqafa is another popular landmark in the city. It is also a very popular tourist attraction. The catacombs lie a short walk away from Pompey’s pillar. It was originally supposed to be our first stop, but our cab driver dropped us off at Pompey’s pillar first. It turned out to work in our favour. Pompey’s pillar involves walking around in the hot sun so getting it done earlier in the morning is more pleasant. The catacombs of Kom Ash-Shuqqafa lie underground where it much cooler.
LOCATION AND ENTRANCE FEES OF THE CATACOMBS OF KOM ASH-SHUQQAFA
The catacombs of Kom Ash-Shuqqafa lies a short distance away from Pompey’s pillar. It took us around five minutes to walk there. Being a landmark in the city, it is easy to locate, and anyone will point you in the right direction.
The entrance fees for the catacombs is EGP 60 per person. Note that cameras are not allowed inside the catacombs. One can only carry your cell phones in. Cameras are deposited with the security guard at the ticketing counter where you will be given a token to claim it once you are done.
HISTORY OF THE CATACOMBS OF KOM ASH-SHUQQAFA
The catacombs are a large Roman burial site that was accidentally discovered by a donkey in 1900. I kid you not! The donkey wandered into the catacombs and that is how people came to know about its existence. The catacombs are said to be the last great work of Roman art in the city and were constructed in the 2nd century AD. Initially meant just for one family, the catacombs expanded leading to more chambers being hacked around.
INSIDE THE CATACOMBS
The catacombs have a number of noteworthy rooms and structures. I will try to take you through them one by one. You will notice that since the catacombs flood, the wooden pathway is elevated. Mind your step as it is a little uneven and you can trip. Also mind your head because some of the arches are low.
Staircase of the Catacombs Of Kom Ash-Shuqqafa.
Entry to the catacombs is via a spiral staircase. I kind of felt as if I was walking round a well as I went down. The water collected at the base of the inner circle certainly augmented that feeling. The steps are small and flat such that it almost feels like they don’t exist. Windows in the cylindrical structure allow light to illuminate the stairways such that one does not require any artificial light.
THE MAIN TOMBS
Inside the catacombs.
Here lies the resting place of three individuals: A father, mother and child. This tomb is the most ornately done room in the entire catacombs. With gorgeous adorning the entrance and intricate artwork that honours the dead that were buried inside. You will notice that the artwork is a fusion of Egyptian, Roman and Greek beliefs that was typical of that period.
THE OTHER TOMB CHAMBERS
On either side of the main tomb chamber lies two larger rooms. The walls of which are lined by holes hacked into the wall. These rooms were carved after the main room and were used to bury the deceased. Unlike the main tombs, there is no artwork to mark the dead. Both the rooms are almost identical in their structures.
The Triclinium was a banqueting hall where the mourners held a funeral feast. It was their way in which they honoured the dead.
THE HALL OF CARACALLA
Bones inside the catacombs.
A separate staircase leads to the hall of Caracalla. Originally the Catacombs of Kom Ash-Shuqqafa and the hall of Caracalla. You will notice that the entrance that you use to access the hall passes right through a tomb and destroys it. This entrance was apparently made by tomb robbers. The hall has a set of bones which seem to be of animal origin.
The Hall of Caracalla contains a tomb where the bones of young Christians who were massacred in Caracalla were laid to rest. Along with these bones, the bones of horses were also found. You can see these bones on display inside the hall.
It is said that the network of tombs below the ground hasn’t fully been uncovered. The catacombs are certainly worth visiting if you have the time. While they may not be as grand as the ones in Luxor, these tombs talk about a different era and bear testimony to how the beliefs of two different worlds combined.