Saqqara, located 40 kilometers southwest of Cairo, is one of the most important cemeteries of Memphis, which was one of the most important towns in ancient Egyptian history. The name of the location is most likely derived from Sokar, the god of this necropolis.
Saqqara is a true open-air museum, displaying the entirety of ancient Egyptian history. Kings and noblemen from the first two dynasties (c.3100–2686 BC) were buried here, and the Step Pyramid of Djoser (c.2686–2613 BC), the world’s earliest monumental edifice fully composed of stone, is also located here.
Saqqara, now a UNESCO World Heritage site, is home to 11 large pyramids spread out over 6 kilometers. The most famous is the Step Pyramid, which was constructed in the 27th century BC as the funerary complex of Pharaoh Djoser (or Zoser), who reigned from 2630 to approximately 2611 BC.
Saqqara’s various pyramids were created throughout 3,000 years of Ancient Egyptian civilization, ranging from those of Fifth Dynasty kings Userkaf and Unas to the extremely well-preserved Pyramid of Teti I, built by the Sixth Dynasty’s first ruler.
Saqqara Step Pyramid
The Step Pyramid, the tomb of the third Dynasty king Djoser or Zoser, was built by Imhotep and is the earliest large stone monument constructed in Egypt.
The pyramid’s shape can be explained as a development of the large mastabas (mud-brick tombs) of the First and Second Dynasties, with the six steps, each smaller than the one below, produced by the addition of successive new layers of masonry to the original mastaba, accompanied by the enlargement of the lower stages.
The Step Pyramid is 60 meters tall and made of low-quality clay sandstone quarried locally.
The inside of the Step Pyramid has reopened to guests after 17 years of repair. The internal chambers and passages of the pyramid were used for a variety of purposes, including the burial of the pharaoh’s close relatives (particularly those of his sons who died as children) and the storage of grave goods for the usage of the dead.
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Pyramid of Unas
The Pyramid of Unas or Onnos, the Fifth Dynasty’s final pharaoh, is located southwest of the Step Pyramid. The pyramid’s interior, which opened in 1881, is open to the public.
A sloping path, the entrance to which was originally hidden beneath the paving, runs from the north side to an antechamber, from which a horizontal corridor, originally restricted by three trapdoors at the far end, continues to a central chamber.
The center room and tomb chamber walls are covered with writings from the “Pyramid Literature,” the oldest known Egyptian religious texts referring to life after death, with the etched hieroglyphs filled in with blue pigment.
Pyramid of Userkaf
The mound of rubble northeast of Djoser’s Step Pyramid represents the Pyramid of Userkaf, the founder of the Fifth Dynasty. With an original base measurement of 75 meters, the pyramid was rather tiny, and it was located within a correspondingly small precinct.
The mortuary temple was on the south side, and the ruins of a secondary pyramid are to the southwest.
Mastabas from the Old Kingdom can be found south of Userkaf’s Pyramid.
Pyramid of Teti
A 500-meter-northeast of Djoser’s Pyramid is a mound of earth that represents the location of Teti’s Pyramid, the founder of the Sixth Dynasty. The few ruins of a mortuary temple, an alabaster altar, and several table-like statue bases can be found on its east side.
Further east is a chaotic pile of constructions dating from the Old Kingdom to the Ptolemaic period.
Most famous Saqqara tombs
Tomb of Nefer-her-ptah
The tiny Tomb of Nefer-her-ptah, superintendent of the Palace, Royal Wigmaker, and confidant of an unidentified pharaoh, is located about 300 meters east of the Pyramid of Unas. It comprises an entrance corridor and a single chamber, but it has high-quality preliminary sketches for reliefs that were never realized. They portray everyday life, agricultural, and hunting situations.
Double tomb of Niankhkhnum and Khnumhotep
The Double Tomb of Niankhkhnum and Khnumhotep (Fifth Dynasty), two friends or relatives who were priests of Re in Niuserre’s Sun Temple and Court manicurists, is located to the east of the Tomb of Nefer and Companions, beneath the causeway (which was built over it).
The tomb is partially hewn from the rock, partially made with masonry, and partially faced with fine-grained limestone. The sophisticated decoration of painted reliefs in the stone-built front portion has been carefully preserved.
Reliefs representing funeral rituals can be found on the portico’s walls, and the dead men with their eldest sons can be found on both sides of the entryway. The mummy is seen being carried to the tomb through the gateway, accompanied by offering bearers.
Tomb of Nefer and Companions
The Tomb of Nefer and Companions (Fifth Dynasty) is located on the south side of the causeway leading to the Pyramid of Unas. It is most likely the family or communal tomb of a guild of singers.
It comprises a single eight-meter-long room with nine tomb shafts. In one of them was discovered the mummies of a naked man, dressed only in a blue beaded necklace, laying on his side with his legs slightly bent, as if asleep.
The plastered walls are adorned with a plethora of reliefs. Five rows of scenes from everyday life are depicted on the left wall, including woodworkers, farming scenes, and a rare and informative scene representing the launching of a boat. The dead guys are depicted on the right-hand wall with their wives at a funeral banquet.
The Serapeum, where the Egyptians buried the holy bulls of Apis, is one of Saqqara’s ancient treasures. The Egyptians considered these bulls to be reincarnations of the deity Ptah, and they are now neatly mummified in massive stone coffins.
Saqqara is a large historic monument that might take hours to explore. For those with limited time, the Serapeum, Djoser’s burial complex, and the Mastaba of Akhti-Hotep and Ptah-Hotep are the greatest destinations to see.
There are several tours offered at Saqqara, including camel, horse, and donkey tours around the Step Pyramid.
Sherif Khalil is Owner of Dunes & Beyond. Dunes & Beyond offers luxury tours, Nile cruises and desert safaris in Egypt.
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