"Catacombs of Kom el Shoqafa are a subterranean funeral complex all cut into bedrock!"
Visiting Alexandria Egypt is a great chance to see not one but two wonders of the world! First, you will be visiting the ancient Pyramids, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.
And then, if your Mediterranean ship is having an overnight, make sure you visit Kom el Shoqafa catacombs, one of Alexandria attractions and one of the Wonders of the Middle Ages!
The Catacombs of Kom el Shoqafa are a subterranean funeral complex all cut into bedrock! Considering they were built during the 1st century AD (the age of the Antonine emperors) the whole construction is quite mind-blowing! Great technological expertise is needed to engineer something like this, not just in those times but today, too!
As you start descending down the 99 steps spiralling around a shaft, the air will be getting thicker and damper and this will be a good indicator you're going deep...actually the depth is equal to a 5 storey building!
As you get all the way down, there will be three underground levels all equipped for funerary ritual and entombment.
You will see a rotunda (circular hall with dome), the triclinium or banquet hall with 3 benches where friends and family of the deceased ones used to feast, a vestibule, an antechamber and the burial chambers with sarcophagi carved in stone.
At first, the catacombs of Kom el Shoqafa were a single family's burial place but with time they became a mass burial site.
What's really interesting about the catacombs of Kom el Shoqafa is that they were constructed at the time when Egyptian culture influences were still felt, but Greek and Roman were dominant in this city. That is all evident in the decorations that were found in the catacombs including: magnificent statues, images, ornate carvings, sculptured pillars...
They are all done in Egyptian style but have little surprising twists that make them really unique: for example, a human figure may have an Egyptian pose but wear Roman clothes or hairstyles!
Used in the 4th century AD for the last time, the Catacombs of Kom el Shoqafa were hidden for almost 2 millenia, more precisely until 1900! Popular belief is that it was a donkey we can thank for their discovery...namely, a donkey pulling a cart collapsed into one of the underground chambers.
But on the other hand there is a more veritable story that says that there was a local man quarrying stone who came across one of the recesses. He urgently informed the local museum, asking for an inspection, hoping to get permission to keep on working. However, that never happened...the catacombs of Kom el Shoqafa turned out to be too much of a sensation!
One of the ways to visit this fascinating funeral complex is by taking one of the ship organized excursions, one of the private Alexandria tours you can book online or you can simply hire a taxi at the Alexandria port. The catacombs of Kom el Shoqafa are a mere 10-15 minutes ride from the cruise ship terminal.
If you will be taking one of the Alexandria taxis, keep in mind you will need some local money to enter the site. Ask your taxi driver and he will be more than happy to exchange some money for you and save you some time waiting at the bank.
Second thing you should keep in mind when entering the site is you will be asked to leave your camera at the ticket booth! As camera flashes damage the ancient frescos, do not smuggle the camera inside!
Catacombs of Kom el Shoqafa are open daily from 9:00 am - 4:30 pm.
Admission fee: 35 Egyptian Pounds.
As these get visited by numerous tourists on tour during the day, this underground space which is quite claustrophobic in the first place can get even more so with all the people surrounding you. That's why we suggest you come here first thing in the morning and beat the crowds.
Also, the lower levels are often flooded and you may need to walk over wooden planks so make sure you wear some closed shoes that can get wet or dirty.