Egypt’s oldest Pyramid and Memphis, the former capital

Post No. 11 — Looking back forty-years to 28 January 1981

Saqqara is on the west side of the River Nile, just a few miles south of Cairo and even fewer from the much more famous pyramids at Giza, but the so-called Step Pyramid has the privilege of being the oldest of them all, as it’s six-tiered design helps show.

The Step Pyramid of Djoser, at Saqqara, is the oldest colossal stone building in Egypt. [Copyright image, 1981.]

Shame on me but I confess that I had not even heard of Saqqara until the previous day! Having arrived, however, it didn’t take a genius to work out that this was a remarkable site.

The nearby Pyramid of Unas was one we were allowed to go inside. The burial chamber and the sarcophagus were covered with coloured hieroglyphs — both beautiful and fascinating. (Apparently there are 250 characters in the the hieroglyphic alphabet.)

From there, we drove a couple of miles to visit the Serapeum underground vaults, an ancient burial site of sacred, Apis bulls, which were believed to be incarnations of the ancient deity Ptah.

According to my diary, the tunnel of the ‘Greater Vaults’ at the Serapeum is 10 feet (3m) wide, 18 feet high, and 1,148 feet (353m) long. In each of the 24 chambers along the sides of the tunnel was a sarcophagus weighing up to 70 tons, containing the mummified remains of a bull.

Guide books warned that the Serapeum is chilly but even in the ‘winter’ month of January I found it both very warm and humid.

Cattle Egret. [Copyright image, 1981.]

Later that afternoon, as we continued south, I saw several Cattle Egrets beside the canals that help irrigate the rich lands near the river.

Later still, we passed through the city first known as Hiku-Ptah, later as Inbu-Hedj (meaning ‘White Walls’) and most recently as Memphis, but at this point we saw virtually nothing of its former glory.

We are planning on coming back to Memphis tomorrow morning for a good look around, so perhaps we will see and learn more then.

About seven miles further south, we found a place to camp on a barren, sandy area a few hundred yards from the stunningly sharp boundary that delineates the desert from the rich, irrigated lands of the Nile.


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