Memphis was the ancient Egyptian capital long before Cairo. It is an exciting place of constant discovery as pyramids, tombs, and temples continue to be discovered. The ruins of the city lie 20 km south of Giza, cairo near the town of Mit Rahina.
Saqqara (also spelled Sakkara or Saccara) is a vast necropolis which served as the burial ground for ancient Egypt for thousands of years. There are numerous pyramids in Saqqara including the famous Pyramid of Djoser, also known as the Step Tomb.
People tend to think of Giza when they think of pyramids, but there are many more around the country and some are yet to be discovered. The majority of them are situated in Saqqara and around the Pyramids of Giza.
This guide will explain everything you need to know about visiting Memphis, Saqqara and the pyramids, and explain how to get there.
What are the Best Things to See and Do in Memphis and Saqqara?
There is a wealth of things to do in Saqqara. There are few places in the world which have so many structures still standing from thousands of years ago. Here are just a few of the highlights.
The vast cemetery of ancient Memphis was a burial ground for over 3500 years. Covering a 7 km stretch high above the Nile Valley’s cultivation area, it is Egypt’s largest archeological site.
Saqqara has 11 major pyramids, which were the final resting places for the pharaohs of this period. There are also hundreds of smaller tombs for important families, generals, and sacred animals.
Saqqara was buried in sand until it was partially uncovered in the mid-19th century. Due to its sheer size it has been in a constant state or rediscovery and restoration ever since.
The Red Pyramid is the oldest true pyramid (which followed the step pyramid). As its name suggests, the pyramid is constricted from red limestone and it is a breathtaking sight.
The entrance is 125 steps high followed by a 63m-long passage which takes you to 2 antechambers with stunning high ceilings. There is also a 15m-high corbelled burial chamber which is where Sneferu’s supposed remains were found.
The structure itself was built after the warped ‘Bent Pyramid’. the architects learned the necessary lessons and built the Red Pyramid. It was built at the same 43-degree angle but did not arch over like its predecessor.
The Imhotep Museum lies at the foot of the Saqqara Necropolis and contains 5 halls of fascinating, beautifully-presented displays of items from the Necropolis area. It is a great place to start your trip as it provides context and information which you can take with you.
The museum opened in 2006 and was dedicated to the Egyptian architect, Imhotep, who served Pharaoh Zoser. He is credited with forming the first plans for stone architecture and is considered to be the world’s first physician.
Imhotep’s coffin is on display in one of the rooms but this is just one of the ancient items you can see there. The entrance itself exhibits some of the rarer finds including mummies, statues, and paintings.
Mastaba of Ti
The Mastaba of Ti is the extravagant tomb of Ti, the overseer of the Abu Sir Pyramids and sun temples during the 5th dynasty. He was nicknamed ‘Ti the Rich’ and this reputation is reflected in his amazing tomb.
A life-size statue of Ti stands in the tomb’s offering hall (though the original is in the Egyptian Museum, Cairo) and the passageways are decorated with an impressive relics. The main hall has a small room with three eye-level holes which were designed to allow the dead to witness the tomb’s offerings and rituals.
Images of Ti’s wife and children also feature heavily throughout the tomb. Ti’s wife, Neferhetpes, was a priestess and royal acquaintance and their 2 sons were also very prominent members of Egyptian society.
Step Pyramid of Djoser
The grand pyramid is 60 meters high and it is the tomb of the third dynasty ruler Djoser (or Zoser). It is an incredible sight but unfortunately you can no longer enter the pyramid due to safety issues.
It was designed by Imhotep and is thought to be the first ever major stone structure built in Egypt. The pyramid comprises large mastabas (mud-brick tombs) of the First and Second Dynasties, 6 steps which get steadily smaller as they ascend, multiple new layers of masonry, as well as newer developments.
The chambers of the pyramid served as the final resting place for close relatives of Djoser. His sons who died in childhood hold special places in the structure and the are special parts for storing items which the dead can use in the afterlife.
How to Travel to Saqqara and Memphis, Egypt?
The ancient cities of Memphis and Saqqara are only around 30 kilometers south of Cairo on a map and it is very easy to get there by road. There are no public transport links but hiring a car or private taxi are both affordable options.
Many travel agencies offer full-day and half-day tours to the area though this often means you are restricted the planned routes and itinerary. One advantage of going on an organized tour is that you often go with an expert who can provide insightful information.
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