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Lying 15 miles south of modern Cairo, Memphis was Egypt’s capital in the Old Kingdom period (2613-2181 BC). The city was founded by King Menes, who successfully unified the upper and lower Egypt under one ruler for the first time. Though most of Memphis’ ruins have been looted, its sprawling necropolis (Saqqara) is much better preserved.
Saqqara’s incredible centrepiece is the Step Pyramid of Djoser, built for the Pharaoh by his architect and priest, Imhotep, in the 27th century BC. This was an innovative moment in the history of world architecture; until now, Egyptian tombs were concealed underground in low, flat mastaba style tombs. It is possible to enter the pyramid, crouching slightly to descend through a passage into the pyramid’s heart. Charm the guard inside and he will be happy to turn out the lamps, using a small torch to demonstrate the different layers of alabaster and stone, which are richly decorated with hieroglyphic inscriptions.
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