Not Cube or Sphere or even Cone...

Trip Start May 22, 2009
Trip End Feb 16, 2010

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Flag of Egypt  , Al Jīzah,
Friday, February 12, 2010


Journeyed a little further out of the city to see some of the older pyramids beyond Giza (thus removed from many annoyances).  However, Egypt is not that favorably set up to accommodate the independent traveler.  It seems as though everything is suited for the big package tourists where air conditioned buses chauffeur you from site to site.  I had read about this several times, but didn’t think it would be that bad. 

Looking in to traveling to these outskirt towns the only options were to join a tour group, or hire your own car.  Both being quite costly options, I wanted to take a bus or train ourselves and not be worried about time restraints.  But after talking with several people, this didn’t seem to be an option.  Guidebooks say it’s an incredible hassle of changing modes of transportation with unreliable routes.  Even if we did manage to get out there, we may not be able to get back the same way.  In that case, we’d be at the mercy of the one or two cabbies we might be lucky enough to find. 

So, we sucked it up and hired a car.  Excited about the option to go to Dashur, which is a particularly remote site, we set off.  Here, there are some of Egypt’s oldest ‘pyramids‘, and what is classified as the first true pyramid.  Before the pyramids, the Egyptians made large Mustabahs, or basically squarish mud piles over the tombs, maybe one step or two.  The first attempt at a pyramid shape with smooth sides instead of steps, was the famous Bent Pyramid.  Building upwards at a steep angle, the stone started to show signs of stress and destruction, so they changed the angle and continued building.  This gives it a funny bent shape when viewed from a distance.  Impressive in size, it’s the 3rd largest in Egypt. 

Learning from their mistakes, they built another pyramid starting at the correct angle, now called the Red Pyramid.  This pyramid is the same size as the bent, but with beautiful precise edges remarkably well preserved.  And wonder of wonders, it’s open to venture inside!

Hiking up 125 stone steps to the entrance, it was about the way up the pyramid (these things are huge).  There was a tiny little square opening, which plunged us down again.  This tiny little shaft caused you to crouch down doing a funny little duck waddle while your head beat against the top.  Down, down, down.  Sixty-three meters the guide book says.  But with glutes burning, it felt much further.  And the further we went inside, the more the temperature rose (and not just from physical exertion).  As if the pyramid were a giant desert oven, designed to cook whatever is inside.  I tried to imagine the workers slaving away inside of here, carving out these shafts. 

With the grade finally leveling off, a strange tickle began in my nose.  The further we penetrated inside, the more intense it became.   A sharp ascent took us up to a chamber where the tickle turned to a burn and Brian’s eyes began to water.  Huge corbelled ceilings rose on either side as we drank the aroma of 1000’s of years of death and decay.  Only one other person sat in the chamber with us, and the silence rang in our ears. 

A minute or two of not moving, I realized that the muscles in my legs were starting to Charlie-horse from the straining entrance.  Forcing myself to move, we began to climb out seeking a way to stretch our legs and breath some fresh air.  Going up the shaft was much easier than down, plus you had a welcoming spot of light to strive to reach. 

Out in the air again, we picked our way around the side of the pyramid.  Of course, we were intersected with guards eager to make a buck or two.  But this time we didn’t really mind.  There was an old site with the casing stone from the top of the pyramid there for us to see.  As well as some mud bricks of the original footings.  I thought these were fake - how can something as primitive as a mud brick survive for over 4000 years?  I’m not quite sure, but we had fun exploring.  And the funny guards earned their baksheesh with a series of crazy photos of us at Dahshur.

Away to Saqqara we flew in our convenient hired car.  This was the ancient burial ground of Memphis (once the capital of Egypt) and was an active burial ground for 3500 years.  Three thousand five hundred years?!?!?!  Just thinking back in history 3500 years is crazy enough, but for one place to have been active and used for that duration?  Brian tells me (in his vast encyclopedia of useless knowledge) that in a human history, the length of the Egyptian Empire was longer than from the end of their reign until the present.   What?  The world has been ruled by the Egyptians for longer than it hasn’t been?  That’s a looooong time!

At Saqqara we saw the best museum since leaving Europe.  Most are poorly funded with miniscule displays, bad light and limited information.  But this one had some beautiful displays of 4500 year old (young) artifacts.  It was interesting to see how the Old Kingdom objects look different - almost Asian in flare as opposed to the Middle Kingdom which is the stereotypical Egyptian look. 

The biggest pyramid here is the famous Step Pyramid.  Egypt’s earliest stone monuments, it was built by Imhotep in 2650 BC.  Before this, burial grounds were mud mustabahs.  This pyramid built on the idea of the mustabah by creating several more ‘steps’ upward until reaching a single point at the top.  The step pyramid is approximately 6 stages of mustabah’s built on top of one another.  All other pyramid stemmed from this primitive design. 

Now that I’m done playing Travel Guide writer, it’s time to rest the legs from the climb inside the pyramid!

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Chris - Pittsburgh, PA on

Thank you for allowing me to acompany you and Brian on your incredible journey. I have enjoyed every breathtaking moment. Your blog entries read like a best selling novel. I do hope that you will have an opportunity to visit Venice again - when it's not raining!

Deborah on

So great you guys got to Dashur! i couldn't even convince renting a car and driver to get us there. :-) So great.

2totango on

Not sure why it was such a problem for you, Deborah. Dahshur isn't much farther than Saqqara or Memphis. Mind you, our driver did just take us to the red pyramid and not the bent or black as that's offroading :)

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