Often overlooked in favour of Giza, Saqqara is a far more varied archaeological site, and is much less crowded, both with tourists and the tat-hawkers that tend to go with them.
Here, you get to see the earliest pyramid – the so-called ‘Step Pyramid’, which is still impressive in size and is set in a partly-restored ‘complex’ of buildings. Various other pyramids in more or less romantically-ruinous states are scattered around the site, together with some of the most wonderfully decorated private tombs in Egypt.
With these, though, as with lots of sites in Egypt, it’s almost impossible to say what will be open and what won’t, because that information seems to change rather haphazardly. Get here under your own steam by a taxi from Cairo to make sure you can wander around the many acres of ruins without worrying about getting back on to a coach.
One thing not to miss is the pyramid of Unas – start at his pyramid and then walk down its ‘causeway’, which has private tombs built all around it.
Giza can be a nightmare. Its atmosphere has been ruined by the road, the coaches, the thousands of tourists and a seemingly equal number of Egyptians offering tacky souvenirs and camel rides at inflated prices. This is no coincidence however, it being the site at which the pharaohs of the Fourth Dynasty at last nailed the art of pyramid building.
One of their predecessors, Sneferu, did much of the ground work however. He erected two monuments of his own at the much quieter site of Dahshur, a few miles south of Giza.
The earlier of the two is the ‘bent’ pyramid, so-named because the king’s architect got his sums wrong and had to change the angle of incline halfway up. The second, the ‘red’ pyramid was an unqualified success: a straight sided pyramid, smaller only than the great pyramid itself.
The interior of the red pyramid with its corbel vaulted ceiling is well worth a look, and the bent-pyramid preserves much of the outer casing that was stripped from the Giza pyramids centuries ago. The lack of tourists gives you a chance to take in the immensity of these monuments.
Although you kind of have to go to Giza, I highly recommend seeing Dahshur as well – it’s what Giza ought to be like.
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