Super-sized Sakkara Tour – Dec 16, 2011
Best day so far, hands down. It was the third time I toured Sakkara – but this was to be the most extensive, most fun, most exclusive-felling experience with the world’s largest ancient burial ground.
The day started with the requisite buying of a large bag of dog food at the market. I well remembered from past Sakkara trips those poor starving dogs, scampering across the sand with their ribs showing. Also at breakfast, I hoarded some eggs and falafel balls for them. Then it was off with my camera, purse and large heavy bag of canine sustenance to the posh Marriott hotel in Zamalek to meet my tour, felling just a bit silly. Hmmm… what if I get to Sakkara with this huge bag of Purina and the dogs aren’t there? Do I carry it through Egypt and back through customs home?
Super-sized guide Ahmed
Anyway – my guide for the day Ahmed Seddik is quite an original. A very slight, 20 something young Egyptologist who exudes brainy precociousness with a certain crazy charisma and a passion for alliteration and using pretentious vocabulary (though in a good humoured and fun way). He is a student and big fan of the famous Zahi Hawass – and has a personality and exuberance almost as big. He even dons a Zahi-like hat. Evidently he has been a journalist who has covered the recolution, an Egypt commentator called upon by BBC, CBS – and a translator of impressive works. Zahi II met me with three intelligent older Germans, two of whom were there from the German embassy. They were all sophisticated and bright and a pleasure to tour with.
Dogs well fed
The kibble was not in vain. A pack of dogs ran up to the van as we approached the parking lot at Sakkara. What was really lovely is that the Egyptians there also seemed grateful on behalf of the dogs “ Get food to that one – he is very old and sick,” yelled one man. I was so glad I had the extra egg and felaffel too. I hear a woman yell “Thank you lady very much” I only wish I could send a bag to Sakkara every week!
Anyway – Ahmed gave us a fabulously in-depth experience that lasted ALL DAY, 10:30 to 5 – and no-one even thought about lunch or a coffee break.
We made a rare stop enroute at the Unas’s valley temple, king of the 5th dynasty, strewn with interesting remains of pillars and stone and the last strip of his long causeway.Few stop there.\
The niched façade of Zoser’s step pyramid is a marvel – and it is largely due to the restoration work of French archaeologist Philip Lauer – We toured the massive complex, walking through the wide open hebsed court where the king practiced his magic festival ritual that was supposed to rejuvenate him. Imhotep, scholar, architect and priest for Djoser, applied much symbolism and there are many replicas of elements from nature – wood beams, lotus – that were translated into impermeable material – the perishable made imperishable – much as they hoped for the deceased king in his afterlife. You could see some of the fine restoration work that was being done on Djoser’s pyramid – though restoration has ceased for now and the scaffolding remains. For the most part, it was just us, with a few straggling touts on donkeys, hawking postcards. The Step pyramid complex was very quiet – look to the south – and you can see Userkaf’s crumbling pyramid – to the north, Unas – and beyond a glimpse through the mid day mist of three pyramids of Abu Sir along with El Faraon, the odd sarcophagus mastaba of Shepsekaf. In between, a vast graveyard of mastabas stretch, the final resting place for hundreds of noblemen and women from the protodynastic through to the late pyramid. It would be impossible to see all in even a month!
There were a few individuals touring the site – including a small group led by an eminent Harvard doctor Ahmed introduced as Tahrek. We also had a false Zahi sighting and Ahmed and I went bounding through the sand to see if it was him – but alas.
We did not see everything – but we DID see saw a great deal – First, we passed a tomb site that I was told was not published yet – freshly being excavated. Evidently it was Akhenaten’s time – probably belonging to a butler Next we admired Unas pyramid (just the exterior where limestone casing remains – along with labels from the New Kingdom). From there we went on to see the wonderful New Kingdom tombs of Maya and Horemheb and Tia as well – In Maya particularly, evidence of the Amarna style and aten cult still remain in the naturalistic beautiful reliefs of people and horses and offerings – all in bright yellow to represent aten. At these new kingdom tombs, reliefs were protected from damage through wooden shutters… we would open them up to observe.
We also visited some rare tombs, perhaps from nobles under Neferirkare in the 6th dynasty, where there was wonderful painted statuary.
In the tomb of the manicurists – also known as the two brothers or gay brothers due to the reliefs of two men hugging and kissing – and also finely carved hands and feet – we were almost locked in. Then again, we had kind of removed the latch and let ourselves in – so it was our just deserts. Finally a guard let us out.
Back down the causeway of Unas to see Kegemn, Ti and another wonderful tomb of a minister – all alive with stunning reliefs of hunting, fishing, and national geographic-worthy panoramas of different bird and marine life. We also crawled down to see The wonderful pyramid texts in the pyramid of Teti.
After the tomb of Ti, Ahmed leaped on a black donkey and led us down the causeway to the gates of the famous Serrapeum – where the remains of the sacred Apis bulls were buried. Unfortunately it was closed for entry.
And I was able to briefly explore the grounds around the pyramid of Userkaf, for which I am doing my research report. It is a majestic but crumbling edifice – and I wish I had more time to explore and photograph the environs.
By the end of the tour, I had buckets of sand in my shoes, a camera packed with rare footage and photos – and was still exuberant, high on seeing so much in such a short time.
Palace Garden dinner with Ahmed
After the tour, we returned to the Marriott, and I sat under the trees in the palatial gardens with Ahmed for a light (and expensive) meal. The ornate pink-ish stone Marriott Zamalek was once a palace and the gardens the spot where Aida was first performed. We sipped overpriced mango juice and ate chicken quesadillas and Ahmed told me of his experiences with BBC, his dream of building cities, his almost-launched ancient tour application for iphones – how he was translating books for nobel prize writers, consulting for BBC TV – and how his section of “Chasing Mummies” where he discussed bloody offerings, ended up on the cutting room floor as too gruesome.
Today I am off on his Revolutionary tour of Cairo – which should no doubt be a real happening. Maybe I will meet Hawass – BBC is supposed to be there – and Cairo TV.
As we walked to a bookstore, he talked of the great tour ideas he has for the future saying “You know, as soon as you say it out loud, it is more likely to happen” Yes – it is the power of attraction. Declare it and make it so. Much like those kings and pharaohs have endured in memory and achieved everlasting status – because they declared it as an intention in stone!