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Late Roman, Byzantine and Medieval

Dongola (Sudan)

Digging the Citadel and Monastery and restoration of the Mosque in Dongola: fieldwork in 2011

Dates: 4 January - 15 February 2011


Prof. Dr. Włodzimierz Godlewski, mission director, archaeologist (Institute of Archaeology, University of Warsaw)

Szymon Maślak, archaeologist–documentalist (PCMA, University of Warsaw)

Katarzyna Danys-Lasek, ceramologist (PCMA, University of Warsaw)

Dr. Artur Obłuski, archaeologist (freelance)

Dr. Dobrochna Zielińska, archaeologist and art historian (Institute of Archaeology, University of Warsaw)

Karina Joanna Sosnowska, restorer of murals (freelance)

Joanna Then-Obłuska, archaeologist (freelance)

Ajab Said el-Ajab, NCAM Inspector, archaeologist (NCAM)

The excavation and restoration program this season covered two complexes on the Citadel, that is, the royal palaces (B.I and B.V) and Buildings VI and IX on site C.1, the monastery church on Kom H, the interior of the Throne Hall in the so-called Mosque, and site B north of the citadel.

Citadel: Building I (Palace of King Ioannes)

Chambers B.I.41 and B.I.36 in the western, domestic part of the palace and the vestibule B.I.24 by the northern entrance to the building were explored [Fig. 1]. The main thrust of the investigations was on verifying the dating of particular phases of the structure and on reconstructing the function of the western quarters in the palace complex. The pottery found in B.I.41 comprised local, Dongolan production as well as imports, these mainly amphorae, from Aswan, Middle Egypt and the Mareotis; the assemblage could be dated to the 6th and 7th centuries AD. Palestinian containers and vessel glass [Fig. 2] were recorded for the first time in this assemblage. With regard to the vestibule B.I.24, removal of the upper layers of debris, presumably from the end of the 13th century revealed the top of the narrow slit windows in the south and east walls. These must have been air vents more than anything else. Explorations did not proceed beyond this point this season.

Fig. 1. The Citadel in Dongola (SWN): Plan of the royal complex of buildings B.I-B.V. Plan (PCMA archives: S. Maślak and others, 2011)
Fig. 2A. Vessel glass from B.I.41 (PCMA archives: W. Godlewski)
Fig. 2B. Sherds of Palestinian amphorae from B.I.41 (PCMA archives: W. Godlewski)

Citadel: Building V

Excavations were planned over the entire area of the building (21.0 x 17.0 m), the chief goal being to uncover the tops of the massive outer walls (1.20 m thick) and the upper parts of the central brick pillars and the round pilasters engaged on the east, south and north sides of the naos [Fig. 2]. The west wall and the western end of the north wall appear to have been dismantled down to the ground apparently in search of building material sometime probably in the 19th–20th centuries. The southern and eastern parts of the structure stand to a height of 3.60 m and have preserved lime plastering with murals high on the walls [Fig. 4], as well as pillars and pilasters. The plan of the building was drawn (except for the western part where the walls have not been preserved to comparable height) and it was found it was a domed building raised on a central plan of a cross circumscribed on a rectangle with an entrance noted in the northern annex facing the royal palace [Fig. 5, inset]. Building V was therefore in all likelihood a sacral structure functionally associated with the royal palace (B.I). It certainly appears to be one of the best built structures discovered so far in Dongola. The construction date is still vague, but it surely predated the 9th century.

Fig. 3. Building B.V: top views of the SW pillar (left) and E.S pilaster (PCMA archives: W. Godlewski)
Fig. 4. Building B.V. Fragment of a wall painting of an angel (PCMA archives: W. Godlewski)

Planning for the conservation effort that the uncovering of apparently well preserved wall paintings will necessitate, the team suspended explorations and had a shelter roof (corrugated sheet metal on a metal rod framework) installed over the wall tops and pillars [Fig. 5]. The western façade was left open, assuring proper ventilation inside the protected structure and facilitating further exploration as well as wall painting conservation.

Fig. 5. Two stages of the construction of a shelter roof over building B.V; (insert) plan of the building (PCMA archives: photos W. Godlewski; plan S. Maślak and others)

Citadel: Site C

Testing inside Building VI, which had been uncovered in the 2010 field season, was designed to trace the remains of the underlying earlier structure (Building B.IX). Like the structure on which it was superimposed, B.IX turned out to be made of dried brick and was also intended for domestic use, presumably as a storage area for dry goods. This purpose is suggested by the narrow rooms [Fig. 6]. The buildings were occupied successively during the Late Period of the Makurian kingdom (11th–12th century).

Fig. 6. Site C on the citadel in Dongola: Building B.IX traced in red under the plan of building B.VI (PCMA archives: S. Maślak)

Monastery of St. Anthony the Great (Kom H): Church

The monastery church excavated in 2002–2005 by Daniel Gazda was cleared again in order to carry out additional research aimed at determining the construction date and layout of the first foundation. The original documentation of the building was supplemented with a detailed record of the flooring and its relation to the stone footings under the central pillars and columns.

The architectural study of the structure has demonstrated that the original foundation was a three-aisled basilica with central tower and presumed wooden roof [Fig. 7]. None other of the churches currently known from Makuria represents this type, which is modeled on late 5th and 6th century Byzantine prototypes (e.g., El–Alahan in Anatolia). At the same time, the monastery church features the tripartite design of the eastern and western ends of the basilica with characteristic twin entrances from the north and south in the western part that was typical of Dongolan church architecture in the 6th and 7th centuries. The staircase in the southwestern unit must have led up to the emporas, which were supported on the columns standing east and west of the central tower. A synthronon filled the apse behind the sanctuary, which occupied a spot in the eastern end of the nave, although the position of the original altar screen has proved impossible to trace. An altar stood in the prothesis (northeastern unit) by the east wall, and the pulpit was located in the nave, by the northeastern pillar. Its position at right angles to the pillar is again a feature not encountered in other Dongolan church complexes.

Fig. 7A. Plan of the first Monastic Church from the end of the 6th century AD (PCMA archives: S. Maślak)
Fig. 7B. Monastic Church in Dongola (Kom H), view of the south aisle looking to the east (PCMA archives: W Godlewski)

All things considered, the monastery church on Kom H should be recognized as representing a highly untypical architectural design. Potsherds from the fill of graves inside the late sanctuary, especially grave G.3, excavated in 2007, can be taken as proof that the monastery church was built in the last decade of the 6th century at the latest.

Mosque (Throne Hall)

The conservation project carried out by a Polish–Sudanese team inside the Throne Hall, which had been the official seat of the Makurian kings until 1317 when the building was changed into a mosque, was continued, focusing on the east wall and the southwestern corner [Figs 8, 9A].

Fig. 8. Plan of the Mosque (Throne Hall); wall surfaces under conservation marked in red (PCMA archives: S. Medeksza, update S. Maślak)

The murals fragmentarily preserved on the east wall north of the mihrab were cleaned and protected, revealing a large narrative composition which occupied the entire upper part of the east wall. The scene represents the Nativity. One observes images of a recumbent Virgin, the Child in a manger, Salome and Joseph, angels, shepherds [Fig. 9B] and Magi on horseback [Fig. 9C].

Cleaning of royal images in the southwestern corner of the hall revealed, on the earliest plaster layer, a narrative composition from the childhood of Christ. At present one can discern Mary holding the Child who is picking dates from a bent palm tree at his mother’s request [Fig. 9D]. The scene, which is based on apocryphal gospel, has not been noted hitherto in Nubian wall painting iconography.

Fig. 9a-b. Murals in the Throne Hall during conservation in 2011: northern part of east wall(left); shepherds from the Nativity scene on the east wall(PCMA archives: D. Zielińska)
Fig. 9c-d. Murals in the Throne Hall, during conservation in 2011: one of the Magi on horseback from the Nativity scene on the east wall(left); the Virgin Mary and the Child picking dates, scene from a narrative scene in the southwestern corner (PCMA archives: D. Zielińska)

Site B: late housing architecture in Dongola (DH.100)

Two 17th–18th century houses were cleared and partly investigated in an area east of the Cruciform Building (CC) and north of the citadel fortifications [Fig. 10]. The two complexes are typical of post-Makurian (Kingdom of Dongola, end of 14th through early 19th century) domestic architecture in Dongola. A dried-brick ground-floor structure, it consisted of a bigger square room with two wall mastabas (platforms) and a stone ‘base’ for a now missing wooden column supporting the ceiling, and a narrow domestic unit furnished with stone querns set in a podium, which also contained a vessel for collecting flour. Among the finds from the houses there was the decorated bowl of a Turkish pipe [Fig. 11].

Fig. 10A. Site B: View of house DH.100 from the north (PCMA archives: W. Godlewski)
Fig. 10B. Plan of houses on Site B (PCMA archives: W. Godlewski)
Fig. 11. Turkish pipe (ADd.11.072.01) (PCMA archives: W. Godlewski)

[Text: W. Godlewski]

W. Godlewski: w.godlewski@uw.edu.pl