The Kom el Shoqafa catacombs of Alexandria were lost to the world for many centuries until discovered accidentally in 1900. The oft-cited tale of their discovery, that a donkey fell through the ceiling from the road above, may or may not be true.
The catacombs were carved from the bedrock in the 2nd century CE and used for about 200 years. They consist of three levels, with a central shaft. A funerary temple likely also stood on the surface over the tunnel entrance. A staircase winds around the shaft, which may have been used to lower bodies of the deceased to their final resting place. On the first level below the surface, there is a banquet hall, the Triclinium, where families of the deceased would feast at the time of burial and on periodic visits thereafter. The name of the catacombs, Kom el Shoqafa, translates to pile of shards, which refers to the large amounts of broken pottery found at the site. The pottery containing food for the funerary and memorial feasts was broken and left behind because it was considered tainted by the place of death. The 2nd and 3rd levels hold burial niches and chambers, including the so-called Hall of Caracalla, which contains the mass burial of Christians slaughtered by the Roman emperor Caracalla. The 3rd level is currently inaccessible due to flooding.
Kom el Shoqafa was built at a time of convergence of three cultures – Egyptian, Greek and Roman; and the unique, hybrid style of architecture and art within the necropolis may be its most interesting feature. Egyptian-style sarcophagi have been found, as well as niches for the remains of those who followed the Greek and Roman tradition of cremation.
We recommend visiting Kom el Shoqafa with a licensed guide.