If you haven’t been to Saqqara then you should definitely put it on your list. The pyramids, mastabas and archaeological site in Saqqara are beautiful to say the least. Stepping into them feels like you have been transported into a different world. Exploring the pyramids, mastabas and archaeological sites of Saqqara is something that you do if you have time on your hands when visiting Cairo. While it can be squeezed in with your visit to the pyramids of Giza, I feel that it works better combined with a visit to Memphis and Dahshur. That however is something that I will describe in more detail when I write an itinerary for Cairo.
LOCATION OF THE NECROPOLIS OF SAQQARA
The necropolis of Saqqara is located within the Giza governate. It lies very close to the city of Memphis which doesn’t come as a surprise as it was used as the burial ground of the city. For those of you who haven’t read my article on the Pyramids of Giza or the one on the Pyramids of Dahshur, the ancient Egyptians believed that the east represented life and the west represented death because of the path of the sun. The Nile served as the partition between both areas. Hence Memphis is located on the east and the Necropolis of Saqqara is located on the west.
That being said, despite being in Giza, the Necropolis of Saqqara is a good distance away from the main city. Ubers do not ply that way and you will need to find a local driver. A good tip is to negotiate the cost you will be willing to pay upfront. Alternatively, you can take part in one of the organized tours or get a local guide. I personally prefer the latter because it means that you can spend longer in the complex and explore a bit more.
EXPLORING THE PYRAMIDS, MASTABAS AND ARCHAEOLOGICAL SITES OF SAQQARA
If you plan on exploring the archaeological site of the Necropolis of Saqqara bear in mind that the complex is huge! In fact, it spans over eight kilometres and is the largest in Egypt. The site is historically important because it spans over all the main dynasties. This should not come as a surprise since it is linked closely to Memphis. A lot of people visit the Necropolis of Saqqara without realizing its historical significance. Our guide told us that it is here that we can see evidence of how the pyramids came into being. Let me take you through what he told us and to do that one must talk about the Mastabas.
One of the mastaba’s in Saqqara.
‘Mastaba’ is the Arab word for ‘bench’. In this case it refers to the tombs of dignitaries and nobility. The tombs law under ground and were covered with a rectangular structure of slopping walls. Saqqara has a number of tombs and we found ourselves lucky enough to visit a few. If you look at the Mastaba, you will realize that it looks like just one level of the step pyramid. Which brings us to the next topic. Namely, the Step Pyramids of Saqqara.
THE STEP PYRAMID OF SAQQARA / THE PYRAMID OF DJOSER
The Step Pyramid of Saqqara is the next point of interest. The Mastaba’s of old grew bigger and more detailed. The flat single structure was now slowly layered with more levels. This gave the site a step like appearance and was the how the Mastaba’s evolved into the pyramids we now see in Giza. The step pyramid of Djoser is a testimony to this evolution. Today, you will find that entrance into the Pyramid of Djoser is restricted only to those people who are restoring it. Hopefully once the restoration is one, the Pyramid of Djoser will once again be opened to the public.
THE NECROPOLIS OF SAQQARA
While the Mastaba and Step Pyramid of Djoser lie within the walls of the Saqqara archaeological site, I chose to mention them separately because of the history they represent. Delving into the other aspects of the archaeological site would take me days. The Saqqara complex is huge and spans a vast distance. A lot of excavation and restoration work is being done in all corners of Saqqara, but a lot of the site is open to the public. Some of the noteworthy places to see in the necropolis of Saqqara are the Courtyard of Heb-Set, The Pyramid of Teti and the Courtyard with the altars.