Dahshur

Exploring Dahshur and Saqqara – Egypt as it was a Hundred Years Ago

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

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 Red Pyramid - picture perfect with a camel!

The Red Pyramid – picture perfect with a camel!

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 Bent Pyramid - not accessible to tourists.  The angle was reduced from 54 to 43 degrees due to stress and instability.

The Bent Pyramid – not accessible to tourists. The angle was reduced from 54 to 43 degrees due to stress and instability.

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.

The corbelled ceilings in the Red Pyramid chambers. Hard to get a good perspective with a photo.

The corbelled ceilings in the Red Pyramid chambers. Hard to get a good perspective with a photo.

The entrance to the Red Pyramid is in the distance.

The entrance to the Red Pyramid is in the distance.

Saqqara

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.

My in-laws in front of the Step Pyramid. The pyramid's interior is not open or safe enough for visitors.

My in-laws in front of the Step Pyramid. The pyramid’s interior is not open or safe enough for visitors.

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.

The entrance to the Tomb of Mereruka, one of the many tombs at Saqqara.

The entrance to the Tomb of Mereruka, one of the many tombs at Saqqara.

Inside the Tomb of Mereruka, there are 32 chambers in this tomb.

Inside the Tomb of Mereruka, there are 32 chambers in this tomb.

Inside the Pyramid of Teti at Saqqara (about 2300 BC) - note the Pyramid Texts on the walls.

Inside the Pyramid of Teti at Saqqara (about 2300 BC) – note the Pyramid Texts on the walls.

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!

The Pyramids of Abu Sir, looking north from Saqqara. The most northern one, Pyramid of Sahure, was open to tourists at the time, not sure if it still is.

The Pyramids of Abu Sir, looking north from Saqqara. The most northern one, Pyramid of Sahure, was open to tourists at the time, not sure if it still is.

References: Lonely Plant Egypt and DK Eyewitness Travel Egypt