Thursday, September 23, 2010

Step Pyramid: The First Pyramid (Saqqara, Egypt)


Written by Travel Wonders and sponsored by DealChecker.co.uk, providers of Egypt holidays and holiday dreams around the world.

Around 40 kilometres south of Cairo lays Egypt’s first great pyramid – one of history’s most enduring ancient symbols. While the pyramid is the centrepiece of any funerary complex for an Egyptian pharaoh, a number of other buildings are built to support the pharaoh’s more than comfortable transition to the afterlife.

Historians believe that previous tombs were unimpressively constructed of mud-brick and sand, built as a single large platform. The Step Pyramid was planned with six stacked terraces or mastabas of large stone blocks and was originally encased in polished white limestone. Like their famous cousins at Giza, the large stones created an exceptional workload and huge engineering challenges with over 250,000 tonnes of rock slabs lifted and joined to create this staggering 60 metre tall edifice.

Hidden from view are kilometres of passageways for the burial of the pharaoh’s family and the various goods, food stuffs, furniture, jewels and comforts required for the next life.

Entrance to the complex is via an impressive colonnaded corridor of 20 pairs of six metre columns into a giant hall, the modern roof providing the only relief from the sapping desert heat.

Further buildings include the impressive Jubilee Court featuring shrines to Upper and Lower Egypt (the two kingdoms that merged under pharaonic rule).

Remarkably the shrines include the first example of tourist graffiti with a protected black marking estimated to have been mischievously scrawled 1,500 years after the tomb’s construction.

From this one location, looking further south around 10 kilometres over the parched desert sands, the evolution of Egyptian pyramids stands before us. The so-called Bent Pyramid represents the first straight sided pyramid but the engineers started construction too steeply. Half way through the building, the angle dramatically changes from the initial 56 degrees to the standard 43 degrees resulting in a pronounced kink in the sides. Interestingly, this pyramid retains most of white limestone casing, lost on most pyramids over the centuries.

The neighbouring Red Pyramid, named for its reddish hue, shows the first true pyramid built at an angle of 43 degrees from the start. The three pyramids capture the development of Egypt’s extraordinary monuments – their longevity a testament to exceptional feats of mind-blowing engineering. Only one hundred years later, the great pyramids at Giza and the only survivor of the Seven Ancient Wonders of the World were constructed.

While the area is dusty, dry and hot, it is difficult to comprehend standing around nearly 5,000 years of history celebrating one of mankind’s earliest advanced civilisations (check out the Egyptian medical knowledge). Imagine the incredible skills and knowledge required to move huge stone blocks using little more than wooden rollers and manpower. To view the first attempt of Egypt’s finest travel legacy is to witness Egypt’s superb monuments to the immortality of its ancient leaders.

This Egyptian article (written by Travel Wonders) is sponsored by cheap holidays from dealchecker.co.uk - the travel comparison website.

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12 comments:

Marina K Villatoro said...

I think that Egypt should be in the list of places to visit of everyone it’s so beautiful! I know the weather is sometimes too hot but looking at the pyramids is worth the trouble.

Sherry Ott said...

Oh - I"m sorry I missed these - I love that they tried different angles in their architecture!

Donna Hull said...

Thanks for the lesson on Egyptian pyramids. From the photos, it looks like you chose a less-touristy area to check them out.

Mark H said...

@marina: It is very hot (but not humid). Cairo and nearby has some wonderful historic sights to compensate.

@sherry: I am still amazed at the advanced nature o their architecture to be able to build such accurate buildings with such huge rocks.

@donna: I also saw the famous Pyramids but the Step Pyramid did seem a bit quieter and freer of travellers.

Barbara Weibel said...

Fascinating Mark! I'd be even more interested in seeing these three than the more well known ones at Giza.

Mark H said...

@barbara: And they are much moire peaceful than the chaos of Giza with the Great Pyramids and Sphinz.

Iain said...

A few years ago I went on a cruise up the Nile. Seeing the temples at Luxor, Karnak and Philae was fantastic. There's so much to see in the south. Two weeks wasn't enough time.

Mark H said...

@iain: I also loved the temples along the Nile. Karnak and Kom Ombo (the latter at sunset) were my pet favourites.

Anil said...

I'm ashamed to say I knew nothing of this pyramid before reading your post!

Mark H said...

@anil: Another to add to an itinerary...

Leigh said...

Just a few days ago I learned about the "Step Pyramid" when I was reviewing the audio guides provided by Iconic Guides. It's actually part of a giveaway on my site for the next few weeks. You have done a nice job explaining Saqqara. Now if only I could visit it.

Mark H said...

@leigh: Iconic Guides did a great job of this place. I hope that you get to Cairo one day and see and experience the treasures of ancient Egypt.

 
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