Digging into the Past in Dahshur

Trip Start Oct 24, 2005
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Egypt  , Al Jīzah,
Saturday, November 13, 2010

We set the alarm for 6:45 and woke up ready to go straight back to bed.  We packed everything up, hoping that our train tickets situation would be sorted out and we'd be leaving that evening.  By 7:15, we'd met our driver Yasri and were on our way out the door, ready to head to the first of our pyramid stops: Dahshur.

Dahshur is located about 45 minutes south of Cairo, taking us from the skyscrapers and sprawl of the city into the fertile farmland of the surrounding country.  The drive gave us an opportunity to get to know the lovely Yasri a bit.  Speaking with him highlighted once again how amazingly well Egyptians speak English.  No matter what profession, class, or religion they belong to, it seems like Egyptians on the whole speak English exceedingly well.  Tourism is huge in Egypt, and about 12% of the country's workforce are employed in the tourism industry, so I suppose I shouldn't have been terribly surprised, but it was definitely something that stood out and that made our travels much, much easier.    

The conversation with Yasri made the drive go by quickly and before we knew it we were turning off the main road and stopping at the gates of Dahshur.  Yasri's exchange with the guards taught us our second most valuable Egypt travel tidbit: rather than tell people we were Americans, we would tell them that we were Turkish.  We took his advice for the rest of the trip and, not only did it surely save us money, but it also made us many friends along the way -- Egyptians clearly love Turks.  

After clearing the gate and paying for our tickets, we drove towards the pyramids.  The Red Pyramid and its predecessor the Bent Pyramid at Dahshur are both from the Old Kingdom, and were built by Pharoah Sneferu (2613-2589 BC), the founder of the 4th dynasty.  The Bent Pyramid was Sneferu's first attempt at a smooth-sided pyramid.  Halfway through, they realized the pyramid was getting unstable and they had to change the angle, which gave it the "bent" look it retains to this day.  

The Red Pyramid was Sneferu's second crack at a smooth-sided pyramid, and this time it was a success: the world's oldest true pyramid.  The Red Pyramid was our first stop at Dahshur, and we had timed it so that we were the first people there.  Unlike the better known pyramids at Giza, Dahshur attracts far fewer visitors, making it a special experience.  We walked up the path that led to the entrance and suddenly we were face to face with our first pyramid.  While marveling at the condition of a building that was over 4,500 years old, a group of four people showed up -- we no longer had the place to ourselves.  We ducked out of the sun and began the descent down the 125 steps into the belly of the pyramid.  The climb down is awkward (up even more so!): you are essentially walking down a ladder, trying to keep your head low so you don't smash it on the ceiling, all the while doing your best not to miss a step in the dark.  

We made it to the bottom without slipping or hitting our heads, and suddenly we were inside the world's oldest pyramid.  The space wasn't as big as I'd imagined it to be, and there weren't any hieroglyphics adorning the walls like I'd expected, but it was easy to appreciate the architecture of the smooth sloping ceilings, rising up to form a point above us.  It was a bit stifling inside the pyramid, and it didn't smell all the great, so we decided to carry on and made our way through a series of chambers and into a room at the back of the structure.  We assumed this was the final resting place of its entombed.  We took a look around and then worked our way back to the entrance and then up the "ladder" and out into the sunshine once again.  

From there it was back into the car to drive over to the Bent Pyramid, the Red's older sister.  We couldn't go inside of this one because it hadn't weathered the storm as well as its less bent sibling, so we walked around the outside, making trails in the sand as we went.  We were alone again, save the security guards on camelback who repeatedly offered us rides as we circled around (in hindsight, we should have taken them up on it, but we didn't).  

Both spots were extremely quiet and peaceful, making them an excellent introduction to the pyramids, and they remained one of my favorite spots throughout our travels around Egypt.  We'd seen all we needed to, so buckled back up and started driving back towards Cairo, on our way to the next lot of pyramids: Saqqara.

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