Around 40 kilometers south of Cairo lays Egypt’s built first great pyramid – one of history’s most enduring ancient symbols. While the pyramid is the centerpiece of any funerary complex for an Egyptian pharaoh, a number of other buildings are built to support the pharaohs 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-meter tall edifice.
Hidden from view are kilometers of passageways for the burial of the pharaoh’s family and the various goods, foodstuffs, furniture, jewels, and comforts required for the next life.
Entrance to the complex is via an impressive colonnaded corridor of 20 pairs of six-meter 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 the 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 kilometers 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. Halfway 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 the white limestone casing, lost on most pyramids over the centuries.
The neighboring 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 civilizations. 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.