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Cairo Sights

Abu Sir

  • Archaeological Site/Ruins

Updated 12/31/1969

Fodor's Review

Abu Sir is the site of four pyramids—three of which are obvious, the fourth one less so—all dating to the 5th Dynasty (2465–2323 BC), as well as several mastabas and shaft tombs. The area has been the scene of much excitement because, in 1997–98, a Czech team of archaeologists came upon an intact shaft tomb of an official who lived sometime between 525 and 340 BC. This tomb is not open to the public at this writing; plans to make it visitable have been delayed.

Abu Sir itself has been open to the public only sporadically, which means that the rather beautiful site nestled at the edge of the desert is rarely visited and free of tourists and touts. You can wander around the ruins, but the pyramids and other intact structures are closed to visitors at this writing.

The three pyramids that greet you when you arrive at Abu Sir are those of Sahure, Nyuserre, and Neferirkare. These—especially the pyramid of Sahure—are excellent pyramids to visit, because the whole complex of mortuary temples, valley temples, and a causeway are close together and easily visible.

Sahure's Pyramid, the northernmost of the three, is 257 feet square; its original height was 154 feet. This pyramid complex is typical of royal funerary complexes of the 5th Dynasty (Sahure ruled from 2458 to 2446 BC), and it contains all the elements of a pyramid complex, save boat pits. The pyramid itself is not too impressive, as its poor-quality core masonry collapsed after the Tura limestone casing stones were removed. Its interior has been closed to visitors since a 1992 earthquake rendered its internal structure unstable.

The mortuary temple is very pleasant to wander through, with its granite pillars, stairs leading to a now nonexistent second floor, and fine basalt pavement. It is one of the few mortuary temples found in Egypt that retains a sense of its ancient grandeur. The causeway was decorated with finely carved scenes (now removed from the site) showing archery and fighting. There is much less left of the valley temple: a pavement, some doorways, and a scattering of fallen blocks. The area of the valley temple is wet, because it is close to the water table.

Nyuserre's Pyramid is 265 feet square, and it was originally 169 feet tall. Not much is left of this pyramid because the casing stones and part of the limestone core were removed and burned for lime in the 19th century. The builder of this pyramid complex, Nyuserre (2416–2392 BC), usurped the valley temple and causeway of Neferirkare Kakai's Pyramid, which are therefore not directly aligned to the east of this pyramid but are at an angle out toward their original owner's pyramid.

Neferirkare's Pyramid is the largest on the Abu Sir site—344 feet square and originally 229 feet tall. The pyramid complex was meant to be larger than that of Sahure, but the pharaoh died prior to its completion. The pyramid itself, however, does dominate the site. Nyuserre usurped the causeway and valley temple, completed them, and appended them to his pyramid complex, leaving Neferirkare (2446–2426 BC) with only a pyramid and a mortuary temple that was completed after his death in cheap mud brick rather than limestone or granite.

The very large Mastaba of Ptahshepses lies between Sahure and Nyuserre's pyramids. The tomb is noted more for its size than for any remains of decoration. To the southwest is a double room that might have held boats, an unusual feature for a private tomb. The entire tomb is now completely inaccessible.

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Sight Information

Address:

Off the Abu Sir village road, Abu Sir, Egypt

Phone:

/No phone

Sight Details:

  • £E20
  • Daily 8–4

Updated 12/31/1969

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