Sudanese National Commission for Education, Science and Culture
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Banganarti (in Nubian, Island of the Locust) is a small village on the right bank of the Nile, half-way between the Third and Fourth Nile cataracts. Seven and a half kilometer downriver, on the same bank, is situated Tungul/Old Dongola, once the capital of the Kingdom of Makuria. The excavations at Banganarti began in 2001 with the discovery of a huge church which stand on the ruin of its predecessor, the lower church. The analysis of stratigraphy and chronology of subsequent reconstructions, supported by studies of pottery indicate the mid-eleventh century as the most probable date of the destruction of the lower church and the erection on its ruin of a new sacral building. The circumstances of the consecration of the upper church at Banganarti are described in the History of the Patriarchs of the Coptic Church of Alexandria. The originality of its layout was emphasized by its perfect symmetry, the portico running along the western, northern and southern walls, and the two stairwells leading to the upper floor. The upper church in Banganarti was dedicated to Raphael Archangel, the patron and protector of human health. Similar to many Byzantine sanctuaries dedicated to archangels the Banganarti Raphaelion was a faith healing resort, attracting pilgrims from far away. It was purposefully planned and executed to accommodate large amounts of visitors. On its walls were found nearly a thousand inscriptions and picture graffiti commemorating people visiting the place. The pilgrims could glimpse into the seven chapels arranged along its eastern wall. In each chapel there was an image of a king. The rulers wearing festive robes with full blown regalia are depicted centrally among the Apostolic College. This iconographic scheme proves the high status of the king in the Nubian religious hierarchy.
The foreign masters hired by King Salomon to raise the upper church left the fingerprints of their craft. The original eleventh-century parts of the Raphaelion, preserved the remnants of the recessed brick technique which was a trademark of the eleventh century Byzantine architecture.
The Raphaelion attracted a multitude of pilgrims coming from as far as Nuri in the south and Faras in the north. A graffito in Catalan - Provençal language attests the visit of certain Benesec who came from southern France. Recently among the clerics who visited the church, a man of Yemenite pedigree was found. A Muslim visitor to the Raphaelion is identified by the inscription accompanying his likeness: deef Ali. The sketchy image shows him in a posture of a blind man who plausibly came to Raphaelion attracted by its renown. The pilgrims like Ali and others were staying in one of the Raphaelion’s porticos awaiting their turn for incubation. For a longer stay, they chose the ksenodocheion ( pilgrims’ hostel) which was built against the inner side of the eastern curtain wall.
Most of the pilgrims who left the mementos on the Raphaelion’s walls came to Banganarti in the fourteenth century. That was the time when the Middle Nile was ravaged by the Black Death. The coincidence between the emergence of the second plague pandemic and a sudden increase in the number of pilgrimages to the Raphaelion seems not to be accidental. Since the pandemic was believed to be an expression of God's anger, people tried to appease the angry god either through prayers to the saints for intercession or through visits to the holy places. The Archangel Raphael, whose name means God heals, one of the seven archangels who stand before the throne of God, was the perfect choice to be prayed for intercession, healing and delivering from the deadly disease.
The Banganarti ksenodocheion, first building of that sort found in the Middle Nile, was used from the late ninth to the late fourteenth- century. It provided all comforts the pilgrims might have needed. One could eat, sleep and take a bath, actually scrape off the dirt from his body with the help of smoothed piece of ceramics, known as pessoi, and pour some water on himself while standing in the middle of a large ceramic or stone basin.
The settlement at Banganarti was deserted by the beginning of the fifteenth century, the pilgrims, however, were visiting the abode of the healing archangel at least to the end of the century.
The monuments are protected by the Antiquities Protection Ordinance of 1999 and physically protected by Tourist Police Gurards and local guards. The site is annually conserved by the a Polish Mission of the Polish Academy of Science which presented the site as an open museum. Apart from two huge exhibition rooms, where the best object excavated in Banganarti are displayed, the museum houses also a cinema hall where the movies shot during excavations and lectures for the local schools are organized.
Justification of Outstanding Universal Value
Banganarti is a unique example of Byzantine Architecture in North Africa. It hosted the Raphaelion which can be considered as a unique monument in the Christian Nubia, provided an exceptional opportunity to study the Nubian institution of pilgrimage in its archaeological context.
Criterion (ii): Banganarti exhibits an important interchange of human values and believes, during the Medieval period in Nubia (c. 6th-14th century AD) in the Northern Sudan. Banganarti exhibits an important pilgrimage destination visited by Christians and Muslims coming from all over the Middle Nile. Graffiti left by the pilgrims confirm also the visits from southern France and Yemen. The texts endorse the interchange of ideas, human values and beliefs in the Middle Nile Valley, during the Makurian Kingdom showing also various responses to the threat of the Black Death in mid-fourteenth century.
Criterion (iii): Banganarti is a testimony of Christian cultural tradition, which had disappeared since the 15th century.
Criterion (iv): The Raphaelion at Banganarti was the most important pilgrimage centre in the Middle Nile. It is a unique building without any analogy in the vast repertoire of Christian religious structures in the Nile Valley and beyond. Its red brick masonry hardly finds parallel in Nubia. It provided a collection of Nubian Kings' representations and more than thousand inscriptions in Old Nubian, Greek, Arabic and Catalan-Provencal language.
Statements of authenticity and/or integrity
Banganarti retains all its authentic structural elements without any significant changes. It is the only pilgrimage Christian center survived relatively intact in Middle Nile Valley.
Comparison with other similar properties
The Raphaelion is a unique building with some features unknown elsewhere. It is surrounded by the portico which is a point of similarity with the church at Soba East and Armenian and Syrian churches.