The site was nearly deserted. A few locals were tidying up after recent restoration work, and young camel drivers were out looking for clients. In the midday heat, the bright glow of the desert helped focus my attention on the pyramids themselves.
Situated on the east bank of the Nile, some 150 miles by car northeast of Sudan’s capital, Khartoum, the Meroe pyramids — around 200 in total, many of them in ruins — seemed to be in perfect harmony with the surrounding landscape, as if the wind had smoothed their edges to accommodate them among the dunes.
Throughout the 30-year dictatorship of Omar Hassan al-Bashir, who led Sudan through a long series of wars and famines, the pyramids of Meroe saw few international visitors and remained relatively unknown.
But among the many consequences of the revolution that led to Mr. al-Bashir’s ouster in 2019 — along with the removal of Sudan in 2020 from the United States’ list of state sponsors of terrorism — was the hope that the country’s archaeological sites might receive broader attention and protections, not simply from researchers and international visitors but also from Sudanese citizens themselves.
I traveled to Sudan in February and March of 2020, just a few days before pandemic lockdowns fell into place in my home country of Italy.
I was attracted to a nation that had managed — through the strength, creativity, and determination of its people — to free itself from a dictatorship. And I was keen to meet and photograph the protagonists and young actors of this historic moment.
Late in 2018, Mr. al-Bashir, the former dictator, had ended subsidies on fuel and wheat, leading to a surge in prices. The reaction of the people, exhausted by economic crises, was not long in coming.
A wave of demonstrations filled the streets of several towns far beyond the capital Khartoum. These were Sudanese of all ethnicities, classes, and generations — but students and young professionals above all.
During my visit, Amr Abdallah and Tawdia Abdalaziz, two young Sudanese doctors in their 20s, led me through the streets of Khartoum to see the symbolic sites of the revolution, showing me mile after mile of public art — graffiti, murals, verses — that marked the areas of the protests.
When they told me about Meroe and Ancient Nubia, the region’s name that stretches between Egypt and northern Sudan, I discovered that the majority of Sudanese had never had the opportunity to visit these sites — including the doctors themselves.