If you’d like to get away from the crowds in Cairo, and feel almost like you’re an early explorer in Egypt, take a short trip to Dahshur and Saqqara. These are “don’t miss” sights and an easy day trip (the furthest site, Dahshur, is about 23 miles south from Cairo, we hired a driver and van from Cairo to take us to these sights).
Dahshur originally contained 11 pyramids, and the oldest are the main attractions. The Red Pyramid and the Bent Pyramids were built around 2600 BC, making them slightly older than the pyramids of Giza. They are almost as large as the more famous pyramids at Giza, both are only about 14 feet shorter than the Pyramid of Khafre (the 2nd highest pyramid at Giza). They were the first “true” pyramids the Egyptians built.
The Bent Pyramid was built first, and the builders learned during construction that they had to lessen the steepness of the angle of the sides due to stability issues and the adjustment gives the pyramid its unique shape.
The Red Pyramid is open to the public, the Bent Pyramid is not, since it is on a military reservation. I loved visiting the Red Pyramid—it looks untouched with sand still covering the huge stone blocks part way up the sides and inside we had the interior chambers all to ourselves.
Just about 6 miles north of Dahshur is Saqqara, the burial site for the ancient city of Memphis, just a short distance away. This was a burial ground for 3,500 years, and was largely buried in sand until the mid-1800’s. Saqqara is home to the Step Pyramid, built in 2650 BC, and it is the oldest stone monument in Egypt and quite possibly the world.
The Step Pyramid was part of a progression in construction technology that led to the smooth-sided, near perfectly-dimensioned pyramids of Dahshur and Giza just a hundred years later.
Saqqara is a huge site, you will have to pick and choose what you see, and some tombs may be closed on a rotating basis. There were a few tour buses here, but not many, and since the site is spread out, you may find yourself enjoying the tombs on your own. Be prepared to stoop, crawl, and get a bit dusty in entering some of the tombs – part of the fun!
References: Lonely Plant Egypt and DK Eyewitness Travel Egypt