Jebel Barkal is a widely visible table mountain located on the northern river bank in the Great Bend of the Nile, some 350 km north of Khartoum. Today, the small town of Karima is nestled picturesquely at the foot of the mountain by the riverside. But Jebel Barkal has been an important landmark since antiquity, probably signalling a major crossing of the Nile, which was navigated by boats and ferries, until a bridge was built in 2008.
Some of the most important archaeological monuments in Sudan are located at the foot of the mountain. First and foremost, the area houses the temple precinct with a large temple of Amun at its centre. Its origins date back to the New Kingdom when the Egyptian pharaohs conquered the Nubian Nile valley. They considered Jebel Barkal – the 'Pure Mountain' as they called it – to be the southern abode of their state god Amun. The first temple to Amun was probably built in the reign of the 18th dynasty pharaoh Thutmose III shortly after the Egyptians had pushed into the region. They also founded a town, Napata, of which, however, no substantial traces have yet been discovered.
The temple of Amun was rebuilt and substantially enlarged by several of the early Napatan rulers who made it one of their 'national shrines', which played an important role in their coronation ceremonies. The Kushite kings also built a series of other temples nearby. One of them, dedicated to Amun's consort Mut, was partly cut into the mountain. Its well preserved decoration shows a unique scene of Amun literally sitting in the 'Pure Mountain'.
East of Jebel Barkal there are two small pyramid fields. They date from the early and middle Meroitic period, when some kings and queens decided to build their tombs in this sacred landscape. Three palaces, which were excavated south of the temple precinct, are of Napatan and Meroitic date as well.
In 2003, Jebel Barkal and the sites of the Napatan region were inscribed into the UNESCO World Heritage List.