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Monday, January 4, 2010

Step Pyramid | Saqqara Egypt Day 8

We were fast approaching the end of our trip in Egypt. The first site visited on the second last day of our trip was to the Step Pyramid. The step pyramid was the first pyramid structure built that resembled the more impressive pyramids we are accustomed to seeing - for example, the Pyramids of Giza.

The very first tombs built for the Pharaohs were actually flat-roofed and raised structures called the mastabas.

Intended to hold his mummified body, Pharaoh Djoser's Step Pyramid at Saqqara began as a traditional, flat-roofed mastaba. But by the end of his 19-year reign, in 2611 B.C., it had risen to six stepped layers and stood 204 feet (62 meters) high. It was the largest building of its time.

Extensive use of stone—here and there carved to resemble wood, reeds, or other softer materials—made the tomb more durable than its mud-brick forebears. Such pioneering techniques led many ancient historians to credit the chief architect, Imhotep, with inventing stone architecture.

The Step Pyramid complex was enclosed by a 30-foot (10-meter) wall and included courtyards, temples, and chapels covering nearly 40 acres (16 hectares)—the size of a large town in the third millennium B.C.

As in earlier mastaba tombs, the Step Pyramid's burial chambers are underground, hidden in a maze of tunnels, probably to discourage grave robbers. The tomb was nevertheless plundered, and all that remains of Djoser, the third king of Egypt's 3rd dynasty, is his mummified left foot.

Imhotep was the architect of the Step Pyramid. he was a physician, priest, and founder of a cult of healing. He was deified 1,400 years after his lifetime. His name appears in the temple built next to the Step Pyramid.

Step Pyramid

For the simple reason that the Step Pyramid was the last ancient Egyptian site I would be visiting, I took many pictures of it from many different angles. But I will not post them here and bore you!

Carpet Factory in Saqqara

After the Step Pyramid, we went to a carpet school/factory located in Saqqara. The school takes in young children to train them to make carpets by hand. I saw children as young as seven there, both little boys and girls. It is an arduous task - time-consuming! I tried making a knot myself - the process itself is easy, nothing too complicated. But imagine doing it repeatedly all day to finish a large carpet! The trained ones seem to do it very fast, but still I would imagine it could take months to complete a good-sized carpet.

I took pictures with a small girl who was working on a carpet. She did not want to smile initially. And I spent some time talking to her, asking simple questions in Arabic such as what is your name, and then telling her my name. Then she smiled - so cute. I did not have anything to give her, but luckily the tour leader gave me some sweets to give to her. I think I should have brought such candy treats with me for distribution to children I meet in the future - I actually had the thought, but I did not act on it while I was packing for the trip!

The salesmen then took us to the carpet showroom. The silk carpets were just beautiful. They are termed "magic" carpets because they change color at different angles. For instance, the carpet can look darker or brighter with just a turn of the carpet! The prices were high, a small carpet - what one could use for Muslim praying for instance cost about 450 USD! A small sized carpet for the living room was about 1500 USD. Of course, this was way above my budget.

At the time, I did not contemplate much on the ethics behind the concept of a carpet school. I took it at face value - these kids were being trained in a skill that would ensure them money through their working years. But later when I was discussing the school, I realised that these children were being deprived of an education. They are working on something that will benefit the owners of the carpet factory where the carpets are sold for far more than the carpet-makers would ever get for their hard work!

Kids working on a Carpet

The question that remains in my mind, would a regular education actually benefit these children given the high rate of unemployment in the country? I do not know. But I feel sad thinking that this is their life that had been handed to them.

Then we went to lunch. The restaurant was located nearby - I think it was called the Saqqara Oasis or Club house. We had a delicious buffet spread. Afterwards, I had my picture taken with a two-month old lionness. She was so cute, but huge for a baby lionness. Imagine it hungry at adulthood - shudder.

Memphis - Colossus of Ramses

After lunch, we visited the MIT Rahina Museum at Memphis. There was a colussus of Ramses - that man is not called great for no reason, he was the longest ruler of Egypt (67 years) and he made his mark felt, to this very day!

The Colossus of Ramesses is an enormous statue carved in limestone. It is about 10m (33.8 ft) long, even though it has no feet, and is located near the village of Mit Rahina. A small museum has been built to house this magnificent piece. The fallen colossus was found near the south gate of the temple of Ptah, located about 30m from the huge limestone statue of Ramesses. Some of the original colors are still partly preserved.

After this visit, we were dropped off near a local shopping area in the Giza area. This is where we said goodbye to our Egyptian tour guide - I suppose he had to go meet up with a new tour group (apparently, it was peak season for tourists). We shopped at the METRO grocery store nearby - I bought a huge box of hibiscus tea (karkaday) amongst other things. About an hour or so later, we met up and went for lunch. But since we had a late lunch (3pm) and dinner was at 6.30 pm, we were still too full to eat! I ate something anyway.

When we returned to the hotel, the others retired to their rooms to pack. We had to leave for the airport the next day at about 1.30 pm. But I and my friends hired a taxi through the hotel to go to Khan el Khalili (we agreed on 130 Egyptian pounds for the trip to and from, plus waiting time while we shopped).

The driver was polite - and drove us there in good time. We were told it would take more than one hour because of the traffic. But we made it in about 40 minutes or less. Once there, he told us to take our time and that he would wait.

We shopped at the bazaar, but I think I much preferred it during the day time. When we arrived it was near 9.30pm and although the stores were still open, a good number were already closed. It was also less busy than when we had been there two days ago in the afternoon. I think the sellers were also tired - and they did not harass too much to check their wares - although there was still some of that!

I bought more Egyptian tunic tops and scarfs. I could have stayed longer and explored more shops, but two of my friends appeared too tired and sleepy to continue. Such people I was wide awake though! Sigh....

We returned to the taxi about two and a half hours later. The driver brought us back safely. And we gave him a tip of 10 Egyptian pounds - total 140 Egyptian pounds - cause he was patient while waiting for us. So it cost us about 7 USD per person for this trip to Khan el Khalili at night. Worth it, I think!

At the hotel, I packed my bag in preparation for departure the next afternoon.

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Blogger Ricky Peterson said...

Very informative article. Pyramid of Djoser is known as step pyramid. This is a first Egyptian pyramid. height of the pyramid is 62 meters tall and base of the pyramid is 109 x 125 m. Jean-Phillipe Lauer was the major excavator of the Step Pyramid.Djoser is famous for his pioneering tomb. best tome to visit is October till May.accommodation and food is available and quite reasonable rate. For more details refer The Step pyramid of djoser

February 3, 2010 at 5:39 AM  

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