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Saqqara / Sakkara pyramids

Saqqara is one of the most extensive archaeological sites in Egypt! It was the cemetery for Memphis, the capital of Ancient Egypt, yet it is still one of the virgin archaeological sites, despite the fact that so much has already been found here!

The site is dominated by the Step Pyramid of King Zoser, which goes back to 2700 BC. It is one of the oldest stone structures in the world!

Sakkara is also the site of many tombs from the 1st and 2nd Dynasties. Most are made out of mud bricks, but some tombs are made of limestone, decorated with daily life scenes. When you are at Sakkara, you will notice that it is divided into:

Southern Sakkara, which is dominated by the step Pyramid. -Northern Sakkara, which is dominated by the Pyramid of King Titi, and Mastaba tombs of the old kingdom.

When conducting a visit to Sakkara don’t miss the following sites:

The Step Pyramid of King Zoser, and it surrounding complex: The Pyramid of King Titi The tomb of Mereruka and the tomb of Kagimni The Mastaba tomb of Ti, and the tomb of Ptah-Hotep The step pyramid

Please Note: The Pyramid has been closed to visitors for a long time, as it is deemed not safe to enter it! It was built for King Zoser, one of the greatest Kings of the third dynasty (2721-2780 BC). Originally meant as a tomb, this Pyramid was designed and built by his great architect Imhotep. The Pyramid is built as a step Pyramid, 60m high, and consisting of 6 steps; each one built on top of each other and smaller than the one below.

Today it is considered as one of the oldest stone structures built by man, and the first time the Ancient Egyptians would attempt to use limestone. Zoser’s Pyramid is entirely built of limestone, small bricks of limestone, and not of the best quality, and yet it has remained for more than 4700 years!

The Pyramid’s four sides are very nearly aligned to the four cardinal points. On the northern side is the original entrance of the Pyramid.

On the north-western side you will notice a little room that is built with a gradient angle, similar to the Pyramid itself. In there was found a beautiful statue of King Zoser made of limestone, it was moved to the Egyptian museum in Cairo and replaced by a replica

The northern entrance is not used anymore, as it is very dangerous! Any people, who are allowed into the Pyramid, use another entrance that was made in the 26th Dynasty, on the southern side of the Pyramid. I have frequently been admitted, into the Pyramid, with TV crews that I have led around Sakkara but I needed special permission to do this.

When you go underneath the Pyramid, there is strange feeling that haunts you, especially when you remember that you are exploring 4,700 years of time. Down there it is a maze of little corridors and tunnels! Found in some of these tunnels more than 30, 000 jars, which were made out of several types of stone, alabaster, marble, diorite and slate. To the southern side of the Pyramid, you will find a burial shaft, almost 28 meter deep, which is believed to be a symbolic tomb for the King, as Kings of the first three Dynasties used to build two tombs for themselves; one a real tomb and the other, a cenotaph. The Pyramid is surrounded by a rectangular enclosure wall that measure 277m by 544m, mostly ruined today, but it was originally 10m high. You can see parts of it today. In the southeastern part of the wall you will find the entrance to the complex, and most of what you are going to see, when you get through this door, is recently restored! You will notice at the end of the little hall that the door leads you to; there is an imitation of two doors, swung open. The entrance leads you to a colonnade that has 40 columns. Each column is attached to the wall behind, the style is called engaged columns, and they were built to ensure that they would be able to endure the heavy weight of the ceiling. You will notice that in-between the columns a large numbers of little rooms were created; they once contained statues representing King Zoser as ruler of Upper and Lower Egypt. The long hypostyle hall leads to an open courtyard, which was used by the King, performing the rituals of the jubilee feast, called the Hep-Sed festival. One of the rituals performed by the Kings of Ancient Egypt to ensure that they are able to rule the country for the next 30 years. To the right of this open courtyard, Imhotep built a Temple known as the Hep-Sed Temple, so that the King would be able to practice the ritual in the after life. Behind the Temple, and further north, you will notice two buildings behind each other; they are called the northern and southern houses, where the King is supposed to host the dignitaries who have come to attend the King’s ritual in the Temple, and his recognition as a King of Upper and Lower Egypt. Next to the Step Pyramid complex, on the southern side, you will see the ruined Pyramid of King Unas, which dates back to the end of the 5th Dynasty. It was the first Pyramid that had inscriptions decorating the walls of the burial chamber! There are more than 700 incantations, which are supposed to help the dead King throughout the afterlife, and they are known as the Pyramid texts. Unfortunately the Pyramid has been closed for more than 6 years now The Tomb of Mereruka

This is the largest tomb in Sakkara! It consists of 32 rooms and was built for Mereruka and his family. Discovered in 1893, it is located 20m to the north of the Pyramid of King Titi.

Dating back to the time of the 6th Dynasty (2240 BC), the tomb is divided into sections where Mereruka and his wife and son are buried. The walls of the tomb are decorated with marvelous scenes, illustrating the daily life in Ancient Egypt.

It is also filled with many details of Mereruka, with his family and servants.

The Pyramids of Giza

Among the major tourist sites, there is only one considered to be “The major” and on top of any list - The Pyramids of Giza

There are three main Pyramids here, which were built in the 4th Dynasty (circa 2550 B.C). The Pyramids of Ancient Egypt were built as tombs for Kings (and Queens), and it was the exclusive privilege to have a Pyramid tomb. However, this tradition only applied in the Old and Middle Kingdoms. Today there are more than 93 Pyramids in Egypt; the most famous ones are those at Giza

The Great Pyramid of Khufu

The Great Pyramid of Khufu is by far the most famous Pyramid in Egypt, the biggest, tallest, and most intact. After its construction it became one of the “Seven Wonders Of The World”, and today, it is the only one of them remaining. For a period of 4300 years, the Pyramid was also the tallest building on earth, until the French built the Eiffel Tower in 1889 to take that accolade.

Khufu’s Pyramid is built entirely of limestone, and is considered an architectural masterpiece. It contains around 1,300,000 blocks ranging in weight from 2.5 tons to 15 tons and is built on a square base with sides measuring about 230m (755ft), covering 13 acres! Its four sides face the four cardinal points precisely and it has an angle of 52 degrees. The original height of the Pyramid was 146.5m (488ft), but today it is only 137m (455ft) high, the 9m (33ft) that is missing is due to the theft of the fine quality limestone covering, or casing stones, by the Ottoman Turks in the 15 Century A.D, to build houses and Mosques in Cairo.

You will find that the entrance of the Pyramid is located at the northern side, the same as almost every Pyramid in Egypt. On this side there are actually 2 entrances, one is the original, and is 17m (55ft) above ground level, and the other one is a man-made forced entrance located below it. Created in the 9th Century A.D by Khalif El-Mamoun, who was seeking the treasures that he thought might have been kept inside the Pyramid. He sent out stonemasons to open up an entrance, and they cut it midway across the centre of the northern side. Their tunnel goes almost 35m into the Pyramid, and was crudely cut, and at the end it connects with the original inner corridors of the Pyramid. Nothing was found inside, as it was plundered in antiquity. Nowadays visitors, to the site, use Mamoun’s entrance to gain access into the Pyramid, as it is actually considered to be a shortcut.

Please Note: If you attempt to go inside the Pyramid, you will have to bend down all the way till you reach the burial chamber!

From the main entrance of the Pyramid there is a long narrow corridor with low roof that descends for more than 100m (330ft), which takes you to a chamber, located about 24m (79ft) below ground level, which is an unfinished burial chamber with very little fresh air inside, and is inaccessible today.

Almost 20m (66ft) from that descending corridor there is another corridor connected to it, which takes you up into the heart of the Pyramid. This ascending corridor ends up at one the great parts of the Great Pyramid, the “Grand Gallery”! It is a large, long, rectangular hall, which is 49m (161ft) long, and 15m (49ft) high, with a long tunnel, at the bottom, that takes you the 2nd chamber, which is famously known as the “Queens Chamber”. It actually has nothing to do with a Queen, and was given this name by the early Arabs, who went inside the Pyramids and gave it its name. It is commonly believed that it served as a magazine, or a storeroom, inside the Pyramid.

When you ascend the “Grand Gallery”, you will find, at its end, an entrance to the 3rd chamber, which was the real burial chamber of King Khufu, and this is where you will find his stone sarcophagus, which was made out of one block of granite. You will find this chamber to be really amazing, it is rectangular in form, has a flat roof, and is built out of granite that was brought from the city of Aswan, which is located 1000Km (625 miles) away. The roof consists of 9 slabs of granite; each one estimated to be around 50 tons in weight! Above the roof of the burial chamber, the Ancient Egyptians built 5 small relieving chambers so that the huge pressure, of the weight above, would not cause the burial chamber to collapse. These 5 chambers are also made of granite, and are about 1m (3 ft) above each other. The tops of the first 4 are flat, the 5th one having a pointed top to divert the enormous pressure of weight away from the burial chamber.

Both the northern and southern walls of the burial chamber have two small tunnels with rectangular entrances. They are small, and once were thought to go all the way through the outer sides of the Pyramid, though no exterior openings have been found, and are believed to be “star shafts” that served a certain purpose in the ancient cult connecting the King with the stars.

If you need to know more about these small tunnels, and their connection to the stars, it is a long story! I guess you will need to come to one of my lectures!!!

One last point! The Great Pyramid is the Pyramid of the great Egyptian King, Khufu. The name “Cheops” is also associated with this King and his Pyramid, the name being given to him by the Greeks. Though both names are generally accepted, Khufu was used in this description because it was his birth name! The same goes for Khafre (Chephren in Greek) and Menkaure (Mycerinus), and their Pyramids are described below.

The Pyramid of Khafre:

Khafre’s Pyramid, or the 2nd Pyramid, is easily recognisable by the layers of its original casing stones that still remain near its summit and this, along with the fact that it actually stands on a higher part of the plateau, gives the impression that it is taller than the Great Pyramid. An optical illusion, as it is only 136m (446 ft) tall, with sides of 214.5m (704ft), a surface area of 11 acres and an angle of 53 degrees. It also has lost some of its original height through the years, once being 143.5m (471ft) tall.

The only similarity to his father’s Pyramid is the entrance in the same, north facing side. There are no corridors leading into the heart of this Pyramid, the burial chamber being underground, and a long descending passageway has to be negotiated to reach it. This entrance is 50 feet (15m) above ground level, leading to the narrow passage, which descends at a 25-degree angle into the large burial chamber, which measures 14.2m by 5m by 6.9m (46.5ft by 16.5ft by 22.5ft). To take the weight of the pyramid, the roof of the chamber is set at the same angles as the pyramid face. A large, black sarcophagus is found in this room.

A lower corridor is directly under the upper corridor, and once contained a portcullis that could be lowered to prevent entry as well as an unfinished burial chamber, which was cut from the bedrock and, it is thought, unused. Like the upper corridor, this one has a 25-degree slope, it then levels out, climbs slightly, and eventually the 2 of them join together. The united passageway then leads to the burial chamber.

The Pyramid of Menkaure:

Khafre’s son, Menkaure, built the smallest of the 3 main Pyramids on the Giza Plateau. This one was only a mere 65.5m (215ft) tall, nowadays 62m (203ft), with sides of only 105m (344ft) and an angle of 51.3 degrees. It is thought that this Pyramid was altered during its construction, and made a lot bigger than originally planned. The original, smaller Pyramid had a simple descending corridor and burial chamber, but when it was enlarged, a new corridor was built with 3 portcullises and a small panelled chamber. Later still, another burial chamber, along with a storeroom were added at a lower level. This Pyramid, like its 2 neighbours, has a north facing entrance.

Apart from the size, Menkaure’s Pyramid differed from the other 2 in the choice of casing stones. Whereas the Pyramids of his father and grandfather were completely cased in fine, white, Turah limestone, Menkaure’s Pyramid was only partly cased in Turah limestone, from about 15m up! The first 15 metres was cased with pink granite, which had come from Aswan, the last of which was taken by Muhammad Ali Pasha (1805-1848) who used them to construct his arsenal in Alexandria.

Saqqara / Sakkara pyramids - The Tomb of Mereruka - The Pyramids of Dahshour - The Great Sphinx

The Great Sphinx:

The Great Sphinx, or as the ancients knew it, “Shesib Ankh” or “the living image”, has to be one of the most recognizable constructions in history. Think of the Sphinx and you automatically think of Egypt and the Giza Plateau. Sculpted from soft sandstone, many believe that it would have disappeared long ago had it not been buried in the sand for so many long periods in its lifetime. The body is 60m (200ft) long and 20m (65ft) tall. Its face is 4m (13ft) wide with eyes measuring 2m (6 ft) high. It faces the rising sun, and was revered so much by the ancients, that they built a temple in front of it.

The 18th Dynasty King, Thutmose IV installed a stele between its front paws, describing how, when Thutmose was a young Prince, he had gone hunting and fell asleep in the shade of the Sphinx ‘s head. Thutmose had a dream where Ra Hor-Akhty the sun God, talking through the Sphinx, spoke to him, telling the young Prince to clear away the sand because the Sphinx was choking on it. The Sphinx said to  him that if he did this, he would become King of Egypt . 

Thutmose cleared away all the sand and s after 2 years, the god fulfilled his promise to the price and he was made king of Egypt

Today, part of the “uraeus” (the sacred cobra at the forehead ), and the nose are missing (not shot off by Napoleon’s men as many believe, but were destroyed by Muhammad Sa'im Al-Dahr, a Sufi fanatic from the Khanqah of Sa'id Al-Su'ada.

In 1378, upon finding the Egyptian peasants making offerings to the Sphinx in the hope of increasing their harvest, Sa'im Al-Dahr was so outraged that he destroyed the nose!). There are parts of a beard in the Cairo and British Museum in London which reputedly belong to the Sphinx, but many Egyptologists deny this, as the style of beard found, does not relate to the “nemes” that The Sphinx wears – different Dynasties!

Because of the soft sandstone, the Sphinx has been repaired many times; sometimes the repairs causing even more damage! Also, due to the wind, humidity, and pollution from modern Cairo, its condition is still deteriorating, and the present renovations are a never-ending task.

I hope this gave you a glimpse of information about the Pyramids of Giza.
Information you should know before you go:

The Giza pyramids Plateau opens at 08:00 AM and closes at 1700

Winter times are ( 8:00 -- 16:30)

Ramadan times are ( 8:00 --15:00)

Entrance ticket to the site cost - 60. LE

Entrance to the Solar Boat Museum – 40 LE

Entrance to Khufu’s Pyramid – 100 LE

Entrance to Khafree’s Pyramid – 20 LE

Before you visit the site of the Giza Pyramids, you have to know the following facts:

It is forbidden to climb the Pyramids. You are only allowed to climb up the stone steps that lead to the entrance, which is 55 feet above ground level.

it is  strongly advisable to e Wear good walking shoes. 

If you wish to take a car onto the site, you need to get a car parking ticket. 2 LE for a small car, 5 LE for minibuses, 10 LE for a coach.

The best time to go the Pyramids, is in the morning between 0800 and 1200. - or 156:00 to 17:00

If you wish to go inside the Great Pyramid, there is an extra ticket for this that will cost you 100 LE. You will find the ticket office for the entrance to the Great Pyramid in front of the north-eastern side of the Pyramid. Sometimes is quite difficult to get this ticket, as the amount is limited to a certain number of visitors. They sell only 300 tickets daily, and they are divided among morning and afternoon. They sell 150 at 0800, and then, at exactly 1300, the other 150.

If you wish to go inside Khafre’s Pyramid, you will have to get an extra entrance ticket - 20 LE. In addition to that, they charge 10LE for cameras.

As for Menkaure’s Pyramid, it is now closed for restoration. The Pyramids are opened on a rotational basis, usually it would last for a year, so that restoration work can be done.

If you want to get a camel or horse ride, the best place for this are the stables at the foot of the Pyramids plateau, it is cheap and safe.

In order to get rid of the vendors, simply say “No, thank you! “ or “La Shukran” and they will go away Believe it or not, it works.

As for the street vendors Don’t say the word “Emshi”, like many of the guide books will advise you, it is simply means get lost, and you don’t want to offend anyone in there , after all they are just trying to make a living. Here are Some useful Arabic words for you

Tip : If you don't want to pay the extra entrance ticket for any of the above mentioned pyramids  Pyramids and still want to have similar experience of being inside one, then go the eastern side of the Great Pyramid and you will find  there three subsidiary smaller Pyramids (one was for the Khufu’s daughter, one for Khufu’s wife and the third one for Khufu’s mother). Two of these Pyramids (his wife’s and his mother’s) are opened for visitors, and there is no extra charge to get in. All you need to do is show your site ticket to the guard and you will be in! If you ever feel that you need to go to the toilet while you’re conducting your visit, then the best place to go is at the boat Museum which is located in front of the southern side of the Great Pyramid. Just tell the people at the entrance that you only want to use the toilet and they will let you in.