The first things that probably come to mind when anyone thinks about travel to Egypt are the Pyramids of Giza. Of course, they are the only surviving wonder of the Seven Wonders of the World. They are easily accessible, being right on the border of Cairo, and are very much worth the visit. However, those aren’t the only impressive pyramids to visit on a trip to Egypt.
About 20 kilometers south of Cairo, you’ll find Memphis and Saqqara: the former capital and necropolis of ancient Egypt. There, you’ll find a number of equally impressive pyramids.
Memphis and the Pyramid of Djoser
Memphis was the capital of the Old Kingdom for eight dynasties and even when the seats of power moved to other cities, it remained a cultural and economic center. There have been a number of carvings and statues unearthed here, including a high number of statues of Ramses II.
Saqqara was the necropolis while Memphis thrived and it’s here that the pyramid construction really began to evolve. Initially, the pyramids began as burial mounds in the desert and eventually evolved into more permanent structures. However, the pyramids didn’t just start out as the smooth triangles we think of. The Pyramid of Djoser, a 3rd Dynasty king, is a kind of stepped pyramid. When it was built, this pyramid was the tallest building in the world.
Surrounding the stepped pyramid are excellently preserved temples and palaces with lots of impressive hieroglyphs and frescos. This place is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and open air museum.
A short distance south of Memphis and Saqqara you’ll find the Red Pyramid. It’s believed that this is the first successful construction of a true pyramid. It gets its name from the red limestone that was used for the interior construction that was once covered with white limestone, since taken.
The pyramid is pitched at 43 degrees and you can climb the steep stairs to get to the entrance, allowing you to explore some of the inner chambers. It’s pretty cool, both as in interesting and as an escape from the desert heat.
While the Red Pyramid may have been the first successful construction of a true pyramid, it wasn’t the first attempt. It is believed that the first attempt was a pyramid at Meidum, that collapsed while the Bent Pyramid was being constructed. The Bent Pyramid began with a 54 degree inclination that changed to 43 degrees half-way through construction. This change was likely made due to the instability of the other attempts and the new angle informed the later engineering and construction.
One of the more interesting things about the Bent Pyramid is that its limestone casing is still largely intact, giving visitors a better idea of what all of these ancient structures looked like in their prime.
Visiting These Pyramids
Since the 1960s, when Egyptology became a field of study, there has been an explosion in the amount of information about Egypt’s history. There are some excellent guides out there that I would definitely recommend taking so that you can really get a sense of the history of these places. Get in touch if you want the phone number for the guides I went with. They will arrange a private car for the half-day tour for you from Cairo.