Pyramids in General
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About Egyptian Pyramids
By Jimmy Dunn
There exists, for Egypt, very standard tours that are offered by practically every tour operator. These are the antiquity tours that last anywhere between about five and fourteen days, and make their way up and down the Nile River, visiting pyramids and other tombs, temples, museums and various other "standard" sites. They are the type of tour that most first time, classical tourists take when they visit Egypt.
Depending on their length, they make their way to most of the important antiquity sites, but whether long or short, all of them include the Giza Plateau, which is understandable. It would be rare indeed for a first time tourist to Egypt not wish to see the Great Pyramids located on the Giza Plateau. After all, they are the most famous man made structures in the world, and have been for thousands of years.
Visitors should be aware that, on any one visit to Egypt, one will not be allowed to go inside all of the Giza Pyramids. Though they may all be easily seen, at any one time, the internal structure of one of the three major pyramids at Giza will be closed to the public for preservation. Furthermore, when it is open, the number of people that can enter the Great Pyramid of Khufu, will be limited to 150 visitors in the morning and an additional 150 in the afternoon (at this point in time). Also, tour operators can no longer purchase the tickets for their group. Each individual tourist who wishes to enter the pyramids at Giza must go to the ticket office and purchase their own, and to be safe, they should go early. The ticket office for the Giza Pyramids opens at 8:30. Furthermore, one should also realize that climbing about inside of the pyramids can be difficult for some. Many of them are not exactly visitor friendly
The amount of time that these tourists spend at Giza, and how many other pyramids they visit in Egypt is a matter of balance between the length of the tour and the other important sites located in Egypt. Relatively short tours will only stay for a very brief time at the Giza Plateau, making a relatively cursory examination of the most major monuments and then they may not visit any other pyramids in Egypt. Slightly longer tours may spend a little more time at the Giza Plateau, but will also make a stop at Saqqara (Sakkara), mainly for a tour of the Step Pyramid complex of Djoser.
Certainly the priorities are probably correct. Everyone who visits Egypt should indeed see the Great Pyramids at the Giza Plateau, and secondly, the Great Step Pyramid of Djoser, since it was the first pyramid built in Egypt and thus the grandfather of them all. In fact, for many casual tourists to Egypt, this may be enough, but for others who have a solid interest in these great monuments, there is more that should be seen.
We would not encourage even enthusiasts to visit all of the pyramids. Many are little more than mounds that look more like small hills than anything made by man. On the other hand, there are also a few other fine examples of pyramids that are very important and even well preserved. The obvious example is another pyramid field, very near Cairo, known as Dahshur. Some of the longer tours do include Dahshur in their itineraries, but for many years this one was not open to the public and many tour operators are only now making it a part of their tours.
Dahshur is important as a link between the first Step Pyramids at Saqqara and the Great, true, smooth sided Pyramids on the Giza Plateau. Of particular importance at Dahshur is the Bent Pyramid and the Red, or North Pyramid. The Bent Pyramid was an early attempt at a smooth sided pyramid that had to be modified because its sides were initially too steep. The Red Pyramid was one of the earliest examples of a true, monumental pyramid. It is almost as large as those on the Giza Plateau, and while it may not have the honor of being the first successful, true pyramid (that honor may belong to Snofru's Pyramid at Meidum), it is by far the better preserved. The Meidum Pyramid was possibly the first true, smooth sided Egyptian pyramid, but its outer casing long ago collapsed, while that of the Red Pyramid is in good condition. Furthermore, the Pyramid at Meidum is relatively out-of-the-way for most tours, while Dahshure is much closer to Cairo, not difficult to visit, and there is more to see in a small area. Dahshur is also not as crowded with tourists as the Giza Plateau or Saqqara, which makes the experience even better, and there is also one additional advantage that makes a visit very worthwhile. The interior of the Red Pyramid is open to tourists, free to visit, and there are no long lines to do so.
But short visits to Giza, and particularly Saqqara, also leave much to be seen. If all one is interested in is pyramids, it is much easier to see all there is to see at Giza in a fairly short period of time, but there are also a number of important early tombs and other structures at Giza that are almost always bypassed. However, there are more pyramids located in a restricted area at Saqqara than at any other place in Egypt. Most of them will not interest many tourists, as they are almost completely ruined, but others beside the Step Pyramid of Djoser have their own particular importance, and are worth seeing. Of particular interest are those of Unas and Teti, dating to the end of the 5th and the very beginning of the 6th Dynasty. Though these pyramids are not as grand as earlier ones, nor are their superstructures as well preserved, they represent another milestone in the development of Egyptian pyramids. Prior to them, the interior walls of the pyramids were uninscribed, but for the first time, we find in these the Pyramid Texts that give us a more complete idea of why Egyptians built pyramids in the first place.
For the true pyramid enthusiasts who really do wish to see more of them, just about every pyramid Egypt has to offer is within a fairly short distance from Cairo. With a tour extension of a few extra days, one could fairly easily visit just about all of the pyramids Egypt has to offer, with the exception of some small step pyramids spread along the Nile and the one lonely royal pyramid of Ahmose at Abydos. There are also several interesting private pyramids in the necropolis of Deir el-Medina which are well worth a visit, but they could easily be seen during most normal tours to the West Bank at Luxor, which is a usual stop on most standard itineraries. In fact, there is no specific charge for visiting these small pyramids.
However, many people, even though they may consider themselves pyramid enthusiasts, may find themselves growing tired of pyramids. There are over one hundred pyramids in Egypt, and while each of them have some importance, for all but an experienced Egyptologist, many of the pyramids will seem very repetitive. We would highly recommend visiting the main fields at the Giza Plateau, Saqqara and Dahshur, but a careful study of which ones to visit at Saqqara and elsewhere should be made prior to arranging a tour.
Last Updated: August 21st, 2011
About Egyptian Pyramids
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