Home > 2011 Posts > The Mastabas of Saqqara

The Mastabas of Saqqara

In the bleak desert south of Cairo there is a place older than the pyramids. It is so old that we are centuries closer in time to Julius Caesar than he was to it. The place is called Saqqara.

Mastaba Entrance

Traces of red, black and yellow paint still cover the bas reliefs. Carved stones buried for four millennia are still sharp and smooth. A dire ancient curse is easy to see, scrawled on a sheltered sandstone wall. This is truly ancient history that you can touch!

The largest wonder of Saqqara is the 4,600 year old, crumbling, step-pyramid of Djoser. Even more fascinating to me though are the nearby Mastabas. These are tombs buried in the sands for three dozen centuries. Some of their exteriors look as new as the Washington Monument or the Jefferson Memorial.

Saqqara Ruins

Not too long ago, I was lucky enough to get inside. Of course, no photos or video was allowed. But somehow, in a delightful failure to resist temptation, a few shots found their way into my smallest camera. This brief, hidden-camera video clip might give you a tiny taste of how it felt to be there, five times further in the past than the Battle of Hastings and the Norman Conquest.

With the current turmoil in Egypt, I appreciate my good fortune even more. When the smoke clears in the middel east, I fear that those of us who respect the ancients or the rights of women will be still further disappointed.

For more about modern Egyptian culture, see my earlier post, On a Knife’s Edge.

  1. March 30, 2011 at 7:30 am

    This is a corner of Egypt that most people (including me) are never aware of. From your photo, I believe this place is worth visiting and exploring.

    • March 30, 2011 at 8:57 am

      True! Saqqara feels much more like an ancient ruin than the things at Giza where lots of modern stuff has been added to handle the toutist load. Also, the ruins uncovered at Saqqara and open to the public are more spread out. In many spots you can find yourself completely alone, surrounded by things nearly five millenia old. A great experience!

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