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Saqqara Pyramid






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ACCESS. – By road from Giza (12 ½ miles/20 km N).

The vast** necropolis of Saqqara, the cemetery area of ancient Memphis, lies on the edge of the Western (Libyan) desert, on the W bank of the Nile, some 9 miles/15 km S of the pyramid of Cheops. Extending over an area of almost 4 ½ miles/7 km from N to S and 550-1650 yds/500-1500 m from E to W, it contains tombs from almost every period of Egyptian history. The whole necropolis has been repeatedly prospected and plundered from an early period down to modern times, notably under the Byzantine Emperors and the Caliphs. Nevertheless modern scientific excavations, most recently those directed by Walter B. Emery in 1936-56 and by the Egyptian department of Antiquities since 1965, have still been able to recover much new material which has made important contributions to knowledge.

The most conspicuous landmark of Saqqara is the Step Pyramid (Arabic El-Haram el-Mudarrag), the tomb of the 3rd Dynasty ruler Djoser or Zoser , which is probably the earliest major stone structure erected in Egypt. The form of the pyramid can be explained as a development of the large mastabas of the 1st and 2nd Dynasties, the six steps, each smaller than the one below, having been produced by the addition to the original mastaba of successive new layers of masonry, accompanied by the enlagement of the lower stages. Detailed examination of the pyramid has made it possible to identify six changes of plan during its construction. – The building of the pyramid is ascribed to Imhotep, who according to Manetho (c. 280 B.C.) devised the method of construction with dressed stone. It is remarkable for the complete mastery of the technique shown even at this early stage in its use.

The step pyramid stands some 200 ft/60 m high, with a base measurement of 397 ft/121 m by 358 ft/109 m. It is built of locally quarried clayey sandstone of poor quality. The entrance to the burial chambers, which are below ground-level, is one the N side of the lowest step. The chambers and passages in the interior of the pyramid served partly for the burial of close relatives of the king, in particular those of his sons who died in childhood, and partly for storing grave-goods for the use of the dead. Large numbers of costly vessels for foodstuffs were founded in these store-rooms. Some of the passages and chambers were due to the work of tomb-robbers and to later attempts at restoration. Fragments of the king’s mummy were found in the main tomb chamber, 92 ft/28 m below the base of the pyramid. In another chamber constructed at an earlier date the walls were faced with tiles of bluish-green faience imitating plaited reed mats (now in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo).

In front of the entrance to the pyramid are remains of the mortuary temple. In a sealed chamber (serdab) on the E side of the temple, connected with the outside world only by two “peepholes”, was found the life-size statue of Djoser which is now also in the Egyptian Museum, with a copy on the original site. – To the N of the pyramid, within the enclosure wall, was found a rock-cut alter which had originally been faced with marble.

At the NE corner of the pyramid are the so-called House of the North and House of the South, each with a chapel and an open court. These buildings are interpreted as symbolic palaces referring to Djoser’s role as ruler of Upper and Lower Egypt. Their facades have fluted engaged pillars and columns with papyrus capitals. – To the SE of the pyramid is a temple, probably erected on the occasion of the king’s Sed festival (commemorating the 30th year of his reign). Adjoining the temple are a number of chapels, on the facades of which are colonnettes simulating wooden posts. Staircases lead up to an upper floor. In the court is a stone base approached by steps, probably for the king’s throne.

The enclosure wall round the pyramid precinct, with towers, niches and false doors, originally stood 34 ft/ 10.50 m high and was faced with limestone. The SE section, with the original main entrance, still stands to a considerable height and has been partly reconstructed. The wall enclosed a rectangular area measuring 595 yds/544 m by 303 yds/277 m. – The entrance leads into a large Colonnade, originally divided into three aisles by 48 pillars arranged in pairs; the pillars, topped by engaged cluster-columns, had an original height of over 16 ft/ 5 m. At the E end are curious false doors simulating open double doors. – At the far (W) end of the colonnade is a small transverse chamber with four pairs of pillars, leads into the court on the S side of the pyramid.

The great Court is bounded on the E and W sides by finely built stone walls and on the N side by the pyramid. In the middle are the bases of two altars, probably representing the two lands of Upper and Lower Egypt. Under the S side of the pyramid was another altar approached by a small ramp. – At the W end of the S enclosure wall is false tomb of the 3rd Dynasty discovered by Cecil firth in 1927. Staircases and underground passages lead to antechambers containing large alabaster jars and two chambers faced, like the chamber under the pyramid, with tiles imitating reed mats. In the second chamber are three false doors with magnificent relief figures of Djoser. – The chapel on the NW side of the tomb has a fine cobra frieze (partly restored).

Outside the enclosure wall, to the S, are several mastabas of the 3rd-6th Dynasties. Particularly notable is one which was originally constructed for an official named Ikh but was later used for the burial of princess Sesh-seshet or Idut. It is decorated with reliefs with well-preserved coloring, including one of a genet and an ichneumon robbing bird’s nests in a papyrus swamp, and has a number of underground store-rooms, originally containing baskets of fruit and grain, which were sealed with the seals of kings Khasekhemwy and Djoser.

To the E of this mastaba is the Mastaba of Mehu, a 6th Dynasty Vizier, with excellently preserved paintings in unusually vivid colors depicting the dead man and his wife in scenes of everyday life. On the side wall of the entrance Mehu is depicted as corpulent elderly man.

First side chamber, on the right, husband and wife hunting and fishing; on the left, kitchen scenes and bird-catching. – Doorway into passage, left, work in the bakery; right, agricultural scenes. – S wall of passage, top row, funeral procession on the Nile, with the mummy in the first boat ; middle row, work in the field; bottom row, 39 women and one man, representing the estates managed by Mehu.- W wall, vintage scenes. – N wall, in three rows, Mehu hunting and supervising work in the fields; to right of door into court, goldsmith at work. –The court is divided into two unequal parts by pillars, on which Mehu is depicted with his name and titles. –S wall of small pillared hall, Mehu’s son Hetepka at table; N wall, sketches for pintings which were not completed.

The passage leads into an offering-chamber with representations of various rites connected with the cult of the dead. In the main cult chamber, to the N, are more ritual scenes, exceptionally well preserved. On the W side of the offering-chamber is the cult chamber of one Merire-ankh, with paintings of similar scenes, inferior in style and less well preserved.

SW of the step Pyramid is the Pyramid of Unas or Onnos, last king of the 5th Dynasty. The exterior of the Pyramid of Unas has collapsed, resembling a large pile of rubble, with the stone steps, one attached so neatly, threatening to slide down the sides. The interior is interesting but the extremely low entrance to the tomb chamber makes access quite difficult.

The INTERIOR of the pyramid, which was opened in 1881, is open to visitors. From the N side a sloping passage, the entrance to which was originally concealed under the paving, leads to an antechamber, from which a horizontal corridor, originally barred by three trapdoors at the far end, continues to a central chamber. To the right (W) of this is the tomb chamber, which, like the central chamber, has a pitched roof; to the left ia a small chamber with a flat roof and three niches, which was originally closed by a stone slab. The walls of the central chamber and the tomb chamber are covered with inscriptions- the “Pyramid Texts”. The oldest known Egyptian religious texts, relating to the life after death – in which the incised hieroglyphs are filled in with blue pigment. Against the W wall of the tomb chamber is the king’s sarcophagus, with alabaster false doors to the right and left.

On the E side of the pyramid is the small Mortuary Temple, badly ruined. It had a court with palm columns, fragments of which can still be seen. At the foot of the pyramid, probably on the site of the sanctuary, are remains of a granite false door.

On the S side of the Pyramid of Unas are three shaft tombs of the Persian period, all broadly similar in layout. A square vertical shaft descends to the tomb chamber, constructed of stone blocks, at the foot of a large shaft sunk during the building of the chamber and later filled in. the tombs are now accessible by a spiral staircase and are connected with one another by tunnels.

The descent to the tombs is not easy. The shaft, 82ft/25 m deep, leads by way of a 16 ft/5m long corridor to the vaulted Tomb chamber of Psamtik, a physician who lived in the reign of Darius I. the walls are covered with religious texts. The lidof the large limestone coffin, which, like the coffins in the other tombs, is let into the ground, is raised, and the device for lowering it can be seen; it originally contained a smaller basalt coffin. – To the W, reached through a modern tunnel, are the shaft and Tomb Chamber of Djenhebu, a Royal Admiral, both with finely incised inscriptions. – To the E, down some steps, are the shaft, 90 ft/ 27.5 m deep, and Tomb Chamber of Pedeese. The walls are decorated with inscriptions in fine low relief, with well-preserved colors, and with representations of votive offerings. The vaulted roof is painted with colored stars on a white ground.

To the NE of the Pyramid of Unas is the large Double Mastaba of Nebet and Khenut, Unas’s wives, which originally covered an area of 161 ft/ 49 m by 72 ft/ 22 m and stood 13 ft/ 4 m high. Both tombs have the same ground –plan and layout, reflecting the equal status of the two occupants. Khenut’s tomb, to the W, is much ruined, but Nebet’s is well preserved and worth close inspection.

The entrance, on the SE side, leads into an antechamber of some size, the walls of which are decorated with reliefs of the dead Queen sailing in a boat through the marshes, etc. To the left (W) of this chamber is a spacious open court, without decoration, and straight on is a second, smaller, antechamber with highly unusual mural relifes showing Nebet with servants bringing in food and sledges laden with large wine-jars; one of the women of the harem is a dwarf. On the N wall, above the door, Nebet is shown seated in front of votive offerings. – From the second antechamber the door in the N wall leds into two small chambers, probably store-rooms; the door on the left (W) side opens into a long corridor covered with reliefs, on the right-hand side of which are four other undecorated store-rooms. Between and over the doors Nebet is depicted with her daughters receving votive offerings, particularly livestock. – The corridor leads into a chapel with four niches for statues of the Queen. Opposite these, on the E wall, are relifes depicting votive offerings. –At the N end of the offerings-chamber is a small room with the representation of a man, evidently a commoner, and his children: perhaps a relative of the Queen, and thus giving an indication of her non-noble origin. – To the S of the chapel are two chambers, one behind the other; the first has the usual representations of the dead Queen at table, while on the walls of the second are four large unguent vessels.

To the W of the Pyramid of Unas is the large precinct, now buried in sand, of the unfinished Step Pyramid of Sekhemkhet, Djoser’s successor, who died young.

On either side of the causeway leading up to the Pyramid of Unas are mastabas and rock tombs of the 5th and 6th Dynasties, discovered in 1844 and subsequently excavated.

Some 330 yds/300 m E of the Pyramid of Unas is the small Tomb of Nefer-her-ptah, Overseer of the palace, Royal Wigmaker and confidant of an unidentified king. It consists only of an entrance corridor and a single chamber, but contains preliminary drawings of high artistic quality for relifes which were never executed. They depict scenes from everyday life, farming and hunting.    

To the E is the rock-cut Tomb of Iru-ka-ptah Khenu (5th Dynasty), Superintendent of the royal Slaughterhouses. This, too, has a single chamber at the end of a narrow corridor. On the left-hand and rear walls of the chamber are ten figures of the dead man carved from the rock in high relief. On the right-hand wall are similar figures of three young men and a woman who were buried in the tomb, together with a false door. In the floor are five tomb-shafts. The painted reliefs on the N and E walls depict the usual scenes from everyday lifr, the dead man at table, and religious themes. – Immediately W is the Mastaba of Akhet-hotep, in which many wooden statues were found. Little is left of the tomb itself or of a third tomb which adjoins it.

Some 55 yds/50 m farther E, on the S side of the causeway leading to the pyramid of Unas, is the Tomb of Nefer and Companions (5th Dynasty), probably the family or communal tomb of a guild of singers. It has a single chamber 26 ft/ 8 m long, with nine tomb-shafts. In one of these was found the mummy of a naked man, adorned only with a necklace of blue beads, lying on his side with his legs slightly bent, as if asleep. The walls, faced with plaster, display a rich variety of reliefs. On the left-hand (E) wall are five rows of scenes from everyday life, including woodworkers, farming scenes and – a rare and informative scene – the launching of a boat. - On the right-hand wall the dead men are depicted with their wives at a funeral banquet. - On the S wall, from left to right, are Nefer and his wife Khonsu receiving votive gifts, a man leading on his staff leaning on his staff accompanied by his wife and Nefer at table eating the funeral meal.

To the E of this tomb, under the causeway (which was constructed over it), is the Double Tomb of Ni-ankh-khnum and khnum-hotep (5th Dynasty), two friends or relatives who were priests of Re in Niuserre’s Sun Temple (see under Abu Gurab) and court manicurists. The tomb is partly hewn from the rock, partly masonry-built, and the front part is faced with fine-grained limestone. The rich decoration of painted reliefs is well preserved in the stone-built front part; in the rock-cut chambers to the rear, however, it is in poor condition as a result of the friability of the rock.

On the walls of the portico are reliefs depicting the funeral rituals, and on both sides of the entrance are the dead men with their eldest sons. – Within the doorway the mummy is seen being conveyed to the tomb, accompanied by offering-bearers; below; the catching of the sacrificial ox for the evening and morning meals. –The portico leads into an antechamber, with excellently preserved reliefs in five rows, alternately referring to Ni-ankh-khum and khnum-hotep. On the N and E walls are scenes of framing life and of the dead men’s professional activities. –On the S wall are depicted various methods of catching fish and birds. – In the W wall is a door leading into the undecorated court; in the doorway, on the left and right, dead men in litters borne by donkeys. – Adjoining his room is the vestibule to the tomb chamber.

The reliefs in the rock-cut main chamber are poorly preserved. – N wall: winnowing of grain; corn being taken into the granary, with scribes recording the quantity. –E wall: the dead men supervising work in the fields and, accompanied by their sons, inspecting workshops. –S wall: banquet, with music and dancing (the figure of Ni-ankh-khnum’s wife defaced). – Between the two doors: the dead men, with their children but without their wives, embracing and touching one another with their noses (i.e. kissing). – W wall: scenes of everyday life. - The chapel is divided equally between the two men, the S side being assigned to Ni-ankh-khnum, the N side of khnum-hotep. In each half is a false door, and between he doors the two men are depicted embracing one another. On the walls are scenes from the funeral banquet.

To the E of this tomb is the Double Tomb of Nefer-seshem-path and Sekhen-tiu. From here a path leads S to the nearby ruins of the Monastery of ST Jeremias (Jeremiah), excavated by J.E. Quibell in 1907-09. Founded in the second half of the 5th c. and destroyed by the Arabs about 960, the monastery buildings include two churches( fine capitals and reliefs from which are now in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo), a refectory, a bakery, an oil-press, a wine-press and other offices, the room occupied by St Jeremias and cells for the monks, each with a niche in the E wall, many of which had frescos of the Virgin, the Archangels and the founder of the monastery; the frescos are now also on the Egyptian Museum.

To the S of the tombs flanking the causeway to the pyramid of Unas and to the W of the Monastery of ST Jeremias is an area containing tombs of the New Kingdom, only a few of which have been excavated. Here was unexpectedly discovered in 1975 the Tomb of Horemheb, Tutankhamun’s General and Co-ruler, reliefs from which had previously been removed by 19th c. tomb-robbers and had found their way into various museums. Horemheb, the “general of generals”, built this tomb before his accession to the throne, but later had another tomb constructed in the Valley of the Kings, where he was buried. The reliefs in the Saqqara tomb, in both raised and sunk reliefs, are the finest examples of the art of Memphis under the influence of the Amarna style, showing its characteristic smooth and flowing lines and its themes. They depict with consummate skill and in great variety the Mannerist spirit of the time, shown for example in its leaning towards such fashionable externals as ever-changing wigs, elaborately draped garments and luxuriously furnished rooms.

The entrance to the tomb, flanked by pillars and preceded by a paved forecourt, is on the E side. It leads into the first colonnaded court, which was surrounded by a wall 10 ft/3 m high, built of brick with a cladding of limestone slabs. The painted reliefs, now largely replaced by copies or much restored, depict scenes from the dead man’s career, including the presentation of a gold collar of honor by the king and Queen, a celebrated relief of which the original is in the Museum van Oudheden in leyden. At the NW corner of the court is a tomb-shaft. –Beyond the court is the hall of statues, which contains statues of Horemheb and Anubis. At the entrance are representations of Horemheb at the offering-table, to which offerings are being brought. On the door-jambs are the name titles of the dead man. – The walls of the adjoining second colonnaded court are decorated with painted reliefs: on the N wall and N end of the E wall are Horemheb in the presence of Osiris and a procession of offering-bearers; on the S end of the E wall, Hormheb receiving representatives and prisoners from foreign lands. The maltreatment of the prisoners dragged in by the hair or at the end of a rope, is depicted with striking realism. The original of a scene depicting captured Negroes (kushites) being registered Egyptian officials is now in the Museo Civico in Bologna. On the S wall: Horemheb receiving offerings. – On the W side of the court is the chapel, with a statue of Horemoheb and his wife (?). On both sides are further chapels and tomb-shafts.

NE of the Step Pyramid of Djoser is the mound of rubble which represents the pyramid of Userkaf, founder of the 5th Dynasty. It was relatively small, with an original base measurement of some 245 ft/ 75 m, and lay within a correspondingly small precinct. The mortuary temple was on the S side; and to the SW of this are the remains of a subsidiary pyramid. –In the area S of Userkaf’s Pyramid and E of Djoser’s are mastabas of the Old kingdom.

Some 550 yds/500 m NE of Djoser’s Pyramid is the mound of earth which marks the site of the pyramid of Teti, founder of the 6th Dynasty. On its E side are the scanty remains of the mortuary temple, remains of an alabaster altar and many table-like statue bases. Farther E is a confused tangle off structures excavated by the Egyptian department of Antiquities and ranging in date from the Old Kingdom to the Ptolemaic period. The oldest are two large stone mastabas of the Old kingdom, on top of which brick tombs were built during the Middle Kindom. The brick enclosure walls, 30-33 ft/ 9-10 m thick, date from the Greek period. – Farther NW is a cemetery with brick-built mastabas of the 2nd and 3rd Dynasties.

At the NW corner of the Pyramid of Teti we find the Tomb of Mereruka or Meri, a priest attached to the pyramid. Dating from the early 6th Dynasty, it is the largest structure of its kind in the Old Kingdom -130 ft/ 40 m by 80 ft/ 24 m, with a total of 31 rooms and passages. It is divided into three parts, belonging respectively to Mereruka, his wife Her-watet-khet (to the left of the entrance) and their son Meriteti (to the rear). A tablet at the entrance records that the tomb was excavated in 1893.  

To the right and left of the entrance: Mereuka and his wife (who is on a smaller scale). Within the entrance, right-hand side: the artist (probably Mereuka himself) sitting at an easel and painting the three seasons, which are represented by gods; in one hand he holds a shell containing paint, in the other a pen, while other writing materials hang from his shoulder, in front of him is his son Khenu. Left-hand side: Mereuka, before whom is his small son Meriteti, holding a lotus stem and a bird; behind him his wife and rows of servants. – First room, N wall: Mereuka, in a papyrus boat with his wife, spearing fish; men in two small boats harpooning three hippopotamuses; in the reeds are birds, in the river fish. S wall: the dead man, in a boat with his wife, hunting in the marshes. The scene is full of fascinating detail-birds, fish, etc., a hippopotamus biting a crocodile; below, left, cattle being driven through a river ; above, cattle thrown to the ground for slaughter (note the accurately observed attitudes of  the cattle); gardens being watered. – To the right of the first room is a small side chamber with a mummy-shaft.

Adjoining the first room on the N is an almost exactly square room. E wall: Mereuka and his wife (to left) inspecting various operations, depicted in six rows. Two lowest rows: goldsmiths making necklaces and various vessels. Third row: three statues being drawn to the tomb, while a priest burns incense. Fourth row: carpenters making beds. Fifth and sixth rows: manufacture of stone vessels. W wall: Mereuka and his wife, accompanied by servents, watch hunters in the desert; desert animals; a hound seizes an antelope; a lion devouring a bull; hedgehogs and hares. – Beyond this is a long room. E wall: on the right Mereuka and his wife, followed by servants, watching fishermen; Mereuka’s stout brother, in a boat, drinking from a cup; on the left Mereuka and his wife, preceded by servants, one of whom leads a monkey and two hounds on a leash. W wall: on the left the estate office, a hall with columns in which the clerks sit, while the village elders are dragged in to pay their taxes, some being cudgeled, while one is stripped, tied to a post and beaten; on the right Mereuka and his wife watching offerings being made to his statue. - Immediately left of the entrance to this room is a door into another long room, without decoration.

At the NE corner of the long room a door leads into a hall with four pillars supporting the roof, on which are sunk reliefs of the dead man. W wall (from the left): bedroom scenes; Mereuka and his wife watching as the canopied bed is prepared; the dead man and his wife, who is playing a harp, sit on a large couch with lions’ feet, under which are two rows of vases; Mereuka, seated in an armchair, receiving gifts (vases, wooden chests,etc.) brought by servants. N wall: priests of the mortuary cult bring in food and drink for the dead man. E wall: Mereuka and his wife, with servants; servants bringing in votive offerings; male and female dancers (bottom two rows). S wall: the dead man receiving votive offerings.

Beyond the room is a transverse room in which only a few reliefs are preserved, together with a false door at the W end, with the serdab. In the floor is a shaft leading to the tomb chamber, which was closed by a stone slab running in vertical grooves. The walls of the chamber are covered with reliefs depicting votive offerings and lists of offerings, and have magnificent false doors. Against the rear wall is the huge stone sarcophagus. – Adjoining the E end of the transverse room is a smaller room with reliefs depicting the bringing of offerings and scenes from everyday life. N wall: the dead man receiving offerings; second bottom row, ten store-rooms; bottom row, treading grapes and pressing the trodden grapes in a sack. On the other walls the dead man is shown having food and drink brought to him.

Immediately N of the transverse room is the large sacrificial chamber, the roof of which is borne on six square pillars, on which Mereuka is represented standing erect. In the middle of the room is a stone ring for tethering the sacrificial ox. In the N wall is a niche containing a statue of Mereuka, with an offering-table in front of it. Reliefs on the N wall (left to right): Mereuka inspecting domestic animals, etc., top row, boatbuilding; four lower rows, gazelles, antelopes, cattle; bottom row, feeding tame hyenas; the aged Mereuka conducted by his two grown-up sons; Mereuka carried in a litter, with a large retinue, including two dwarfs leading dogs. W wall (badly damaged): boats. S wall (only bottom row preserved): the funeral; entrance to the tomb, in the front of which stand priests and dancing-girls; farther left, men carrying a large chest; votive offerings; four boats, with several men in the water; funeral procession, with women mourners; to the Left of the door, the dead man, accompanied by two women, sailing through the marshes, with crocodiles and fish in the water. E wall: on the right Mereuka with his wife and mother watching harvesting operations, on the left Mereuka and his wife playing a board game. Above and beside the door at the NE corner which leads into Meriteti’s part of the tomb: Mereuka with his wife and mother watching dancers and female musicians; various games.  

The doorway into Meriteti’s tomb is of later construction. – Vestibule, E wall: on the right a poultry-yard in which geese are being fattened, on the left cattle and antelopes. N wall: Meriteti receiving votive offerings from servants. W wall: Meriteti watching a hunt in the desert; the bag of gazelles and antelopes is presented to him. S wall: servants with votive gifts (poultry, fish). There are no reliefs in the small room to the left. – Beyond the vestibule is a transverse room. E wall: two lowest rows, cattle being slaughtered; upper rows, servants bringing in cattle, gazelles, etc. N and S wall: Meriteti at table, with servants bringing votive gifts. On the W wall is a false door, on which the dead man’s name has been substituted for an earlier one; in front of it an offering-table. – To the N is a second transverse room. E wall: men bringing Meriteti (on the left) large chests containing garments and vases. N wall: in the middle Meriteti, with servants to the left and right bringing him jars and chests; to the right, large jars being brought in on sledges. W wall: servants with votive gifts (crude and unfinished); square opening into serdab. S wall: similar to N wall (unfinished).

From the NW corner of Mereruka’s sacrificial chamber a passage leads to a number of undecorated store-rooms. Passing through the one immediately on the left, we come into a long room on the W side of the sacrificial chamber. W wall: Mereruka and his wife, to the left and right servants bringing lengths of cloth, jars of scared oil, boxes of clothing and jewelry; a sledge with three large jars. E wall: similar scenes.

Immediately S of this room is a transverse room with a false door, in front of which stood the offering-table. –Beyond this is a second transverse room. W wall: poultry (pigeons, geese, cranes) being fed; a narrow cleft in this wall leads into the serdab, in which a painted statue of Mereruka was found. S wall: to the left, cattle, antelopes, etc., being brought to the dead man, with scribes recording the numbers; to the right, peasant women bringing votive gifts, with the names of the villages from which they come. N wall: to the left, cattle being slaughtered, to the right Mereruka watching fishermen.

From the vestibule of Mereruka’s tomb a door on the left leads into Her-watet-khet’s tomb. The first room is pillared hall. N and S walls: Princess Her-watet-khet’s, Mereruka’s wife, receiving votive gifts from servants. W wall: to the right, the dead woman with her son and daughter; four maids bearing a litter adorned with lions; to the left fishermen; above, capture of wild bulls. –Beyond the hall are two smaller rooms. First room, N wall: dancing-girls. Other walls: servants bringing in food and drivinig in cattle. Second room, W wall: in the center an elaborate false door, in front of which is a square block, the base of an offering –table; to the right and left, the dead woman at table, with servants bringing food, flowers, etc. N wall: the dead woman and her son Meriteti being carried in the litter decorated with a lion, accompanied by three dogs and a pet monkey. Other walls: servants bringing gifts to the dead woman; cattle being slaughtered.

Immediately E of Mereruka’s tomb stands the large Mastaba of Kagemni, Vizier and Judge under three kings of the 5th and 6th Dynasties, which was also discovered in 1893.

   The entrance is at the S end of the E front, which has an inscription giving the name and titles of the dead man. It leads into a vestibule, with reliefs of fishermen and offering-bearers, beyond which is a hall with three pillars containing an attractive series of scenes: dancing-girls; hunting in the marshes; a farmyard; boats; cattle crossing a ford; boys feeding a puppy; court scene. To the left is a corridor, off which open five store-rooms (originally probably two-storeyed). –To the N of the pillared hall is the first chamber. Left-hand wall: Kagemni inspecting his cattle and poultry; tame hyenas and poultry being fed; bird-catching. Right-hand wall: Kagemni watching fishermen; the catch is recored and carried away. Above the door into the next room: the dead man carried in a litter. To the W of this room is the serdab (inaccessible). – Second room: the dead man receving votive gifts from servants. To the left is a room in which two figures of the dead man have been obliterated. – Third room, on longitudinal walls: Kagemni, seated on a chair, receiving votive gifts. In the end wall is a false door, in front of which stood the offering-table, approached by steps. – Fourth room: two figures of Kagemni, standing, while attendants bring in votive gifts; tables, with various vessels on them; large jars of unguents being brought in on sledges.

From the vestibule a door on the N side leads into a hall from which a staircase mounts to the roof of the mastaba. On the roof were two rooms 36 ft/ 11m long, probably for the solar barques.

A short distance E of  Kagemni’s tomb, to the N of the Pyramid of Teti, we come to a street of tombs, with some interesting 6th Dynasty tombs, which was excavated by Loret in 1899 but is now partly covered by sand. The first of the tombs to be encountered is the badly ruined Tomb of Nefer-seshem-re or Sheshi, a judge and Vizier, the chief remains of which are a hall with six square pillars, each bearing a figure of the dead man, and an elegant false door.

The first tomb on the left is the Tomb of Ankh-me-hor or Sesi, also known as the “Tomb of Physician” because of the surgical operations depicted in its reliefs. The upper part of the walls has been destroyed.

First room, on the wall to the left of the entrance: harvest scenes; below, cattle being driven across a river. – Second room, left-hand wall: the dead man watching the catching of birds. Rear wall: statutes being carved for the tomb, etc. in the doorway to the next room: sacrificial animals being slaughtered (on the right, an ox being thrown to the ground for slaughter). - The three following rooms have the usual scenes of the presentation of offerings to the dead man, the slaughtering of cattle, etc.

Adjoining the first room is a hall, the roof of which was borne by five pillars. In the doorway, on the right, are depicted two surgical operations- circumcision and an operation on a man’s toe. On the entrance wall of the hall: to the right, servants and women mourning the dead man; to the left, dancing-girls. 

Next comes the Tomb of Uze-he-teti or Nefer-seshem-path, also known as Seshi, “the first next to the king”.

From the vestibule a door (reliefs of sacrificial animals in the doorway) leads into a second chamber, with a net; above, a poultry-yard, catching of fowls, fattening of geese. Other walls: servants with votive gifts, some of them in boats. – Last room, W wall: false door, from which the dead man is twice represented as emerging; above, a window, from which the dead man looks out; in front the offering-table. Other walls: the dead man at table, servants with votive gifts, slaughtering of sacrificial oxen.

To the E of the Pyramid of Teti and the street of tombs are the unexcavated remains of pyramid, usually ascribed to King Merikare of the Heracleoplitan period (9th and 10th Dynasties).

Some 550 yds/ 500 m NW of the Step Pyramid of Djoser is the **Mastaba of Ptahhotep, a high dignitary under the 5th Dynasty.

The entrance, on the N side, leads into a corridor, the walls of which are covered with interesting sketches for reliefs and unfinished reliefs (right) and empty royal cartouches (left). To the right is a large square hall with four pillars, from which  door at the SE corner leads through a vestibule into the offering-room, with **mural reliefs which are among the highest achievements of Egyptian art at its zenith, some of them surpassing even the reliefs in the Mastaba of Ti (see below). The colors are well preserved. The roof of the chamber is decorated with imitation palm-trunks.

In the doorway: servants with votive gifts. N wall: above the door, Ptahhotep at his morning toilet, with greyhounds under his chair and his pet monkey held by a servant; in front of him harpists and singers, dwarfs stringing beads (upper row); officials seated on the ground (next two rows); harpists and flute-players, with a singer beating time (bottom row); to the left of the door, servants with votive gifts, sacrificial animals being slaughtered. W wall: at each end a false door; the right-hand one is highly elaborate, perhaps representing a place façade; on the left-hand one the dead man is depicted sitting in a chapel (below, right) and in litter carried by servants (left); in front is the offering-table. The reliefs depict Ptahhotep (on the left) at a richly furnished table; in front of him (top row) priests making offerings and (three lower rows) servants with various votive gifts; above, a list of the dishes.

On the S wall is a similar scene: the dead man at the funeral banquet; in front of him (top row) peasant women with gifts (mutilated); second row, cutting up of sacrificial animals; two bottom rows, servants with various gifts. – The finest and most interesting reliefs are on the E wall. To the right the dead man is seen inspecting gifts and tribute from “the estates of the north and the south “; top row, boys wrestling and seven boys running (the first having his arms tied); second and third rows, the spoils of the chase, with four men pulling two cages containing lions, another with young gazelles in a litter, another with a cage hares and hedgehogs; fourth row, herdsmen and cattle in the fields, the claves being tethered to pegs; next two rows, cattle being brought for inspection (note the herdsman with a broken leg leading a bull with a neck ornament); bottom row, poultry. To the left the dead man contemplates “all the pleasant diversions that take place throughout the country”; top row, a herd of cattle being driven through a marsh, and men gathering papyrus, tying it in bundles and carrying it away; second row, boys playing; third row, the vintage(vines growing on trellises, a man watering them, others gathering the grapes, treading them and pressing them in sacks); fourth and fifth rows, animal life and hunting in the desert; sixth row, men working in the marshes, gutting fish, making rope and constructing papyrus boats; seventh row, men catching birds with nets, putting them in crates and carrying them away; bottom row, peasants in boats on the Nile, with plants and fish (some of the peasants are fighting). In the boat on the left is a sculptor named Ni-ankh-path with a boy giving him a drink-probably the artist responsible for the reliefs in the tomb.

From the pillared hall a door in the W wall leads into the offering-chamber of Akhethotep, Ptahhotep’s son. To the right and left the dead man is shown at a banquet, with servants bringing him votive gifts. On the W wall is a false door with a large offering-table.

Some 275 yds/ 250 m N of the Tomb of Ptahhotep is the site of Maritte’s House, built by the French Egyptologist Auguste Mariette when excavating the Serapeum as a site office and museum. The new building begun in the 1960s remains unfinished and ruined, a conspicuous landmark.

550 yds/ 500 m W of this is the *Serapeum, with the rock-cut under-ground burial chambers of the Apis bulls. Apis, the scared bull of the god Path, was after his death was embalmed and buried with great pomp. From the time of Amenophis III, and probably earlier, the Apis tombs consisted of an underground chamber entered by a sloping shaft, over which was a chapel, as in the tombs of high dignitaries. In the reign of Ramesses II Prince Khaemweset constructed a common burial-place for all the Apis bulls, consisting of an underground corridor 110 yds/ 100 m long flanked on both sides by chambers in which the wooden coffins of the bulls were enclosed. Psammetichus I added, at right angles to this, a much larger and more carefully constructed complex of chambers, which was enlarged at various times down to the Ptolemaic period. Altogether there were some 380 yds/ 350 m of corridors, 10 ft/ 3 m wide and 18 ft/ 5.5 m high. Over these subterranean chambers was built a large temple.       

The Egyptians believed that, like men, the bulls were united with Osiris after death, and the dead bull was given the name of Osiris-Apis (Egyptian Oser-hapi, Greek Osorapis) and became a kind of god of the dead, known, like Osiris, as “lord of the Western land”. Great numbers of pilgrims visited the tombs of the bulls and left votive offerings- usually small memorial tablets set into the walls of the underground corridors. When the cult of the foreign god Sarapis (Serapis), introduced in the reign of Ptolemy I, became popular in Egypt Sarapis was identified with Osorapis and venerated with him in the ancient temple in the necropolis of Memphis, which came to be known as the Sarapeion or Serapeum.

Opposite the temple built over the burial-place of the Apis bulls a second Temple of Osorapis was erected by Nectanebo II. On the walls flanking the path between the two temples were Greek statues, some of which are still in situ, though now covered with sand. The great avenue of sphinxes which ran W from the cultivated land through the necropolis to the Serapeum ended in a semicircular open soace adorned with statues of Greek philosophers.

When visiting the Serapeum it is advisable to take a good electric torch, since the lighting system does not always work. – The entrance leads into a room of some sizes, with niches in the limestone walls in which many votive tablets and tombstones of dead bulls were found. Turning right, we come in a few yards to a huge sarcophagus lid of black granite and, some 20 yds/ 18 m beyond it (on left) the sarcophagus to which it belonged, almost filling the corridor – both perhaps left lying here, on their way to a tomb chamber, when the cult of Apis was abandoned. Near the end of the corridor a lateral corridor goes off on the left towards the main corridor, which runs parallel with the first. The chambers on either side of this corridor, in which the mummies of the Apis bulls were buried in huge stone sarcophagi, average 26 ft/ 8 m in height, their pavements and vaulted roofs are faced with Moqattam stone. Twenty of the chambers still contain their sarcophagi of polished black or red granite, each hewn from single block. They average some 13 ft/ 4 m in length by 7 ½ ft/ 2.30 m in width and 11 ft/ 3.30 m in height and are estimated to weigh 65 tons. Many of the lids have been pushed aside; five of them are constructed of separate pieces of stone cemented together. When found the sarcophagi had already been plundered and emptied of their contents, apart from two which still contained a few trinkets and other grave-goods. Three of them have inscriptions, one in the name of Amasis, the second in the name of Cambyses and the third in the name of Khabbash, the last native ruler before Alexander the Great’s conquest. The finest of the sarcophagi is the last one on the right-hand side, to which a flight of steps descends. Of finely polished black granite, it is covered with inscriptions and door-shaped ornaments.

Near the E end of the main corridor a side passage 22 yds/ 20 m long goes off on the right to another corridor running parallel with the main one (now walled up). Going N from here and stepping over the lid of Amasis’s sarcophagus, we return to the vestibule at the end of the entrance passge.

Just N of the Serapeum is a tent where refreshments may be obtained.

NE of the Serapeum is one of the principal sights of Saqqara, the **Mastaba of Ti, belonging to a high Court official and wealthy landowner of the early 5th Dynasty. A tablet at the entrance records its discovery and excavation by Mariette and its restoration by the Egyptian Department of Antiquities. Its mural reliefs are among the finest and best preserved of the Old Kingdom as well as the most intreseting in terms of subject-matter.

The entrance opens into a small vestibule with two pillares (upper parts restored), on the front of which Ti is depicted wearing a long wig and a short, wide apron and holding a long staff in one hand and a kind of club in the other. E wall: women, representing the villages owned by Ti, bringing food to the tomb. S wall: poultry-yard, feeding of pigeons. The other reliefs are obliterated.

A doorway flanked by figures of the dead man and inscription leads into a large pillared hall, with a modern timber roof borne on 12 square ancient pillars (restored), in which offerings were presented. In the center is a flight of steps leading into a low sloping passage which runs the whole length of the building to an antechamber and beyond this the tomb chamber. The sarcophagus, now empty, completely fills the recess in which it stands.

The relifes in this hall are badly weather, some of them being quite unrecognizable. N wall: Ti watching the sacrificial animals being slaughtered and cut up; servants with votive gifts. Behind this wall was the serdab containing a statue of the dead man. E wall (left-hand side only): Ti carried in a litter, preceded by servants with fans, boxes and chairs. W wall (right to left): Ti and his wife watching the fattening of geese and the feeding of cranes; a poultry-yard; Ti receiving the accounts of his officials, who stand in a pillared building, Ti (upper part of figure destroyed) watching his ships coming in and herds of livestock being  driven towards him; false door for Ti’s son.

A door at the far corner (on either side three figures of Ti, each time in different garb, walking towards the entrance) leads into a corridor, with reliefs of servants bearing gifts of all kinds into the tomb. On the right-hand wall is a false door for Ti’s wife Neferhotpe. – Another door opens into a second corridor. Left-hand wall, bottom row: sacrificial animals being slaughtered; above, statues of the dead man being conveyed to the tomb on sledges, with a man in front of them pouring water. Right-hand wall: arrival of the ships in which Ti has inspected his estates in the Delta (note the curious steering-gear). Above the entrance door: Ti and his wife in a boat in a thicket of papyrus. Over the door into the chapel: female dancers and singers. –A door on the right leads into a side room, in which the colors of the reliefs are excellently. On the upper part of the left-hand door-jamb a piece of the sycamore wood to which the door was attached is still in place. Right-hand wall: Ti, on right, receiving votive gifts (flowers, cakes, poultry, etc.) from servants; top row, tables with votive offerings. Rear wall, upper rows: potters, bakers and brewers; below, a man measuring corn, with scribes recording the quantity. Left-hand wall: Ti; to right, servants with votive gifts; above, tables and vessels of various kinds. Entrance wall: tables, with various vessels.

Returning to the corridor, we now turn right through a door flanked by figures of Ti to enter the chapel, 16 ft/ 5m wide, 23 ft/ 7.20 m long and 15 ft/ 4.50 m high, the roof of which is borne on two sturdy square pillars are inscribed Ti’s names and titles. The **mural reliefs in this chamber, with well-preserved colors, repay detailed examination.

On the E side, to the left of the entrance, Ti (on the right), with his wife kneeling beside him, watches harvesting operations; in front of him are ten rows of harvest scenes (from top to bottom) : the flax harvest; corn being cut with sickles, packed in sacks and loaded on donkeys, which take it to the threshing-floor; oxen and donkeys treading out the corn; the threshed grain along with the chaff is piled in a great heap with three-pronged forks, then sifted and winnowed with two small boards; a woman fills a sack of corn.

To the right are two well-preserved and several damaged shipbuilding scenes: shaping the tree-trunks; sawing them into planks; construction of the ship, with workmen using adzes, mallets and crowbars and others fitting the planks together; Ti standing in one of the ships, inspecting the work. The simple tools used by the workmen (saw, axe, adze, drill) are of great interest.

There are numerous reliefs on the S side of the chapel (upper rows damaged). To the left, above, is a figure of Ti, below which is a narrow opening leading into a second serdab in which one intact and several broken statues of Ti were found. To right and left of the opening are two men offering incense to Ti. Ti and his wife watch their workmen, who are depicted in four rows (from top to bottom): men blowing through long tubes into a furnace in which gold is being smelted; sculptors and makes of stone vessels; carpenters polishing a door and a box (left), sawing planks, polishing a bedstead, under which lies a head-rest , and working with drills; leather-workers and a market scene (one man has a wineskin and two jars of oil for sale, another a wallet, for which he is being offered a pair of sandals in exchange); a stamp-cutter making a stone seal; a man selling stickes. – In the center, above, Ti, with his estates bring various animals (antelopes, gazelles, goats, deer, cattle, etc.). – To the right, above, Ti seated at table, with servants bringing funeral offerings; below, servants with gifts and musicians (harpists and flute-players); sacrificial animals slaughtered and cut up.

On the W side of the chapel are two large false doors marking the entrance to the Realm of the dead. In front of the left-hand one is a stone offering-table. In the center of the wall: slaughtering of sacrificial animals and presentation of offerings (damaged); above, tables.                           

The reliefs on the N side of the chapel depict life in the marshes of the Delta. On the left (from top to bottom): Ti watching bird-catchers and fishermen; a hut containing the birds and fish that have been caught; two men cutting up fish at a small table; (below) cattle grazing; a cow calving and another being milked, with an overseer leaning on his staff and a herdsman holding the calf to prevent it from running to is mother; (left) calves tethered to stakes try to break loose, while others graze peacefully, (right) herdsmen in small papyrus boats driving cattle across a river in which two crocodiles are lying;(left) two dwarfs with their master’s pet monkey and greyhounds. In the center of the wall: Ti sailing through the marshes in a papyrus boat; in front of him another boat whose crew are hunting hippopotamuses with harpoons; a hippopotamus biting a crocodile; to the rear a small boat with a man who has hooked a catfish; birds nesting and fluttering about in the papyrus thicket. To the left: harvesting papyrus and building papyrus boats; boatmen quarrelling and fighting; fishing (a fisherman putting the fish he has caught in his fish-trap into a basket); tilling the ground (one man plowing) with two oxen-note the form of the plow- while another spurs them on; another breaks up the clods, while another sows the seed, with a scribe looking on; rams are driven over the newly sown ground to tread in the seed, while to the right are men hoeing; cattle returning from pasturage in the Delta are driven through the water; in front a herdsman carrying a young calf on his shoulders.

A narrow strip running along the foot of the N wall depicts 36 peasant women bearing offerings of meat, poultry, vegetables, fruit and drink from Ti’s various estates, the names of which are given.

In the northern part of the Saqqara necropolis are cemeteries of the Early Period. On the edge of the desert are rock tombs, some of them with brick superstructures, of the 1st Dynasty; farther W are tombs of the 2nd and 3rd Dynasties. –Some 275 yds/250 m farther W large animal cemeteries have been excavated since 1965. They were associated with a large temple of the late and Ptolemaic periods which was replaced in Christian times by a church. The intricate system of underground galleries and passages in which the animal mummies were buried was entered from the temple terrace.

“The worship of animals was practiced in Egypt from early times, but developed on a considerable scale in the Late Period. The animals venerated as sacred were kept and reared for the specific purpose of being mummified and buried in specially constructed burial complex. Burial-places of this kind have been found for ibises, falcons, baboons, dogs, jackals, crocodiles, rams, bulls, cows, fish, ichneumons, cats and other animals. It was regarded as meritorious for a pilgrim visiting a particular shrine to acquire one of the animals sacred to the divinity and to have it mummified, elaborately painted and decked ornaments, and then buried in a stone or wooden coffin (or in the case of a bird a pointed pottery vessel).”    

The animal cemeteries of saqqara comprise a burial gallery for the “Apis mothers” (the Iseum; only partly accessible), the counterpart of the Serapeum, in which the scared cows were buried in stone sarcophagi; a baboon gallery, on two levels, with over 400 coffins; an ibis gallery, in which more than 2 million ibis mummies buried in pointed jars have so far been found; and a falcon gallery which contained a variety of cult vessels and equipment and yielded much valuable information.

If time permits the Southern Necropolis of Saqqara can also be visited. For this purpose a donkey should be hired at the Tourist Center near the site of Mariette’s house. It takes about 1 ½ hours to reach the cemetery area. –The track runs due S, passing close to a large court or enclosure some 440 yds/400 m square, bounded on three sides by massive walls, now ruinous, and on the S by the hills of the desert. –Farther on, to the left, are the remains of the Pyramids of Phiops(Pepi) I, Djedkare and Merenre, in a much-dilapidated state as a result of their use as convenient quarries of building stone. Some 440 yds/ 400 m farther S is the Pyramid of Phiops (Pepi) II, also much ruined. The structure and decoration of all these pyramids follow the pattern introduced by Unas.

SSE of the Pyramid of Phiops II is the Mastaba el-Faraun, the most important monument in the southern group. Originally 330 ft/ 100 m long and 240 ft/7.3 m wide, it is in the form of a gigantic coffin with a barrel roof, built of massive blocks 2-2 ½ ft/1.5-2 m thick and faced with Tura limestone. It is the Tomb of Shepseskaf, last king of the 4th Dynasty.

The layout of the passages in the interior is similar to that of the pyramids of Unas and his successors. From the entrance, on the N side, a very narrow passage, only 4 ½ ft/ 1.3 m high and 65 ft/ 20 m long, originally faced with granite slabs, desends to the chambers 23 ft/ 7 m below the base of the mastaba. Built entirely of granite, these were closed off by three stone portcullises. The Tomb chamber had been thoroughly ransacked by tomb-robbers and yielded only a few fragments of the sarcophagus.

The mortuary temple on the E side of the mastaba was also used as a quarry of building stone, and scarcely a trace survives. Nothing is left of the valley temple, which stood on the outskirts of the village of Saqqara. The causeway, however, can be traced for part of its course. –The Mastaba el-Faraun is easy to climb and affords an excellent *view from the top.

Abu Gurab, Abu Roash, *Abusir, **Cairo, *Dahshur, **Giza, Helwan, *Memphis, Western Desert and Zawiyet el-Aryan: see separate entiries.        



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