Prehistory of establishing Cairo
Egypt was the first state to establish a system of administration and a capital with administrative and religious centers. King Narmer, the unifier of upper and lower Egypt 3200 B.C., had chosen Memphis (22 km south from modern Cairo) to be a capital of Egypt. Since that time the capital city of Egypt has been changed throughout the history from Ahnasia, Thebes ( Luxor ) to Alexandria. But when the Islam was introduced to Egypt, Amer Ebn Alas founded Al-fustat in 641 A.D. and had chosen to be a capital of Egypt. Gohar Al Sikkily founded Cairo in 969 A.D. beside Al-fustat. Cairo now is the capital city of Egypt, with 20 million inhabitants, and average population density is 50.000 inhabitants/ km.
In this part of the guide we will explore Ancient Egyptian sites that can be reached during one day Cairo tour from most of Red Sea Resorts .
And let’s start from the 1st capital of the Ancient Egyptian civilization known as Memphis, which must have been one of the largest cities in the ancient world. But very little now still remains of original Memphis which once contained two large enclosures: the northern one was the palace of the king, and the southern one – the temple of the god Ptah, the god of Memphis. Today the archaeological area of Memphis is situated at the village of Mit-Rahina about 2 km east of Saqqara complex and contains many curious monuments. When you drive up to the entrance of the site, you are actually at a portion of the southern edge of the enclosure of the Ptah temple. The giant mud brick enclosure wall surrounding the temple grounds is gone, and so is the great temple. There is not much to see there now, but the remains still worth a visit. As you enter into a garden area you come across statuary found in various parts of Memphis set up as an outdoor museum. At the far end of the garden you will find a colossal statue of Ramses II, which originally belonged to King Senusret I of Middle Kingdom, but Ramses II had his name carved on it, appropriating the statue to himself. Walking towards this colossal statue you will pass a limestone sphinx with a face that resembles that of the early rulers of the Eighteen Dynasty. Although no inscription is visible on this statue, it is possibly belongs to Queen Hatshepsut when she ruled as king.
This Sphinx was discovered in 1912 by English archaeologist Petrie and is the largest alabaster statue ever found. It weighs 80 tons. Remains of Hathor temple and temple of Ptah can also be seen. But the main attraction of this area is a Colossal Statue of Ramses II which was discovered by Giovanni Belzoni in 1820. Now the statue is exhibited in a specially constructed museum. The statue is of hard fine quality limestone, 12.8 meters tall with the royal cartouche bearing the name of Ramses. The cartouche is carved on the right shoulder of the statue as well as on its chest and girdle.
Visit to Saqqara
After Memphis let’s move to Saqqara complex and explore the area which includes beside the Step Pyramid of King Djoser some less known pyramids like pyramid of Unas or Userkaf, as well as pyramid of Teti and his tomb. Many tombs of Nobels have been discovered in the area and now open to public, as well as the Serapeum – the tomb of the sacred Apis bull is back on the touristic trap. But let’s start our exploration with a visit to a small, but really informative museum of Imhotep which was inaugurated in 2006 and is totally dedicated to the many discoveries from Saqqara area.
Pyramids & Tombs of Saqqara necropolis
After museum we can go directly to see the Step Pyramid of Djoser and his mortuary temple, let's walking around the temple and move to another pyramid of the area, known as Pyramid of Teti. We can enter and see how it looks like from inside. Just across the pyramid we find some tombs of Nobles that worth visit. The biggest tomb here is the one of Mereruka. This the largest private tomb in Egypt consists of 33 rooms and has some beautiful wall paintings, bas-reliefs representing various scenes of life in the Old Kingdom, but the tomb is required extra ticket to enter. Luckily there are 2 other tombs near the tomb of Mereruka which we can visit free of charge and get a good example of Funerary art of the Old Kingdom. The one of Kagemni, represents a large tomb which covers a surface area of about 1000 square meters and has some reliefs of excellent quality. Actually, wall reliefs here are more spectacular than those in the tomb of Mereruka. And behind it we find a small chapel-tomb of Meryteti, son of Mereruka ( his chapel is part of the total mastaba complex attributed to his father).
Now let’s move to the The Apis tomb known as the Serapeum but on the way we can visit one more tomb open to public - The tomb of Petahotep. In May 2011 six ancient Egyptian tombs of top New Kingdom governmental officials and nobles were officially opened to the public at the Saqqara Necropolis. The newly inaugurated tombs belong to King Tut’s general, who later became King Horemheb; his treasurer, Maya; the steward of the temple of Aten, Meryneith; the royal butler to both King Tut and Akhenaten, Ptahemwia; the overseer of the treasury of Ramsess II, Tia ; the harem overseer under King Tutankhamun, Pay and his son, Raia.
Dashur archeological site
When we finish exploring Saqqara we can move further south to explore Dashur, the southernmost section of the Memphis necropolis. It is situated around 10 km south of Saqqara and was the place, chosen by the king Sneferu (father of Cheops), founder of the 4th Dynasty for the construction of the 1st true pyramid in the history. Dashur contains 3 mud brick pyramids from the Middle Kingdom (12 Dynasty), built by Amenemhat II, Senusert III and Amenemhat III. But the main attractions of the site are the 2 pyramids built by Sneferu – The Red Pyramid and the Bent Pyramid, the 1st true pyramid built in Egypt. The site of Dashur was open to public only in 1996 and now only 2 pyramids can be visited The Red Pyramid and the Bent Pyramid. As for the Red Pyramid, it is fully accessed so we will use the chance to enter it and see the burial chamber.
On the east side of Dashur you cannot help but notice the pyramid of Amenemhet III known as the Black Pyramid because what is left of its mud brick interior is very dark.
The Bent or South Pyramid was the 1st pyramid to begun as a true one, owes its name to the change in angle of slope which went from 54.27’ to 43.22’. If the pyramid had been completed according to plans, it would have been the greatest. The entrance is located at a height of 11.5 m on the north side, its descending corridor leads to a first chamber with a vaulted projecting ceiling 17 m high. You can ascend a few meters from the 1st chamber to reach the 2nd and 3rd chambers, the two chambers with vaulted projecting ceilings. This pyramid has a satellite pyramid on its south side and a small funerary temple was once on its east side. There is a 700 meters long causeway leading to the valley temple. The original height of the pyramid is 105 m, its base 188x188 meters.
The Red or North Pyramid is known due to the colour of limestone used in its construction. It is the 2nd largest pyramid in Egypt and was entirely constructed using the lower angle 43.22’, that was applied to the upper part of the Bent Pyramid. The entrance to the pyramid is located on the north side at a height of 28 meters from the ground and it leads to a long corridor about 60 m, that opens into a beautiful chamber with a projecting vaulted ceiling over 12 m high. The corridor continues leading to the 2nd chamber. The center of this chamber corresponds to the center of the pyramid. From this chamber the corridor ascends to reach the burial chamber. The ceiling of the 2nd and 3rd chambers is vaulted.
We can walk around the pyramid to its east face, since part of it has been cleared from rubble we can now see some of the original white limestone casting from Tura quarry across the river. There was a simple funerary temple against the east face of the pyramid; apparently it was being built in stone and then was finished in mud brick when the king died. All the stone of the temple and most of pyramid casing was cut and taken away in the Middle Ages. The foundation of the mud-brick part of the temple have been restored. The smashed pieces of the pyramidion, the pointed block that once capped the pyramid, have been put back together and the pyramidion is displayed in the temple area. On the right side of the temple you can still see root pit remaining from the trees that grew in the temple garden. If we drive south to the Bent Pyramid we will notice an entrance up high on the west side as this pyramid had 2 entrances, north and west. A nicely preserved small south pyramid also known as a satellite pyramid either for the king’s ka (soul), or symbolic of Abydos in the south where the earliest kings of Egypt were buried. And a rather battered small chapel on the east with remains of two stelae that would have been carved with Sneferu’s name.
Pyramid of Meidum
About 50 km south of Dashur lies the archeological site of Meidun. The pyramid there represents the transition between step and true pyramids, Sneferu began a seven-level stepped pyramid and later transformed it into a true pyramid with the addition of limestone slab casting. Later stone robbery caused some of the outer layers of the upper part to collapse, leaving the true pyramid intact at the bottom. Before Sneferu’s death the 3 lowest steps were filled in to form the smooth edges of a classical pyramid. Today only the 3 highest steps are visible above the shifting sands.
The entrance on the north side of the pyramid is located at a height of 18.5 meters and leads to descending corridor, which leads to the burial chamber with its projecting vault. This is the first pyramid with an above ground burial chamber just above the 1st step level. Unfortunately no trace of a sarcophagus has been found, but relieving chambers have been now discovered. A small mortuary temple chapel was built on the east side with 2 stelae, although a large causeway survives, the valley temple has never been excavated.
Unfortunately Meidun archaeological site is not tourists accessible for now and all we can see is the outlines of the main pyramid from the site of Dashur. So let’s go back to the city and explore Giza plateau instead. But before heading to the most excited place in Cairo, let’s have a look at the Egyptian Museum of Antiquities and get acquainted with the artefacts which were discovered in Egypt during all these years of excavation.