On the road approaching the Step Pyramids in Sakkara you will see several carpet making schools on both sides of the road. I have read and heard a lot about these places. Reviews range from overpriced carpet shops preying on busloads of unexpecting tourists to child labor sweatshops. I have also read that they are what they purport to be which is carpet schools. Our guide (who was an Egyptologist) and did not try to take us there said that they were actually schools where some young people learned to make carpets and others worked for a full-time job. I mention that she did not want to take use there to point out that she did not stand to make any commission during our visit and she also knew we weren't going to buy anything.
At any rate, I recommend that you stop by one of these places and check it out if you are not familiar with handmade Middle Eastern and North African carpets. When you enter you will be taken to the floor where women and children are making actual carpets based on complex designs. You can watch how they stitch and knot the carpets and see the different materials in use. Once you have seen it you can head to the showroom where they will serve you tea and maybe something to eat and show you as many different carpets as you have patience to see. There is no requirement or expectation that you buy anything and if you are tempted to buy remember to start negotiations between one quarter and one half of their initial price. They will act shocked and appalled or insulted at your original offer...just smile and negotiate. It is all part of the game!
Some of the Mastabi are open to the public and are a must see on any visit to Saqqara. There are some extraordinary reliefs and statuory, all of which have helped archaelogists understand the way of life (and death) of the 5th Dynasty. It's a bit of a schlepp round the site to see them all, but definately worth it.
More of 'out of Cairo' than 'off the beaten track' as Memphis and Saqqara are well within the normal tourist sites of the Egyptian capital.
Personally, I felt this was more impressive than the Pyramids themselves. Admittedly, the Stepped pyramid is not as impressive, but the overall site is much more interesting, with many tombs (Mastaba) open to the public (with fine examples of ancient wall paintings and statuory), and the famed frieze of cobras.
The complex is older than Giza, with the Stepped Pyramid being, when built, the largest stone structure (and many see it as the 'beginning of architecture')
Whilst straightforward, it can be a hassle to get to, hence the reason why most people travel to Saqqara on an organised tour. The extensive layout means you need to maximise time here: travelling by public transport would seriously undermine the time available.
It's amazing to believe that Memphis was once the 'glorious' capital of Old Egypt - it has as good as disappeared. Settled around 3100 BC, all that remains is an open-air museum and a small 'contemporary' settlement.
25kms south of Cairo, in itself, Memphis would not be worth the effort if it was not for the fact that it is only 3kms from its necropolis, the spectacular Saqqara.
Far, far less crowded but still worthy of your time-- don't miss out on the Saqqara step pyramids, which are an earlier form of pyramids before those your see at Giza were built. Camel rides here will only cost about LE 20 (you have to bargain, like everything else in this country) but still good fun and much more value for money.
If you let a guide take your around inside the temples and tombs, make sure you have spare cash for tips.
Bottom line: Saqqara was a gem of a place, relatively unpolluted by tourist traffic, though Memphis on the whole felt much more like a tourist trap.
Saqqara is famous for the steps pyramids. These pyramids are the oldest in the world and worth a visit. Take enough time to explore the large area.In opposite to Geza its quieter here with nearly no guides, touts, and other business men trying to squeeze the last piaster out of you.
”You will find here, in the middle of the dessert, a peaceful quality rarely found at other ancient sites in Egypt.” L.P.5th edition
Saqqara is easy to reach by public transport if you are on a tight budget: Take a bus from the Egyptian Museum to Saqqara Turn Off (Bus No#900) on the Geza Road. Then catch a minibus (50 pt) to Saqqara Village but get off at the turn off to the ancient site. From there its about a twenty minutes walk to the ticket office.
About 2 km north is Abu Sir. Four pyramids are left out of fourteen. This complex is only opened to the public since 1996 (closed again in 2004 but ok to visit for some baksheesh) The Pyramid of Sahure is the most complete.
“The entrance corridor is only half a metre high and slopes down to a small room, from where you go through a75m corridor before crawling the last two metres on your stomach through pharaonic dust and spider webs to get into the burial chamber!”
From the site its possible to walk back to the road to Abu Sir Village and catch a ride to Geza or if you want to travel the same way back you came, towards Saqqara Village, where you will find transport back to Cairo.
The entrance fee to Saqqara complex is 20 E.P.
From the Saqqara Pyramids you can see the Geza ones and its possible to walk there through the dessert. Take enough water and time and enjoy a quiet time. Its about a twenty kilometres walk.
After the Bent Pyramid pharaoh Sneferu had a new pyramid built, the Red Pyramid (North Pyramid). This time the pyramid was built in an angle of 43 degrees from the beginning and therefore it became the first proper pyramid. Together with the Bent Pyramid the Red Pyramid is the third largest pyramid in Egypt.
Entrance fee to the area is 20 pounds. There also is a fee for the car of 2 pounds. From the entrance the road leads to the Red Pyramid where there is a parking lot.
From the parking lot there is a stair up to the entrance of the Red Pyramid. The entrance is 30 metres up and from there you can see the pyramids of Saqqara. A passage is leading 65 metres down to the chambers. The first chamber has a 12 metres high corbelled ceiling. The second chamber is the burial chamber and there the corbelled ceiling is 15 metres high. Not until I was on my way out of the pyramid did I meet other people. It was nice to see such an old and interesting monument without the crowds you see in many other places in Egypt.
There is no extra fee to enter the pyramid.
In Dahshur you will find the world’s oldest proper pyramid (not a step pyramid).
The area has been in a military zoon and it is only the latest 10 years tourists have been allowed to visit the site. Many tours visit Giza, Saqqara and Memphis, but not Dahshur. They really miss something, but it is good for the ones who visit, as they will have the place almost for themselves. When I visited there was no one trying to sell you things, offer you a camel ride or asking if you need a guide. There were only the police in front of the pyramid and very few tourists.
The Bent Pyramid is the first pyramid which is not a step pyramid. The architects of pharaoh Sneferu (2613 - 2589 BC) started to built this pyramid in 55 degrees, but half way up the 105 metres they discovered that the pyramid was unstable and they changed the angle to 43 degrees. You can clearly see the change in the surface lines. The outer limestone casting is still quite intact and the pyramid surface looks very smooth.
When Upper and Lower Egypt was united in 3100 BC farao Narmer founded Memphis as the new capital, and it stayed capital for a long time.
Visiting today it is difficult to understand that Memphis was once one of the greatest cities of the ancient world. What can be seen today is only an open-air museum with a few statues.
Under roof is a colossal statue of Ramses II made in limestone. The statue is missing the lower legs now, but when they were there and the statue was standing it was as tall as a five story house. Very impressive!
In the garden there is a big alabaster sphinx and some other statues. There is also a lot of souvenir stalls.
Entrance fee is 25 pounds (August 2005).
Memphis is situated 24 km south of Cairo.
Seeing Sakkara from the main road is interesting enough, but the antiquities are even more beautiful fromt the desert side. There are usually men around with camels and horses that can be rented for an hour or so so that you can ride out into the desert and get a feel for the pyramids and tombs away from the buses. There are also a lot of stables in the area where you can take a horse tour in the desert or countryside.
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