Website Category: Ancient Civilisations of the Lower Nile
Criteria: (i) a creative masterpiece (iii) cultural tradition (vi) association with belief system
Location and Values: The Egyptian pyramids hardly need an introduction – they are the only surviving member of the ancient Seven Wonders of the World, and the most widely-recognised monuments in Africa. The antiquity of these massive structures – the tombs of pharaohs - is simply mind-boggling: the first of the great pyramids – the world’s earliest stone monument – was built at Saqqara in 2650 BC – more than 4,650 years ago! Nearby the ancient capital Memphis was built around 3,100 BC, symbolically located at the spot where the Nile Delta meets the river valley, thus serving as a bridge, unifying the lands of Upper and Lower Egypt. Today, it is a tiny village 24 km south of Cairo, and about 3 km from the most ancient of the pyramids at Saqqara.
Four groups of pyramids are included in the world heritage property spread out in the desert along the west bank of the Nile over a total distance of about 30 km. Each group is different, relating to a specific period and including a unique assemblage of temples, tombs, mastabas and other monuments. The pyramids of Giza, with the distinctive Sphinx, are at the northern end of the field disturbingly close to Cairo, and at risk of being engulfed by the great modern metropolis. Further south, there are further complexes at Abu Sir, Saqqara and Dahshur, with a total of about 35 pyramids between them.
Slideshow of Memphis And Its Necropolis: The slideshow covers four locations, illustrating the main features of the pyramid fields and the little that remains of the ancient capital of Memphis. The first images show the most ancient of all the pyramids – the Step Pyramid at Saqqara, built in the 27th century BC. The photos were taken in October 2011, when it was smothered in an untidy array of scaffolding as work was being carried out to replace the casing stones of this giant structure. The Step Pyramid is part of Zoser’s Funerary Complex at Saqqara and many other elements have already been restored, as shown in the photos. From Saqqara the slideshow moves a few kilometres further south – to the pyramid fields at Dahsur, where the Bent Pyramid is shown, as well as the interior chambers and access tunnel of the nearby Red pyramid. Looking to the east from here the remains of the Black Pyramid can be seen, appearing more like a natural plug of rock standing in the desert than a man-made structure – and illustrating that not all of the 118 or so pyramids are as well preserved as the better-known ones at Giza. The site of Memphis is marked by a small museum with a fine colossus of Ramses II lying prostrate in a building, and a beautiful sphinx and other statues outside – but most of the ancient city was built of mud-brick and disappeared long ago. Returning to the outskirts of Cairo the remainder of the slideshow is dedicated to the well-known Giza Pyramids, the Sphinx, and the extraordinary Solar Barge, meticulously reconstructed from its 1,200 carefully stored wooden components and now housed in its own air-conditioned humidity-controlled ‘spaceship’ building alongside the Great Pyramid of Cheops.
Slideshow of Memphis And Its Necropolis:
Google Earth View: To view satellite imagery of the pyramids of Giza on Google Earth, click here. This opens a new window, so when you are finished, just close the Google Earth page and you will be straight back here to continue browsing. It is worth taking a few minutes to explore the surroundings, to understand how close Giza lies to the sprawling metropolis of Cairo, and panning to the south-east to see the other pyramid fields at Abu Sir, Saqqara and Dahshur.
Other Links: Official UNESCO Site Details