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Egypt: Catacombs of Kom es-Shouqafa in Alexandria in Egypt


The Catacombs of Kom El-Shouqafa

The Catacoms of Kom es-Shouqafa


These tombs were tunneled into the bedrock in the age of the Antonine emperors (2nd century A.D.) for a single wealthy family still practicing the ancient religion. As a privately financed project, it is an engineering feat of some magnitude. These tombs represent the last existing major construction for the sake of the old Egyptian religion. They are alone worth the trip to Alexandria. Though the funerary motifs are pure ancient Egyptian, the architects and artists were schooled in the Greco-Roman style. Applied to the themes of Ancient Egyptian religion, it has resulted in an amazing integrated art, quite unlike anything else in the world.

A winding staircase descends several levels deep into the ground, with little chapels opening from it, furnished with benches to accommodate visitors or mourners bringing offerings. There are niches cutout to hold sarcophagi.

Vestibule and Central Tomb Chamber

These are the main chambers. They are lit by a single electric light bulb that throws the chamber into green, a perfect staging for that composite art. In the center of the facade, the familiar solar disk is carved below frieze of serpents. Left and right are two serpents wearing the crowns of upper and lower Egypt. These are not the lithe cobras of Saqqara or Thebes. They seemed to be designed as modern book comics. In the Tomb Chamber, the dead lies on a lion-shaped bier attended by Horus, Thoth, Anubis, and other familiar funerary deities and funerary equipment: Canopic jars, the priest in his panther skin, and the king making an offering to the deceased in the form of Osiris. These figures are rendered in Greco-Roman style. To the traditional scenes are added bunches of grapes, Medusa heads, and a variety of Greek and Roman decorative devices. The overall impression conveyed is not easily analyzed and yet is unmistakable.

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