EGYPT – Saqqara // The Spy Who Loved Me (1977)
When Bond arrived in Egypt, the ancient necropolis of Saqqara was a set for a bellydancer wonderland. Nowadays, it’s a lush palm grove on the one side – and a vast pyramid accumulation on the other. Almost every pyramid hides its own magnificent burial chamber to explore.
Why Bond was here
James Bond (Roger Moore) investigates the hijacking of British and Russian submarines carrying nuclear warheads in Egypt. He starts his investigation with a visit to an Arab friend from old Cambridge-times. That Sheikh Hosein (Edward De Souza) invites him – clichés ahead – into his desert tent oasis, run by lots of beautiful bellydancers.
The oasis had been set up some 30 kilometers south of capital Cairo at the monument site of Saqqara. The area is an ancient necropolis that covers an desert strip of around six kilometers, filled with numerous burial chambers and pyramids. The most famous one is Egypt’s oldest pyramid, the Step Pyramid of Djoser. The characteristic stepped tip can be briefly seen in the movie behind the palm grove where Sheikh Hosein set his camp.
Many hotels in Cairo arrange tours to Saqqara, usually in combination with a visit to the famous Pyramids of Giza west of the capital. It is also possible to take a camel ride from Giza to Saqqara – but that will take up to four hours one way, under a scorching sun and on top a bouncy camel hump.
The cheapest and most independent way is to ride the yellow Cairo metro line to it’s terminus “El Mounib”. Outside the station, lots of taxis are on standby all day. Ask a driver for a Saqqara round trip. Be careful, to pronounce is “sa’ara”, as Egyptians tend to swallow up their Arabic letter “q”. The fare is negotiable and should be somewhere between 50 and 70 Egyptian pounds. From Giza, also local bus no. 330 is running south to Saqqara, but just stops at the village one kilometer east of the ancient site. Good to know
Compared to the 1970s, the palm grove grew a lot bigger. Where once was desert and some trees is now a two kilometer long green copse stretching from the Nile towards the ancient necropolis. Farmers flood small watering channels, while black buffalos graze in the mud. Huge palm trees cast mosaic patterns painted by light and shadow over the scenery. En route to the Saqqara entry, tapestry weavers are showing their business.
The entry is 50 Egyptian pounds and covers the Djoser pyramid as well as most of the other monuments in the area. During the last years, the Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities tries to restore the famous Djoser pyramid, which is why parts of the step pyramid are surrounded by scaffolding. Critics are arguing, the Ministry is worsening the structure of the pyramid instead of renovating it – and fear, that the Egyptian government therefore helps in destroying its oldest tourist attraction.
But for visitors, the area of Saqqara still holds a lot of gems. In front of the step pyramid is a magnificent colonnaded entry hall, leading to the ceremonial courtyard. And right behind the pyramid, on its north-east tip is a small chamber, called a serdab, that most visitors overlook. From the outside it looks like a mere block of stone with two little eyelets.
Looking through the eyelets will bring one vis-a-vis to pharaoh Djoser: The serdab holds a life-size sculpture of the late pharaoh. In the beliefs of Ancient Egyptians the statue holds the spirit of the pharaoh. It’s not the original statue though, as this one was transferred to the Egyptian Museum in Cairo.
A little walk north west of the pyramid is the tomb of Akhethotep and Ptahhotep, viziers that earned enough money to built themselves a burial chamber worthy of pharaohs. The painted reliefs inside show a wide range of lions, cattle and servants bringing offerings to the viziers. The colors look as applied just yesterday. As being in Egypt, it’s – to speak with Bond – just the right place to “delve deeply into its treasures”.
Since the pyramid has become a chaotic construction site, guards try to tell visitors where to go and not to go. There are even signs in the middle of the desert, declaring some meters of sand to be “closed”. Easily ignore all of that and just explore the area – it’s worth it!
© 2015 Huntingbond (1,3,4), © 1977 Danjaq, LLC and United Artists Corporation (2)