Cairo / egypt / history / Tourism

Memphis, Saqqara, November

November has been doable, so far.

I still get frustrated (correction: furious) when my students look shocked when I present them with a quiz I’ve told them about multiple times starting a week in advance. I still spend the majority of my time grading and lesson writing. I still work through my weekends. But through planning and the blessing that is midterms, I’ve managed to stem the tide a bit, and have had time to even relax a bit this month!

Therefore, I believe I should finally finish the tale of my Pyramid adventures that I took way, WAY back when in September.

Once finished with the Pyramids of Giza and the papyrus factory tour, my guide took me further into the desert to see more funerary sites–the desert west of Giza is quite literally a graveyard. First, we stopped in Memphis, which was a capital city for Lower Egypt more than once in history and also just generally a huge cultural and trade center. It flourished the most under good ol’ Ramses II, the “Moses” Pharaoh if that rings any bells for you. (Ramses II, by the way, was quite the charmer…he had 27 wives, 100+ children, and 300+ grandchildren. Good thing he didn’t have to pay for any of them to go to college…) I believe my tour guide also mentioned that the city used to be called the city of beautiful walls, as it was lined with sycamore trees–I’d like to see some sources for that information, personally.

A still-standing version of Ramses 2. Not a bad lookin' fella.

A still-standing version of Ramses 2. Not a bad lookin’ fella.

These days Memphis is a bit smaller. There aren’t really many architectural ruins left–just lots of statues and broken stelae, with the exception of Egypt’s 2nd largest sphinx. (This sounds cool in theory, but since it’s maybe like twice the size of a horse, it really has no comparison at all to the real deal that I had seen earlier that morning.) However, some of the remains from Ramses II are downright impressive. And also rather…large.

Oh. OH. Ramses 2...but mega-sized.

Oh. OH. Ramses 2…but mega-sized. Check out those CALF MUSCLES.

So, we sort of just putzed through Memphis, and then it was on to Saqqara, which was the necropolis for Memphis. Saqqara is indeed a fully-stuffed graveyard. It is home to quite a few pyramids in varying condition, probably the most famous of which is the Step pyramid, belonging to King Zhoser/Djoser.  This particular pyramid was constructed before the whole “smooth” thing was really under control, and thus we have “steps” for each level instead of a nice, perfectly-angled incline all the way to the top. If my memory serves from both the tour/archaeology classes, it was the first real attempt to build a funerary tomb upwards–usually they stopped with a shape like the bottommost layer here. It was Djoser’s move to repeat that layer in smaller versions on top of one another.

Good try, team.

Good try, team. Don’t worry, your descendants totally nailed it later on.

One thing I love about the desert is the rather unobstructed view–I could not only see the Giza pyramids off in one direction, but also the Broken pyramid and the Red Pyramid (which I REALLY want to go in) off in the distance. It’s insane how much history is in such a small geographic area.


Left: Broken pyramid (aka they got the angle wrong. Seriously, this one was a screw up so they built another.) Right: The Red pyramid.

Left: Broken pyramid (aka they got the angle wrong. Seriously, this one was a screw up so they built another.) Right: The Red pyramid.

Staring down into an excavation tunnel to help uncover the area around the Step Pyramid.

Staring down into an excavation tunnel to help uncover the area around the Step Pyramid.

In the immediate vicinity of the Step pyramid are several smaller pyramids, including one belonging to a champ named Titi, which I elected to go in instead of the Great Pyramid at Giza. Why? Because this is one of the first pyramids that had hieroglyphics carved inside–as in, there’s actually something TO look at, rather than, you know…blank stone walls.

Itty bitty doorway once inside.

Itty bitty doorway once inside.

So, here’s what you should know about going inside pyramids…only at Giza is it “legal” and a service you can arrange beforehand. All pyramids are guarded, but when I say guarded I more mean there’s someone waiting to collect an entrance fee, should you choose to go in.

A lot of people bitch about this. They complain that it is corrupt and bribery. But here’s my take–you’re willing to pay extra (beyond the entrance fee to the park) to go in the Great Pyramid. You’re willing to pay extra to bring a camera inside the Egyptian Museum on top of the entrance fee. The only difference HERE is that it is unofficial and not sanctioned. My tour guide introduced the idea in a very casual way, telling me if I wanted to go in I just paid a small amount to the guard and he would show me around, which he did, no hush-hush or scuffle at all. I think I gave him 20 EGP, 10-15 for letting me in and then a bit more because I took photos (no flash, don’t worry.) It’s completely well known that this is happening all over, so think of it simply as a foreign custom, and not someone trying to rip you off.  The guard WAS trying to convince me to give him more money on the way out, because he’d seen it when I was pulling out money earlier, but I literally just told him “No, I already paid you” and he let me go, zero problems.

And to see carved writings like this up close, it was totally worth it.

And to see carved writings like this up close, it was totally worth it.

So there you have it. A day full of heat, sunshine, and ancient cemeteries. Once again, I used “Your Egypt Tours” and my guide’s name was Sahil (the driver was Adil) if anyone would like to have the same excellent day that I did!

Hoping you’re all having a lovely week,


One thought on “Memphis, Saqqara, November

  1. Pingback: Hoofprints on the Sand | Becky Abroad

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