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
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.