The Sakkarra Necropolis and Stepped Pyramid in Egypt
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Sakkarra Necropolis and the Stepped Pyramid
On our final day in Egypt we explored the famous Sakkarra Necropolis (I've also seen it translated as Saqqara and even Saqqarah) and its Stepped Pyramid which is widely acknowledged as the oldest stone building in the world - not just the oldest found but possibly the first ever built! The Necropolis also gives a good, if distant view of the Red Pyramid and the Bent Pyramid.
First a word about the heat and your choice of shoes! We were visiting in the height of summer and the heat was consistently above 35 degrees, often more than 40. On the day we visited Sakkarra I would guess it was pushing past 45 degrees and the sand between the necropolis and the Stepped Pyramid is was so hot, you couldn't walk on it in bare feet. We found out to our cost that flip flops or open toe sandles are not the greatest in these circumstances!
The Sakkara Necropolis is a burial ground or cemetary and at one time would probably have served as the burial place for the whole of ancient Egyptian capital (although the capital as we know it now was a very different place called Memphis). As well as being a place where many pharaoh's were buried it is also a burial place for many other important ancient Egyptians and you can walk through the building complex seeing building added by various high ranking individuals.
The buildings seem to have a wealth of architectural points of interest including the ceiling which is made of stone but designed to replicate the texture of a ceiling made of wooden logs. You can also stand an look down the excavated shafts which lead to burial chambers below.
The Stepped Pyramid however was our main reason for coming to Sakkarra. It is reputedly the worlds oldest stone building and is a much less sophisticated pyramid than the Pyramids at Giza.
The Stepped Pyramid was designed by Imhotep, and ancient Egyptian architect (who the children were very excited about because he shares his name with one of the main characters in the film The Mummy - but apparently this is coincidental!) for King Djoser (incidentally Ahmed our guide explained to us that the word "Pharaoh" was just one of many titles the Kings in Ancient Egypt had).
It is interesting because you can see the first step the Ancient Egyptians took towards creating the Pyramid shape but adding square layers to the traditional burial chambers which had a single square storey called a Mastabas. We couldn't go into the Stepped Pyramid (not sure whether you can or not normally) but just standing looking at its rough hewn shape was awe inspiring.
The Red Pyramid and the Bent Pyramid
From the wall surrounding the Sakkarra Necropolis you get a good view of two of the other slightly less famous Pyramids, both built for King Sneferu. The pyramids are quite a distance away but from our view point you can clearly see both together.
Pretty obviously the Red Pyramid is made of red stones which gives it a slight reddish appearance. However from the our vantage point in the Sakkarra Necropolis it is pretty difficult to see this. Ahmed tells us that the Pyramid was not always red because it was cased in limestone but much of this was later removed for building materials. The Red Pyramid was also reputedly the tallest building in the world (now surpassed by two other Pyramids and many modern buildings)
The Bent Pyramid is one of the more interesting shapes - its not a regular pyramid. The story seems to go that half way up the builders of the pyramid realised they'd got their calculations wrong and had to change the angle of the pyramid cap. However we had also heard (on a National Geographic programme before we'd left) that there was a theory (I'm not endorsing it!) that it was deliberately designed to look more like a mountain because this represented the belief in Ancient Egypt that life sprang from a mountain. This leads to a neat theory that Sneferu built the Bent Pyramid to represent creation and the Red Pyramid for everlasting life, creating a circle of birth and rebirth. While I can't say this theory is correct (no one can), it is a nice idea.