If you drive just a few minutes down the road away from Cairo, beyond the Great Pyramids, you will encounter the Step Pyramids. Although less known than the Great Pyramids, the Step Pyramids are equally impressive, and a completely different experience. First of all, as you leave Giza behind you, the scene very quickly becomes rural. Traffic lessens, the big apartment buildings are replaced by houses, cottages, or shacks, and greenery increases. In fact, the Step Pyramids are set in what appears to be an oasis, surrounded by palm trees and fields. You can see oxen and water buffalo performing farming tasks. I also, sadly, saw the skinniest horse I have ever seen. He was grazing in a very lush field, so I was a little confused as to why he was so skinny. I was nearing sunset as we arrived and the step pyramids were beautifully silhouetted against the darkening sky. Unlike at the Great Pyramids, there were very few vendors or others seeking to separate us from our cash.
Apparently, the step type of pyramid was less difficult to build and was a precursor to the smooth form of the Great Pyramids. (Incidentally, the smooth exterior of the Great Pyramids has mostly dissolved away and so the Great Pyramids now somewhat resemble the Step Pyramid). Both forms were used as tombs and memorials of the ancient Egyptian rulers. I understand some people can get tours of a tomb in the Great Pyramids, but they are hard to get and, supposedly, there is not much to see. To the contrast, any visitor can get access to some tombs in the Step Pyramid area. We went inside, and there are lots of carvings and reliefs that are still in surprisingly good shape, including retaining their color, after 3,000 years or more!
The reliefs or carvings tell stories about the ruler buried there, as well as depict the people, animals, and activities of daily and ritual life at the time. Notice, for example, the crocodiles swimming under the boats in the Nile river. We know who the important people are because they are depicted many times larger than the other people, as well as by the fact that they wear special clothes, or headwear, or hold things life royal staffs.
In addition to the Step Pyramid and tomb, there are some very nice temple ruins on the same complex. The Egyptians really liked to make things BIG. I think the goal is to impress people with the size, beauty, detail and magnificence of it all. Even the materials used — marble, granite, alabaster, are amazing in themselves. And, again, everything was done by hand, without modern machinery or computer-guided laser tools. If you really look and think about how many hours of work went into making these treasures, you can’t help but be awed. And I guess that is the point — thousands of years later, people are coming to see these guys’ tombs and we are still impressed and we know who they are. So, if you are ever in Cairo, take a few hours and go see the Step Pyramid. You won’t regret it or forget it.
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