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Egypt’s First Pyramids

I feel like I’m on the field trip of my life! I had a grand day discovering Egypt’s first attempts at pyramid building.

When I arrived in Cairo at midnight, I discovered there was an impromptu tour with members of my group that arrived early. BUT we were starting at 8:00 am. I was desperately tired, but how could I resist? I was in bed by 2:00 am and met the others for a grand adventure at 8:00.

We traveled to Saqqara, site of the famous step pyramid or red pyramid built for Pharaoh Djoser. It was built by his chancellor, Imhotep. Up to this time the burial chambers were in mastabas, large rectangular structured mounds with a flat top and sloping sides. It appears that Djoser wanted to facilitate his launch into the afterlife by stacking mastabas on top of one another.

This was obviously a time of prosperity for Egypt, and represented the first construction project on such a massive scale. Imhotep, the architect, was honored by having his burial tomb near the Pharoah and was deified after his life. There is conjecture that Imhotep is Joseph that was sold into Egypt by his brothers.

Imhotep, whose name means “the one who comes in peace”

Imhotep’s nearby tomb has well preserved walls with hieroglyphic images offering rich insight into Egyptian life. It was fascinating to see stories come to life as our guide explained them.

This would have been the text of Imhotep’s life, or his biography

These are dancers at the funeral–definitely got some moves!

Workers using the baby calf to get cattle to cross the river

Then we travelled to Dahshur, the site of the Bent Pyramid. It is significant because it represents the transition between building step pyramids and smooth sided pyramids. It’s also unique because it’s the only pyramid that retains it’s outer limestone covering.

The architect realized the pyramid would be unstable if completed at the initial angle. So midway through completion, the angle was adjusted to 43 degrees which allowed them to successfully finish the pyramid for the Pharoah Sneferu.

Was he happy with the outcome? No! So another pyramid was built for Sneferu adjacent to the bent pyramid: the red pyramid, built at the magic angle of 43 degrees.


Seeing these massive structures promoted lively discussion among our group. These pharaonic attempts to immortalize themselves are mind blowing. Can you imagine the scale of this project? Did anyone say “you want to build WHAT?!” Probably not. It was the pharoah’s request. It seems like a ludicrous project in our century, let alone 2600 BC.

Of course we enjoyed a delicious lunch with grilled meats. But the star was the pita with a variety of savory dips: a unique hummus, courgettes in tomato sauce, spicy eggplant, tahini.

What a day!! A perfect preface to viewing the grand pyramids in Giza. I can’t wait.

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