Dashur and Saqqara are a bit of a ballache to get to. We did contemplate Uber but the distances between the attractions within each site are also a bit of a bugger and, as we found out at Giza, traipsing around over uneven terrain in the Egyptian heat as your shoes slowly fill with sand and every single molecule of H2O in your body makes a break for freedom isn’t exactly high on the list of pleasant tourist experiences. Fuck it. We’re on holiday. We hired a driver.
Why were we bothered about these particular pyramids when we’d already seen the granddaddy of all the big pointy bastards? Because they’re even fucking older, that’s why. If you want to do them chronologically then you should start with Saqqara but that’s a much bigger site so we thought we’d put Dahshur in our eyeholes first. The drive took the best part of an hour, definitely hindered by the poor state of the roads as we got closer to the sites. Mahmoud, our driver, gingerly maneuvered his lovely car around potholes and particularly brutal speed bumps.
Dahshur then. We paid our entrance fees and Mahmoud drove us up to the Bent Pyramid first. This was Sneferu’s first (or maybe second, there’s another pyramid which is attributed to him but some historians think an earlier pharaoh built that one) attempt at an actual pyramid rather than step pyramid. Sneferu was the first king of the 4th Dynasty and father of Khufu of Big Pointy Bastard fame.
It’s in pretty decent condition considering firstly its age of about 4600 years, and secondly the fact it’s the weird shape it is on account of the fact they weren’t really sure how to build true pyramids just yet and tried to build it at too steep of an angle. They fucked right up with that one. It was unstable so they switched the angle from 55° to 43° halfway through. They do reckon though that it’s the imperfections in it that have allowed it to retain most of its Tura limestone casing stones. I’m weirdly attracted to it. Not in a “lock up your pyramids” kind of way, I’m not going to sneak back later on to hump it.
One of the joys of splashing out on a car was the fact we could now get back into said car and be chauffeured to the Red Pyramid. This bad boy was built by Sneferu after the Bent Pyramid and he learned from his mistakes. This time they built the whole shebang at a 43° angle thus making it the first true smooth sided pyramid and paving the way for Khufu to build his monster in Giza. Well that’s quite the accolade. They don’t know which, if either, pyramid he was buried in in the end because they’ve not found him yet. Wish I had the money to go about building pyramids willy nilly that I may or may not be interred in.
You can go inside both pyramids but I figured I only needed to sweat to death once today and I opted for the Red Pyramid. Tarrant sensibly abstained. It’s actually really fucking hard work for very little reward and when I emerged, a sweating, panting mess, another tourist looked at me with a raised eyebrow and said, “Really?!” Yes. Really. That was a right bastard and now my legs hurt. I hobbled back down the million steps, rejoined Tarrant and we headed back to the car to be taken to Saqqara.
You’ve got to put your bags through an x-ray here and then you have to decide what you want to see because not everything is included in the entrance ticket. Neither of us had any desire to set foot inside a pyramid ever again, a concept the guy at the desk couldn’t wrap his head around.
“But then you can’t go inside the pyramid!” he kept telling us.
“We don’t want to go inside it!” we insisted. I mean, it’s not going to be a pleasant experience, no one goes inside a pyramid because it’s fun, it’s just so you can say you’ve done it and I’d done two now. That’s bragging rights for a good few years I reckon.
First stop was some tombs which are far less traumatic to get in and out of and they even have pictures for you to look at. You know what has me giggling like a small child? Hieroglyphics. Seeing them right here in real life, carved by some dude thousands of years ago. You see things on TV and in films but you never know how much Hollywood makes up or exaggerates, but here we are, putting them in our very own eyeholes first hand after only ever seeing them through a screen. It kind of feels like meeting a celebrity.
Mahmoud ferried us to the Pyramid of Djoser and this is important on account of it being the first pyramid built. Like, ever. Djoser was the first king of the 3rd Dynasty and he had his architect, Imhotep, build him a pyramid, and what a cracking piece of engineering it was too. No wonder Imhotep was deified. He did it by taking your standard mastaba and, well, just adding more mastabas until he got a step pyramid.
We wandered around aimlessly for a bit then tried to find the Serapeum but we couldn’t. Thing is, we were winging it. This is what happens when I don’t meticulously plan shit. We end up walking around in sandy circles and not really getting anywhere. I’m sure we missed a metric fuck tonne of really cool shit and actually, you might benefit from a guide for this site. It’s big and complex and not intuitive to walk around. We went back to the car expecting to leave but Mahmoud called a mate to find out where the Serapeum actually was and he drove us there. What a legend.
So it’s basically an eerie place with huge sarcophagi to each side. Like, properly massive. Turns out these used to house mummified sacred Apis bulls. So yeah, a cult then. There’s not much information at the site but of course the mighty Wikipedia will tell you everything you need to know. In a nutshell, Apis bull died, was partially eaten then mummified and interred in a ceremony. The next sacred bull was located, identified from specific markings, then it lived out its life and rinse and repeat.
Well that was that then. Sufficiently hot, sweaty and dusty we headed back to Mahmoud and he drove us back to Giza. We weren’t originally going to do Dahshur and Saqqara here hence the lack of planning. Kareem, the guesthouse owner, sourced us a driver that morning and we were whisked away after breakfast. I’d call the sites a must-see, but either plan your visit better than we did or take a guide. In hindsight I do wish we’d gone for the latter but it was still a brilliant day.
Dahshur & Saqqara, Giza Governorate, Egypt
دهشور وسقارة ، محافظة الجيزة ، مصر
Stayed at: Capo Pyramid, Giza
Useful shit to know…
- You could, in theory, do both of these sites with Uber but they’d probably just deposit you at the entrance then you’re on your own.
- The ticket office for Dahshur is over 2.5 kilometres from the Red Pyramid then the Bent Pyramid is 2.5 kilometres beyond the Red Pyramid. Then you’d need to get back to the exit. That’s a metric fuck tonne of walking just to look at two things. A driver will take you right to the pyramids.
- If you take a car and driver you could probably see this site in 45 minutes to an hour, depending on if you want to go inside the pyramids or not.
- It cost LE60 each and we had to pay LE10 for the car.
- You can go inside the pyramids at no extra cost.
- Saqqara would be more doable with Uber, there’s a lot more there, but again it’d be a whole lot of walking.
- The Step Pyramid is 1.2 kilometres from the ticket office. The Serapheum is 2.2 kilometres from the ticket office.
- It’s LE200 to get into Saqqara (plus LE10 for the car) but then other things cost extra. Don’t do what we did and panic buy the LE480 inclusive ticket which includes everything apart from going inside the Step Pyramid (LE100) and the Southern Tomb (I think LE80? I forgot to take a photo). Work out what you want to see and decide if the inclusive ticket is worth it.
- I think if you want to see everything here you need a good couple of hours if not more. We went inside two tombs, walked around the outside of the Step Pyramid, got lost looking for the Serapheum before our driver ended up taking us there, and visited that. Just those few things was probably 90 minutes.
- Our guesthouse owner arranged a driver for us. We paid LE500 and he was with us for around 5 hours as just a driver, not a guide.