September-December 2016

Place: The Górka Palace, ul. Wodna 27, Poznań

Exhibition curator: dr Dobiesława Bagińska

In the tenth century Nubia was at the peak of its development. Taking advantage of an instable political situation in Egypt during the reign Ikhshidid dynasty, it conquered Asuan about the year 956 and took over the south of Egypt reaching as far as Achmim.

In Nubian kingdoms, Nobatia, Makouria and Alodia, Christianity began the sixth century BC, influenced by the missions from Byzantine Empire. At the end of the seventh century (the time of king Merkuriors) we can already say about a powerful and independent Kingdom of Nubia with its capital city in Old Dongola, and with other important cities, i.e. Phrim (today Qasr Ibrim), Pachoras (Faras) and Zae (Sai) which were the seats of dioceses. The monophysite Church of Nubia was subordinated to the Coptic Patriarchate in Alexandria, while the royal court and government offices were organized according to Byzantine patterns. Greek was used as the language of official documents. Economy of that time was based mostly on animal breeding and plant cultivation carried out in the Nile Delta between the Third and the Fourth Cataracts, as well as, traditionally, on trade intermediations between “Black Africa” and the Mediterranean world.

Political independence of Nubia was guaranteed by a treaty with the Arabs signed in the year 652. The stable situation enabled the development of crafts, particularly weaving and manufacturing mats, as well as producing high quality pottery vessels. Economic growth enhanced construction works on a large scale and rebuilding of numerous churches according to new patterns. The majority of  these initiatives were facilitated by court patronage. Religious texts were translated from Greek into local Old Nubian language, which then began to appear in both secular and religious documents. It was also the time of art development, including wall paintings which were created to decorate not only churches but also other representative interiors. In the tenth century the Nubian painters developed a characteristic style. Its distinctness consisted in both schematic drawing and the richness of decorative elements on garments of depicted people. In addition to the typical Christian iconography, the paintings showed representations of local court and Church dignitaries under the care of the holy figures, such as king Georgios II (contemporary to Mieszko I) and Martha performing the important royal function of the Queen Mother.

A lot of information about Nubia survived in the account of Ibn Selim el-Aswani, who was a diplomat sent by the Caliph to king Georgios, as well as in the writings of al-Maqrizi, who described, among others, Dongola (Tungul) as a city with wide streets and beautiful building with domes of red brick, which reminded him of Bagdad. Most of the knowledge about the distant past of this region, however, comes from Polish archaeological research in Sudan initiated in 1961 by professor Kazimierz Michałowski in Faras and continued by his successors in Old Dongola, Banganarti and at other sites for over fifty years.

We would like to express special thanks to dr. Małgorzata Martens-Czarnceka, who supported substantive part of the exhibition dedicated to Nubian paintings, and to dr. Stefan Jakobielski, who gave us a lot of important information on the history and archaeology of Nubia in this period.