Located at Saqqara (Sakkara), about 20 miles southwest of Cairo, Egypt, the so-called Step Pyramid of Pyramid of Djoser, was built as the tomb of the pharaoh Djoser over 4,500 years ago. The building was designed by the revered architect, engineer and statesman Imhotep. He began with a simple mastaba, a common funeral monument shaped like a rectangular platform. Then he added five successively smaller mastabas one atop the other. The result was whole new type of building and a prototype of the far more famous monuments about 15 miles away – the Giza Pyramids. Saqqara was a necropolis for the ancient capital of Memphis for about 500 years in the 3rd millennium BCE. Even after the center of power shifted to the south, it remained an important burial site for thousands of years.
They’re not exactly along the Nile; not to be nitpicky, but if you’re looking for them, you should know. The Giza pyramids, by far the most famous of some 120 pyramids discovered to date in Egypt, are about 5 miles from the Nile and about 15 miles from the center of Cairo. The pyramids are part of the Giza Necropolis, the burial grounds of 3 4th Dynasty pharaohs, among others.
Too obvious? Maybe so, but there’s no denying the wow-factor of the pyramids at Giza. The largest, known as the Great Pyramid, was built for the pharaoh Khufu (Cheops in Greek). It stands almost 500 feet tall and is constructed of 2.3 million limestone and granite blocks, some of which weigh 80 tons. Some of the materials were locally sourced but the granite, 8,000 tons of it, came from the quarries at Aswan, 500 miles up river. The Giza pyramids were all built about 4,500 years ago, which makes their immense size all the more incredible. We know they were built as tombs and archaeologists have come up with some very plausible explanations for how they were built; still, few places on earth inspire such wonder.
The Treasury as seen from the siq, Petra, Jordan
The whole of the ancient city of Petra is astonishing, but, for a couple of reasons, the Treasury is the unequivocal star. In a city full of tombs, dwellings and temples, most of which are carved right into the canyon walls, the Treasury is the best-preserved and grandest of all. Then there’s its alluring position. Surely it’s no accident that the city’s best building is the first thing you see upon entering, if you come though the siq (canyon), which most visitors do. After walking for about a mile, you come around a bend and there it is, magnificently filling the seam of light that opens onto the city. It says “Be impressed.” And you are. The likelihood that you have been anticipating the sight with every step does not diminish the effect. CLICK to read more about Petra.
At Meteora in central Greece, six Orthodox monasteries cling to the tops of soaring sandstone pillars and look out over the stunning Peneas Valley. The monasteries were built in the 14th-16th centuries by hauling materials in nets 1,000 feet straight up the sheer pillar walls. CLICK to read more about Meteora.