Oldest Pyramid in Egypt!

Trip Start Mar 19, 2010
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Trip End Apr 16, 2010


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Wednesday, March 24, 2010

We ventured out today in a private microbus to the village of Saqqara.  It is such a beautiful drive!  Saqqara is known for three things:  Palm Trees, Carpet Weaving & The Oldest Pyramid in Egypt.

It is exactly how you would have imagined Egypt 100 years ago.  Once you exit the craziness of downtown Cairo and Giza, you drive along a country road for about 30 minutes to the village of Saqqara.  The area is just lush with thousands and thousands of palm trees which they grow to harvest the dates.  It is so green - not how you imagine Egypt to be.  There are small clay and brick homes lining the street, and a few large colonial looking villas. 

In areas such as this, it is much easier to spot the traditions that mark everyday Egyptian life.  Today, one thing I kept noticing were the handprints near the doorways leading into the homes.  Despite being a very religous society, Egyptians are traditionally also quite superstous. The handprint is actually called the Khamsa Hand, and is used in an effort to ward off the "Evil Eye".  The handprints I was seeing were made with sheeps blood.  Typically, a sheep is slaughtered (in a sacrificial manner), and the family of the home dips their hands in the blood and then makes the prints on the outside walls of their home.  Kind of freaky, eh?  My dad had never even heard of this (and I've never seen anyone in my family do this type of thing), but now that I've seen it firsthand and researched it a bit, I'm really fascinated by the tradition!

There were camels also walking along the road to Saqqara, carrying huge bundles of palm fronds, which I can only assume are for Palm Sunday celebrations.

We arrived at Saqqara only to find a few other people there - it was so calm and relaxing compared with the Great Pyramids of Giza.  The Step Pyramid (several pictures below) is the oldest pyramid in Egypt, and one of the oldest structures in the entire world.  It was being refurbished, and the process of watching the stones being rolled up the scaffolding was fascinating.  I can't imagine what it was like for the slaves who built the Great Pyramids!

From Saqqara you can see several pyramidal areas - back to Giza and also Dashur (sometimes spelled Dashour) in the opposite direction.  It was beautiful! 

My dad had hired an Egyptologist to travel with us for the day (Amu Nasser), and he knew so much - it was amazing! I told Tony he was really getting the royal treatment because we normally a) have to take the Arabic (cheap) tour, and b) we depend on my dad to translate stuff, and he typically just says, "these are very old stones", or "these are from people that lived a long time ago"!!!

Following our time in Saqqara we stopped at a school where (dare I say children?  They were teenagers at best), were learning how to make the traditional Middle Eastern rugs.  It was very interesting, but disheartening as well.  It was a beautiful, clean, comfortable environment.  But to see girls and boys who are probably 14 or 15 staring at a loom and doing this for 8 - 12 hours a day is kind of sad.  They're learning an excellent skill to help them in the future, but it saddened me still.  We asked the staff about how they are paid, how much they are paid, etc., and it seems they have a pretty good situation despite this...but of course, would you really tell the American tourists how little you are paying these young people to make rugs which you are turning around and selling for $3,500?  Probably not...

So, we moved on.  We drove past Memphis - the first capital city of Egypt.  It's just so amazing how ancient this place is!  I guess people still find artifacts when farming or renovating their homes.  They are obligated to give them over to the government, but some do go underground and sell them.  If they get caught, the penalty is harsh.

After another 20 minutes or so of driving we arrived in Dashur.  I had NEVER even heard of this place until I whipped out my Egypt travel book last month.  Dashur is home to the Red Pyramid and also the Bent Pyramid.  They are both in such excellent condition. There was no one there, with the exception of 4 Scottsmen! I couldn't believe it! It was so remote, and out in the desert.  You might laugh at that, but seriously, the Great Pyramids of Giza are in no way "out in the desert" - there are tall apartment buildings and shopping plazas just feet away now...

We climbed the outside of the Red Pyramid to gain entrance to it.  There was a guy sitting in the entry who would let you enter the pyramid and crawl around in all of the burial chambers, with LE5 as baksheesh.  So, we paid our baksheesh and decided to go for it.  We crawled inside and immediately I felt claustrophobic.  You are bent over, as the entrance is only about 4 feet by 4 feet. I recorded it (and will post the video clip here when I have better connectivity)...After about 15 feet, I couldn't take it anymore.  I am so claustrophobic! I was very disappointed. The last time I went inside of a pyramid, it was Khufu and it was back in 1991.  This time I just couldn't...Tony went in and toured throughout the entire thing!  He came out 20 minutes later out of breath, sweaty, and light headed!  It was an amazing experience!
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