A nice side trip from Cairo is down to the ancient captial city of Memphis. Though little remains of this Pharonic city, the open air museum here is worth a visit, especially to see the hugh fallen image of Ramses II that the museum was built around.
Located about 24 KM south of Cairo.
Another nice side trip, which can be taken in conjunction with a visit to Memphis would be to visit the final resting place of Zoser at Sakkara.
The step pyramid of Zoser is a marvel in itself and was a precurser to its more famous cousins at Giza.
The image of this pyramid also can be found adorning a can of Sakkara beer, which is a local Egyptian brew....
In the open air museum of Memphis is -except the large statue of Ramses II - also an alabaster sfinx of eight tonne in the garden.
Furtheryou can see the sarcophagus Amenhotep and more smaller statues of Ramses II.
Opening hours: 8 am to 5 pm
Entrancefee: 14 Egyptian pound
Memphis, founded in 3.100 BC, was the glorious capital of the Old Kingdom of Egypt.
Even in the 5th century BC, long after Thebes became the new capital of Egypt, was Memphis still a "prosperous city and cosmopolitan centre" (Herodotus).
Nowadays it's only a small museum in open air. The main attraction is the huge limestone statue of Ramses II. This staue is lying down and is similar to the one standing at Midan Ramses in Cairo.
Saqqara, named after Sokar the God of the cemetaries, is the necropolis of Memphis.
In 3000 years the necropoils grew 7 KM into the western desert.
Zoser's step pyramid is the most known structure of Saqqara, but there is so much more, that for exploring the site you need more than one day. So you have to make choices.
The archaeologists ignored the site a long time. The mortuary complex round the pyramid is first discovered 80 years ago.
The Step Pyramid of King Zoser is the largest stone structure ever built. The brilliant architect Imhotep, also first minister and doctor of Zoser, constructed the pyramid in 2675 BC. His way of construction was new and a break with traditions to build royal tombs as undergroud rooms.
This pyramid became the inspiration and the start for the future architectural achievements and building of pyramids in Egypt.
The mortuary complex around the step pyramid is 544M long and 277M wide and there is a lot to explore. A part of the 10M high enclosure wall with bastions survived and is restored. In the wall were many false doors, so the spirit of Zoser could come and go. For the living people is only one entrance from where you can reach the Great South Court. Further you can have a look at the Houses of the South and the North, the serdab and the mortuary temple.
The complex is very impressing. I visited Saqqara two times, but will be back.
You can enter some tombs and the serdab. I did'nt the first time 20 years ago, when I visited Saqqara with a guided tour, but maybe the tombs were not open yet.
The second time we went on our own and could spend as much time we liked.
In the mastabi, open for the public you can see extraordinary reliefs, paintings and statues, who give a nice view at the daily life of the 27th century BC.
In the tombs of Saqqara you can find a lot of paintings telling about of the daily life in the 26th and 25th century BC.
So you can see craftsmen at work, medical scenes, families on a boattrip at the Nile, playing girls, priests, musicians.
There are funeral ceremonies with families bringing food like bread, vegetables, fruits, wine and cattle to their dead relatives.
You need time for discovering the scenes. The paintings are not always very clear.
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.
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.
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.
SAQQARA: 8 km long & 1 km wide. This is where ZOSER'S PYRAMID is located; the first large structure finished in stone ashlars. Height: 62.5 m Base: 125x109 m. An extraordinary number of galleries, tunnels & rooms has be discovered under the pyramid.
MEMPHIS: This ancient capital of MENUFER extends for 15 km from Giza to Saqqara began by architect Imhotep has nothing left but a few ruins, most important of which are the TEMPLE OF PTAH, where the pharaohs were crowned & a chapel of Seti I. Look out for the Alabaster SPHINX OF AMENOPHIS II (pictured) carved from a single block (4.5 m high & 8 m long) which once flanked the entrance to the Temple of Ptah.