The pyramids of Meroe in 1821 – the engravings of Frederic Cailliaud

The pyramids of Meroe, today Gebel Barkal or Mount Barkal, 100 miles north of Khartoum, were vandalised by an Italian, G. Ferlini, ca. 1832.  But between 1819 and 1822, a French explorer named Frederic Cailliaud also visited the area.  His discoveries were published in four normal-sized volumes of text, each around 400 pages, and two large atlas-sized volumes of plates, each of 75 pages,[1] all under the title Voyage à Méroé au fleuve Blanc fait dans les années 1819 à 1822, Paris (text: 1826-7; plates: 1823).  The volumes of text are online; the volumes of plates, sadly, do not seem to be.*

A few scattered plates can be found online, in variable quality images, and I thought it was worth giving these here.

First, a general view of the pyramid field, as it then was, taken from the north-east:

F. Cailliaud, Voyage a Meroe, plate XXXVI.

This photograph, via Wikimedia here, shows part of the same area today.  The three little pyramids in a line at right-angles, in the middle of both images, helps to see what is what:

Next, a view of the north-western group of pyramids, taken from the south-east (via here, which also shows the 4 vols of 2, and the 2 vols bound as 1 of plates):

Cailliaud, Voyage a Meroe, Plate LII.

Interestingly I found a photograph of the same group of pyramids today here:

Next, plate 35, which I have worked over a bit from a poor photograph, and shows a plan of the pyramid field:

Plate XXXV

And a couple more, also reworked by me, from the same source:


I am unsure, but I think this modern photograph by Olivier Maurice from here may be of one of these pyramids:

I suppose that I shall never see these pyramids, situated as they are in a troubled land; and indeed the same is true of most of us.  But it is deeply interesting to see these drawings, and the modern photographs also.

* UPDATE: a correspondent draws my attention to the fact that the two volumes of the “Atlas” are indeed online at the Biodiversity Heritage Library here and here.

  1. [1]Information on the volume of plates from the Victoria and Albert catalogue, here; sadly they have not made their copy available online.

5 thoughts on “The pyramids of Meroe in 1821 – the engravings of Frederic Cailliaud

  1. Dear Roger, if you wish to visit the pyramids of Meroe it is absolutely possible. We are a tour operator nbased in Khartoum and we arrage safe trips to this area which is absolutely beautiful. Please note that Gebel Barkal is further north-west, in the modern Karima

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