The Christian frescoes in the cathedral at Faras (Sudan) were called "the miracles of Faras" by the Polish archaeologists who discovered them during an archaeological rescue mission.
The rising waters of the Assuam Dam threatened to submerge numerous antique buildings located on the banks of the river between the first and second cateract. But an international cooperation under the auspices of UNESCO was able to dismantle some important buildings and either errect them at a new location, or carry out research on them before being finally consigned to the rising waters.
Thus between 1960 and 1964, a team led by Professor Dr. Kazimierz Michalowski from the Institute for Mediterranean Archaeology at the University of Warsaw began excavating at the small village of Faras, located upriver near Abu Simbel, and which had once been an important Nubian centre. In the 6th century, Faras - or Pachora, as it was once called - had already boasted a Christian church, and had been the seat of a bishop since c.625.
What started as a "normal" archaeological salvage excavation ended in an archaeological sensation. In the course of the excavation, a buried cathedral with over 120 wall-paintings, covering the walls of the church in several layers above and next to each other, was discovered. The high quality of these 12th and 13th century frescoes shows that Faras was the most important artistic centre in the north of Christian Nubia (the kingdom of Nobatia).
Apart from the find‘s importance for the history of art - particularly for the development of painting - the Polish excavations provide a virtual treasure of historical information.
Since 1964, the National Museum in Warsaw has owned a collection of sixty-seven of these wall-paintings. They are usually called "Frescoes from Faras" though this is not quite correct as they were executed in the al secco and not in the al fresco technique. This unique collection is known all over the world. It consists of half of the pictorial decorations of the no-longer existant early-Christian cathedral of Faras.
The remainder of the decorations are now in the Museum in Khartoum. In accordance with an agreement between the archaeologists and the Sudan, the finds excavated during this, the so-called Nubian campaign were divided between the Government of Sudan and the archaeological expedition. The objects now in the National Museum in Warsaw include not only frescoes but also reliefs, parts of architectural decorations, bronze objects, woodwork, ceramics, stone inscriptions, and many other objects of high artistic value. But the wall-paintings are without doubt the collection‘s jewel in the crown.
Starting in May, over seventy wall-paintings, stone friezes, stele, and funerary goods from the National Museum in Warsaw will be on show at the Kunsthistorisches Museum. They offer a comprehesive survey of 7th to 12th century Christian art in the kingdom of Nobatia in northern Nubia.
23 May 2002
to 15 September 2002