Classic Court

Greco-Roman Period: Catacombs

As the great city of Alexandria grew outward, its cemeteries had to expand downward. In the multicultural city, the dead could be cremated according to Greek custom, inhumed according to Jewish practice, or mummified according to Egyptian tradition, but all but royalty and the very wealthiest were buried in the underground networks of catacombs.

An example of one of these catacombs, the impressive Re-Kedil (modern Kom el-Shugafa), includes:

  • an aboveground chapel (A)
  • a deep spiral staircase to three underground levels (B)
  • a hall and dining room on the upper level (C)
  • a grand Main Tomb on the center level (D)
  • many small rooms on the lower level

 

 

Altars, statues of gods and individuals, and sculpted and painted decoration fill the catacombs. The rooms and passageways are lined with stone coffins and loculi (burial niches) cut into the walls. A single loculus may hold many burials. The niche opening was often closed with a slab painted to resemble a door. According to Greek belief, the soul did not return to partake of offerings in the Egyptian custom, so the doors can represent either the traditional Egyptian “false door” for the ka or the Greek gateway through which the soul was freed.