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Sakkara, Sakkara

Egypt's insider take:

Sakkara was the main necropolis for Memphis, the capital of a united Upper and Lower Egypt. A 15-minute drive south from the Giza Plateau, past villages and tranquil green farmland, the complex contains 16 primitive pyramids predating the Great Pyramid, and more than 200 tombs and temples associated with the pharaohs and their servants. It's estimated that as many as 10,000 tombs still lie unexcavated; the tombs of King Tut's wet nurse, a royal butcher, and a royal surgeon buried with his scalpels are among the latest discoveries. Architecture buffs come here to see the world's oldest stone monument and original stairway to heaven: the Step Pyramid, built in 2650 B.C. for King Djoser by the deified architect Imhotep, to whom a new on-site museum, inaugurated in 2006, is dedicated. The tomb of the vizier Mereruka is worth visiting for its carved scenes of daily life in ancient Egypt, such as fishing, duck hunting, and tending for pet hyenas. The real gem, however, is the small tomb shared by Niankh-Khnum and Khnum-Hotep, manicurists to King Unas. It's unclear whether they were brothers or lovers; their house of the afterlife contains exquisite carved and painted scenes of cattle, wild animals, breast-feeding mothers, women baking bread—and the two bare-chested men embracing. The Sakkara complex is far less crowded than the Giza Plateau, and it's easy to find an isolated spot where you feel you are alone in the desert with just wind and sand for company.

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