Did you know that there are older pyramids than the ones outside of Cairo?
Here’s how to see them, plus the main pyramids in Giza and the Colossus in Memphis.
When most people picture the Pyramids of Egypt, they envision the ones in Giza, looming over the city of Cairo. While these are ancient, they aren’t the first built or oldest of the pyramids in Egypt. Those first pyramids are located near the cities of Saqqara and Dahshur. Before I planned this trip, I didn’t even know about these other pyramids, but once I learned about them I knew we needed to see them, if only for the historical perspective before we saw the ones in Giza. In short, I think it was worth it.
How to see the Pyramids in Egypt-Visting Saqqara and Dashur
We were picked up at our hotel the morning after we arrived and the drive down to Saqqara took about half an hour of interesting scenery along the highway, including camels and goats.
Our first stop was the Funerary Complex of King Teti which is near Saqqara. It’s “newer” than the others we are about to see, but a good introduction. This is a smooth-sided pyramid build around 2330 BC, but from the outside just looks like a small hill. However, this was our first experience going down into a tomb inside a pyramid.
I was concerned it would feel claustrophobic but it didn’t. The stairs leading down were more like a ladder, but not bad, and once at the bottom, there was enough room to move around and not feel cramped.
As with most major sights in Egypt, guides are not allowed to go inside with tourists. This means a couple of things. First, your guide will explain what you are about to see before you go in and then you can ask questions later. Second, there are “guards” inside who will try to act like informal guides and then ask you for money. Don’t feel pressured to give them any, but if you feel that they were helpful the equivalent of a dollar or two is fine.
The carvings below were on the temple associated with the Necropolis and from inside the tomb itself. The stars were on the ceiling of the tomb and were once painted blue and white.
Nearby the Teti Pyramid is the most famous pyramid in Saqqara, the pyramid of Djoser, which dates back to 2700 BC and is known as the Step Pyramid because it was built with steps instead of smooth sides like the Pyramids in Giza. We started by going through the front walls of the complex (below).
A few weeks before we left I saw an article online about how the Egyptian government had just opened a tomb at Saqqara which had been closed since 1940. I knew then we had to try and see the Tomb of Mehu.
When we arrived, our guide Mamdouh had to buy a special separate ticket for the Tomb of Mehu, but when we reached it after seeing the step pyramid, the entrance door was locked tight with a chain and a padlock.
He quickly found a guard to unlock it and we were ushered inside, all alone. I had been expecting crowds of people and instead it was just us in this special place!
Cost? About $5 extra per person. Value? Priceless.
The image lower left is Mehu and his wife. This is significant because she is presented as equal in size to his image which shows how heigh he held her in his esteem. Most images of wives show them as about 1/3 the size of their husbands.
Our guide was thrilled that we’d wanted to see Mehu’s tomb. This was his first time seeing it since no one else had yet asked! He said he’d always remember us because of this. 🙂
The Pyramids in Dashur
At some point after mastering the building of the step pyramids, the Egyptians tried to build a smooth-sided pyramid and failed in a spectacular manner. Of the pyramids in Dashur, the most well known is the “Bent Pyramid” was built around 2600 BC. This shows the learning curve of building the smooth-sided pyramids and how that clearly, there was a miscalculation on the angle during the building process and they had to adjust it in order to complete the top.
The Red Pyramid, also in the Dashur complex, is the third-largest in Egypt after the ones in Giza, Khufu and Khafra. It’s called the Red Pyramid because of the color of its stones, but its Egyptian name is Snefru. As you can see below, there was no one there. We did not go inside
Colossus of Memphis
On our drive back to Cairo we stopped to see the museum of the Colossus of Memphis, also known as Ramesses II. There is a two-story building around the gigantic statue with an interior balcony around the second level to allow for viewing from above.
The remains of the statue were discovered in 1820 and he’s on his back because his feet and base are missing. The statue is about 30 feet long. There is a twin to this statue which has been fully restored and is supposed to go into the new Grand Egyptian Museum in Giza when it opens.
Also in the museum complex in Memphis is a smaller version of the Sphinx than the one in Giza. This one, however, still has his nose and beard.
How to see the Pyramids in Giza
We visited the pyramids in Giza on our second day and while we were picked up in a minivan by the tour company, we probably could have easily walked there from our hotel The Marriott Mena House. The entrance and ticket windows were kind of chaotic and crowded so we were happy to have someone take care of all that for us as well as be our buffer for all the touts trying to sell us things like postcards, guidebooks, and camel rides.
It’s really hard to grasp how gigantic everything is until you are right up next to it. How did they move these stones with only the technology available 5000 years ago?
After we walked around the outside of the Pyramids for a while (we chose not to go inside) we got back in the minivan and drove up to a higher area of the Giza Plateau overlooking the pyramids from a distance with the city of Cairo in the background. Because this is such a “Kodak moment” location, this is also the place to rent camels for a short ride if you are so inclined (we were not). Prices are clearly posted so don’t get overcharged.
Before leaving Giza, we of course had to pay a visit to the mighty Sphinx.
- We booked our trips to the pyramids as two separate day trips with Your Egypt Tours. On one day we saw Saqqara, Dashur, and Memphis and on another, we saw the Pyramids in Giza. Each day cost about $50 per person for a private tour.
- You can find group tours and private though websites like Viator and Get Your Guide.
- You can also hire a taxi to take you to the entrance to the Pyramids in Giza and tour on your own, but beware would-be guides who approach you.
- Do not give anyone your ticket once you have passed through security.
- If you stay at the Marriott Mena House or nearby hotels, you could easily walk to the entrance to the complex.
- You will need to hire a driver to take you to Saqqara and Dashur, for this reason, I recommend going with a tour and guide.
- Entrance fees were included in our tour but if you look at the tickets, you can see what they cost.
- The trip to Saqqara and Dashur took about 4-5 hours. This included the drive to and from Giza, and visiting all the sites.
- The pyramids in Giza were pretty quick because we chose not to go inside and not to see the “Solar ship”, but we did check out the Sphinx, the outside of the Pyramids and the Giza Plateau, for a total of about an hour and a half. We toured other areas of Cairo on this day as well.
- Could you see ALL of these pyramids in a single day? Sure, but it might be a very long and tiring one.
- Wear comfortable clothes and sun protection. It can be very hot and sunny and a hat is a must most of the year.
- Bring Cool Towels for the heat.
- Wear sensible shoes, preferably closed-toe, to keep out dust and dirt.
- Read my post on what to wear and pack for Egypt
- Restrooms are available at most sites. If you have small change, tip the attendant who gets paid only via tips.
- Want to stay in a room with a view of the pyramids? Read my post on Hotels in Egypt.
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NOTE: Everything on this trip was paid for by us. Nothing was complimentary or given in exchange for reviews or promotions.