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Cities of the Dead, Nile River Delta, Egypt

Cities of the Dead, Nile River Delta, Egypt

The ancient pharaohs (kings) and queens of Egypt established several royal cemeteries, along the Nile River valley. On the western riverbank, these necropoli (cities of the dead) were built on a gravelly desert plateau formed of limestone and clay overlooking the river. Several scarps (cliffs) are visible at image lower left. The most widely recognized features of royal Egyptian necropoli are pyramids, which frequently served as both tombs and monuments for their occupants. This detailed astronaut photograph illustrates a portion of the Nile Delta that includes two royal cemetery complexes, Abusir and Saqqara-North.

The present day village of Abusir is clearly visible as a grey-white irregular patch of urban surfaces that contrasts with green agricultural fields of the Nile Delta and tan desert sands and gravels to the west. The historic necropolis of Abusir is located to the northwest of the village at image top center. Three pyramids are readily visible in the image, all built by kings of the Fifth Dynasty (2,465–2,323 BC): Sahure, Niuserre, and Neferirkare. The site of Abusir was likely chosen due to the existence of a lake—now dry—that facilitated transport of building materials for the pyramids and other structures.

The northern portion of the large necropolis of Saqqara is also visible to the south-southwest (image right) of the village of Abusir. The largest pyramid in this complex is that of Djoser, a king of the Third Dynasty (2,650–2,575 BC). Other readily visible pyramids include that of Userkaf (Fifth Dynasty) and Teti (Sixth Dynasty: 2,323–2,150 BC), attesting to the long history of use of the Saqqara necropolis. Astronauts have also taken detailed imagery of other necropolis sites along the Nile River delta such as Giza and Dashur.

Astronaut photograph ISS018-E-6540 was acquired on October 31, 2008, with a Nikon D2Xs digital camera fitted with an 800 mm lens, and is provided by the ISS Crew Earth Observations experiment and the Image Science & Analysis Laboratory, Johnson Space Center. The image was taken by the Expedition 18 crew. The image in this article has been cropped and enhanced to improve contrast. Lens artifacts have been removed. The International Space Station Program supports the laboratory to help astronauts take pictures of Earth that will be of the greatest value to scientists and the public, and to make those images freely available on the Internet. Additional images taken by astronauts and cosmonauts can be viewed at the NASA/JSC Gateway to Astronaut Photography of Earth. Caption by William L. Stefanov, NASA-JSC.