Monday, March 17, 2008

Giza, Memphis and Sakkara


Sakkara is 44kms (27miles) South of Cairo. The drive there was very pleasant, because you get to get out of the concrete jungle that is Cairo and get to drive through the fertile landscapes of Memphis and Saqqara. This road really reminded me of Taufik's hometown because of the canal all along in the middle of the road among the fields and fields of green vegetables and palm fronds. Along the way we met several donkey-pulled wooden carts carrying vegetables (carrots and leafy stuff) and fruits (oranges), which adds to the rural feel.

Then suddenly, the green-ness ended and you meet a vast arid desert.

Saqqara is one of the richest archaeological sites in egypt, being 3000 years old. We were greeted by the limestone wall that hides a colonnaded corridor of 40 pillars, ribbed in imitation of palm stems. The walkway is longer than I thought it would be, but it is very narrow and on a busy day (like the one when we were there), be prepared to rub shoulders with other tourists. When there are less people though, do take a chance to play peek-a-boo or hide and seek with your kids among the columns :)

The pyramid of Djoser was to our right as we exited the corridor. It is also called the 'Step Pyramid' due to it's shape. It is considered the prototype for future pyramids, built in the 27BC for the 3rd Dynasty King Djoser. King's tombs used to be just a flat mudbrick building called mastabas, but King Djoser's architect, Imhotep, decided to build one out of stone. He also decided to build 6 mastabas, one on top of and smaller than the other, which resulted in the stepped shape. We didnt go inside.

We did go inside what was left of the Pyramid of Unas, the tomb of the last king of the 5th Dynasty. This was when we started to really feel that we were visiting the ancient egyptians because the walls were covered with hieroglyphics, recording hymns, prayers and magical spells designed to protect the king in the afterlife. There were amazingly accurate drawings of cows, antelopes and people carrying food/offerings. There were also carvings of King Unas and his wife in full regalia.

I don't know whether it is allowed, but I wish I had brought some paper and charcoal/crayons with us so that my kids could do some wall rubbings. It would've made a great souviner, especially of the walls that were in chambers that were too dark to take pictures in.
Tickets: Adult 50LE Kids 25LE, we also gave a little tip to the old man who showed us around the tombs in the Pyramid of Unas and explained to us what the wall carvings meant.


Memphis is just 3kms (2 miles) away from Sakkara, and where you should head to is the village of Mit Rahina where the museum is. From Sakkara to Memphis we passed through more small villages which you might be interested to take pictures of.
The historian Herodotus described in 5th century AD that Memphis was a "prosperous city and cosmopolitan centre", with magnificent temples and palaces. Sadly all those were torned down and pillaged by foreign invaders from the Romans onwards. What is left is put in the museum in Mit Rahina, one of which is the 80ton collosal calcite statue of Ramses II. Also displayed around the statue under an open-aired (but roofed) building are other smaller granite and calcite statues found in the area.

Outside in the garden sits the "Alabaster Sphinx", though the guidebook says it is made of calcite (Calcite = alabaster? *shrug*). This sphinx is of course smaller than the one in Giza and still has his nose intact. Walk further on and you'll see artifacts from the temple, which includes calcite slabs where bulls were mummified. There is a very tall statue at the end of the garden but my guidebook did not mention it and there are no signs, therefore I do not know whether it is an artifact or a mere reproduction for decorative purposes.

There are stalls that sells souviners outside the museum, but you are better off buying stuff in Khan El-Khalili Bazaar (more choices, more competition, therefore more bargaining power).
Tickets: Adult 40LE Kids 20LE


Giza is closer to Cairo than Memphis and Sakkara, but it is not on the same highway. I would suggest you visit Giza in the morning then Mempis/Sakkara in the afternoon instead of the other way round like we did, coz we ended up with such a short time in Giza before the sun started setting. We even missed visiting the Solar Boat Museum, which holds a full-sized ancient Egyptian boat which is just like the ones seen in tomb paintings used by the sun-god to make his daily trip across the heavens. I would've loved to see that boat.

The Great Pyramid of Khufu is HUGE. It seemed almost pointless to take pictures so close to it since all you see are block of rocks, but it didnt stop us :) I now can say I have touched the great pyramid (one item off my "to do before I die" list.). To take the picture shown above, you have to drive up to the lookout point. You only get to do this in private transportation like a tour bus/van or a private hired cars. They do not allow taxis up here. (So tip: Hire a private car for the day, dont take a taxi to go to the pyramids). Another option is of course to ride the camels/horses that are for hire there, but they are too expensive in my opinion (Prices range from 150LE to 250LE, depending on your bargaining skills. Please agree on a price before mounting, otherwise the guy wont let you off the animal until you pay his price).

The Sphinx, the protector of the pyramids, is actually located on your way out of the Giza archeological site. You can actually walk closer to the statue, but we didnt have time to *boo hoo*. So we ended up only taking pictures from afar.
They have a Sound and Light show every evening. We weren't really interested so we didnt check the timing for the english shows nor the prices.
On our way out, it was glaringly obvious how the Giza modern town is encroaching the site of the pyramids. Almost right at it doorstep is a KFC and a PizzaHut! There goes my vision of the pyramids being in the middle of the desert.
Tickets: Adult 50LE, Kids 25LE, extra charge for car, i think 2LE.

All in all, it was a good day spent among the ancient egyptians. I am really amazed at their achitectural and artistic feats. The rocks were huge and hard, it is mind-boggling to imagine the amount of effort and determination that it took to cut and haul and carve those stones to be what they finally became.

More (and clearer) pictures on flickr.


  1. seronoknya nampak all the places that you went. Tapi kan Lisa, I rasa, I tak pergi tempat yang you pergi tu. Ke, I dah lupa. Lagipun, I wasn't the one who supposed to take notes. Tapi, yang took notes to pun, bukan buat apa pun rasanya. Cuma simpan banyak gambar je la..

    You kata tak sempat masuk pyramid ye. If I'm not mistaken, dalam tu bertangga.. naik dulu sikit, then turun balik.. tapi we had to be more careful sebab tangga dia steep. and panas jugak kat dalam tu. Tapi, since we all pergi tu memang summer yang panas sangat, panas kat dalam tu tak la rasa sangat :)

    Glad you and your family have fun.. Ni yang buat I rasa nak pergi lagi ni.. bawak the kids pulak hehehee..

  2. Neeza,
    when you were there, was the KFC and Pizza hut already there? (just curious)

    Pegi lah lagi!! :)
    I think if I go again, I'd visit places outside of Cairo. I hear that they have Oasis that are very nice :)

  3. Oh, I am so envious! looks like you guys had fun, despite the earlier 'foxtrot'.

  4. liana - hee hee
    it was a good thing that only one of us was having the foxtrots at any given time, and that we had medicine to supress the symptoms and got better real quick!
    Kalu dok gak.. mapuh nok buleh gi jjallang!!
    and hello hello, jangan jealous darling.. I tak pernah pegi chiang mai..

  5. Masa tu, I don't think ada KFC and Pizza Hut tu.. sebab all the while, I makan kebab and shawarma.. and the very juicy mango juice. Manis betul. Dia blend the real mango tu..

    I ada pergi Al Fansur.. tak ingat la nama dia.. tapi tempat tu banyak ladang kurma and grape hijau tu. Cuma masa tu, the grape tak masak lagi. Kami pergi bulan 5..

    Oasis tu, rasanya tak sampai lagi..

  6. woaaah! unreal. very very cool. those are very very cool postcard pictures. i pun teringin nak tengok pyramids. someday, someday :)
    glad you + family had a good time despite the sakit perut.
    (i must say i don't get the reference to foxtrot. apesal eh? bukan ke foxtrot itu sejenis tarian?)
    i know i know.. bimbo question =P

  7. neeza - oh yeas, we had fresh mango juice!! Nice! tapi sekali ajelah sebab lepas tu takut sakit perut.

    Nadia - perhaps the 'foxtrot' refers to the little jig we do when we need to badly go to the toilet?
    ha ha ha
    I was thinking of framing some of the pictures, but prolly only after I photoshop Taufik's perut to make it look ... less 'prosperous'.. *LOL*