Art History

Observations on the Deffufas of Kerma

The word Deffufa descends from either the Nubian term for mud-brick building, or from the Arabic word Daffa meaning "mass" or "pile". Although the religious nature of the Deffufas can not be doubted, their precise function has not been determined. While some regard the buildings as temples, others see them as royal residences. Whatever their function might have been, their architectures are unparalleled elsewhere in the ancient world and their importance to the people of Kerma is comparable to that of the Ziggurat to the people of Sumer. So far three Deffufas have been discovered; the Western Deffufa, which is the largest and the best preserved; the Eastern; and a third little explored Deffufa.

Photo by John McCabe.

The Western Deffufa forms an imposing sight in the vicinity of the small Sudanese town of Kareema. Like the other Deffufas, it was built of thick mud-brick walls to provide cooler temperature in the hot climate. The structure is comprised of three stories and stretches over an area of 15,070 sq feet1 and is about 18 m. tall.2 The Deffufa is farther surrounded by a boundary wall.3

Inside the Deffufa were columned chambers connected by a complex network of passageways. The walls were lavishly decorated with faience tiles and inlays and gold leaf. Magnificent paintings showing exotic scenes of the wild-life from the sub-Sahara served as visual luxury in Kerma's arid environment. A staircase seems to have lead to a shrine on the roof of the building. Evidence of a limestone altar, built for animal sacrifice, was also found.4 The repeated works of construction and development efforts indicate the centrality of the monument in the town of Kerma; most likely the town's principal temple.5

Three colossal steles were found laying in front of a large funerary chapel (i.e. labeled K XI) in the royal cemetery of Kerma. One of the steles measures about 4,73 meters in height. Their surfaces had been eroded; whether the steles had inscriptions on them or not can not be known.6 Unfortunately, inscriptions or records from Kerma may have likely been destroyed (or erased) during the Egyptian invasions of the New Kingdom.

2 km east of the Western Deffufa area is the Eastern Deffufa.7 This two second two-stories Deffufa,8 is relatively shorter than the Western. It has been identified by some as a royal funerary chapel due to the fact that it is surrounded by a cemetery of, at least, 30,000 graves.9 The sight of the huge building surrounded by the enormous massive white-plastered mound burials must have been marvelous.

Areas of the exterior walls of the building were inlaid in stone.10 This Deffufa contained two columned halls with paintings depicting subjects from the wild-life with red, yellow, blue, and black colors.11 The floors were fancifully dressed with stone.12 The paintings served as luxury in an environment as harsh as that of Kerma.

  • 1. A. Cremin, Archaeologica: the world's most significant sites and cultural treasures (frances lincoln ltd, 2007) 102.
  • 2. P. Clammer, Sudan (Bradt Travel Guides, 2005) 158.
  • 3. Clammer, note 2 above.
  • 4. Time-Life Books, Africa's Glorious Legacy, ed. Time-Life Books, and Dale Brown (Time-Life Books, 1994) 30.
  • 5. P. S. Garlake. Early art and architecture of Africa (Oxford UP, 2002) 55.
  • 6 C. Bonnet, "Archaeological Excavations at Kerma (Soudan): Preliminary report for 1993-1994 and 1994-1995 campaigns, " Arkamani: Review of Archaeological & Anthropological Current Research in the Sudan, Comp. O. A. Elnur, Aug. 2001, Jan. 2005 < (ed.)>.
  • 7. Clammer, note 2 above..
  • 8. R. S. Bianchi, Daily Life of the Nubians (Greenwood Publishing Group, 2004) 87
  • 9. Garlake, note 5 above at 55-6.
  • 10. Bianchi, note 8 above at 88.
  • 11. Bianchi, note 8 above.
  • 12. Bianchi, note 8 above.
  • Authored: 2007.
    Edited: Jul. 2009.

The primary material of the website is authored by Ibrahim Omer © 2008.