Saqqara

Descend into Saqqara: Where Time Stands Still

Saqqara is one of the most important and richest necropolises in Egypt. Necropolis of Saqqara is located about 20km south of Giza Plateau. It was the cemetery of Memphis, the 1st capital city of United Egypt in 3200 BCE. The Saqqara necropolis is a vast area, stretching about 22km from north to south and about 7km from east to west.

Modern name Saqqara or Sakkara is probably derived from the name of the God Sokar of Death in Ancient Egypt. History of Saqqara is very deep and dates back to the 1st Dynasty (3200 BCE). This necropolis was used for the burials (mastabas) of the officials and dignitaries of Memphis during the 1st and 2nd Dynasty.

Saqqara gained its apogee during the 3rd Dynasty when King Djoser built the magnificent Step Pyramid Complex. While it lost importance during the 4th Dynasty when pharaoh Senferu built his pyramids in Meidum and Dahshur. Then the Great Pyramids of Khufu, Khafre, and Menkaure were built on Giza Plateau.

Plan your tour: Tour To Giza Pyramids, Sphinx And Saqqara

Kings of the 5th and 6th Dynasties returned back to Saqqara to build their pyramids. Again kings of the Middle Kingdom abandoned Saqqara and built their pyramids in Dahshur and Lahun. Meanwhile, kings of the New Kingdom cut their tombs into the mountain in the Valley of the Kings in Luxor. Saqqara was used by officials and the elite to build their mastabas as well as to build the tombs for the Apis Bull (the sacred bull of the god Ptah of Memphis). It was abandoned again during the Ptolemaic Period and reused by the Copts during the Roman Period. A large monastery for St, Jeremiah was built in Saqqara.

King Djoser (2630-2611BCE) in Saqqara:

Egypt earned great political and economic stability during the 3rd Dynasty which was reflected in the building program of kings, especially King Djoser. So, the 3rd Dynasty actually was the 1st golden age of Ancient Egyptian history.

Djoser’s name was derived from (djesr) which means (sacred), just appeared in later periods. While his name Nether Khet (Divine Body) was inscribed in all of his monuments. The King Djoser is famous for his Step Pyramid in Saqqara and the Famine Stela at Sehel Island in Aswan.

Plan your trip to Sehel Island in Aswan.

Birth of the pyramids in Saqqara:

Few monuments hold a place in human history as significant as that of the Step Pyramid of Djoser in Saqqara. A milestone in the evolution of stone architecture in Ancient Egypt and in the whole world. The limestone was first to be used on a large scale as a construction material. In an inscription from the 19th Dynasty that was found in South Saqqara, Djoser was described as the “Opener of the stone’. This could be interpreted as the “inventor of the stone architecture”.

Plan your tour: Tour To Giza Pyramids, Sphinx, Saqqara, Dahshur, And Memphis

While the early kings and elite were buried in mastabas made from mud-brick. Imhotep decided to use stone in building his king’s tomb. This decision marked an important historical turning point. With the 3rd Dynasty, the tomb became a symbol of the divinity of the pharaoh of his survival in the eternal life of his celestial power that was beyond death and could be to benefit the entire country. In order to express these new ideas, Imhotep designed a mastaba for the king which he later decided to elevate with a series of superimposed mastabas. Thus, the Step Pyramid of Djoser was born which symbolized a stairway reaching up toward heaven.

The name of Djoser’s complex is (Khebw-Netherw) or the (Libations of the deities). Djoser’s complex is one of the largest and most complex monuments in Ancient Egypt.

Entrance to the complex of Saqqara:

The Step Pyramid and the related structures which constitute the Djoser complex are surrounded by an imposed enclosure wall of Tura limestone with the characteristic palace façade motif. A single entrance of Djoser’s complex is situated in the largest bastion of the enclosure wall to the east south corner. This entrance leads to a narrow colonnade roofed with stones fashioned to imitate palm logs and ends at an antechamber.

The colonnade comprises 40 columns, each is joined to the sidewall by means of a small connecting wall. These columns were inspired by bunches of reeds tied together and probably coated in the mud with the heads fanning out. It has been suggested that the columns may symbolize the provinces of Upper and Lower Egypt, which numbered about 40 at this time. Recesses may have contained statues or elements of the local deities.

Plan your tour: Tour To Giza Pyramids, Sphinx, Saqqara And Memphis

Leaving the colonnade we enter the open courtyard.

The South Tomb:

To the south of the courtyard is the South Tomb of King Djoser. This South Tomb is one of the most enigmatic things in the whole Djoser complex. The purpose of this tomb is not fully clear. There are two possibilities. One suggests that it may have intended for the vital organs of the king which had been removed from his body and buried separately. Second suggests being a cenotaph due to its position to the south of the Step Pyramid, which refers to Abydos where the kings of the 1st and 2nd Dynasty were buried.

In the center of the eastern side of the courtyard are three fluted columns that precede the remains of the royal pavilion. Here, the royal Ka (spirit) represented symbolically by a statue, probably was presented during the Heb-Sed festival.

The Heb-Sed Festival:

The Heb-Sed Festival or Jubilee is one of the oldest religious festivals in the history of humanity. During the 25th or the 30th year of a pharaoh’s reign, the ceremony of the Heb-Sed took place, in which the pharaoh was again recognized and confirmed.

Plan your tour: Tour To Giza Pyramids, Sphinx, Saqqara And Dahshur

The festival begins with a great procession led by the High Priest and was celebrated in the various chapels situated around the courtyard. Once the gods had given their consent to the pharaoh’s spiritual suitability. He had then to demonstrate his physical suitability by undergoing tests that could vary from one king to another. Tests may have been a bullfight or shooting arrows to the four cardinal points. Most common was a race running along a course indicated on the ground of the courtyard. At the end of the race, the pharaoh was crowned for a second time with the White and Red Crowns of the Two Lands.

South & North Houses of Saqqara:

To the north of the Heb-Sed Court is another spacious court. This court contains what is called the South House and the North House. Inside the South House is graffiti in Hieratic (a cursive form of Hieroglyphs), which was left by Ancient Egyptian tourists from Upper Egypt. A graffiti indicates wonder and admiration for the king (Zoser/Djoser). This is the 1st instance of pharaoh Nether-Khet (Divine Body) being referred to by his other name (Zoser/Djoser).

There are many theories regarding the significance of both houses. One theory suggests they were pyramids. While the second theory suggests they were tombs for princesses. A third theory suggests they were symbolic royal administrative residences of Upper and Lower Egypt.

The Step Pyramid of Saqqara:

The Step Pyramid of Saqqara is the most imposing thing in Djoser’s complex. It was originally 60m high, 113m from east to west, and 107m from north to south. A shaft runs down about 28m to the burial chamber, which is attached to a series of tunnels used for the funerary trappings. Another series of chambers and passages decorated with blue faience tiles that constituted the funerary apartment. (Entry inside the pyramid is available now)

It was decided to make the tomb more imposing by adding a series of steps, giving the monument a stairway. An appearance that could symbolically facilitate the ascent of the king’s soul to heaven. The mastaba was thus elevated first with four steps and then an additional two, resulting in a total of six steps.

Plan your tour: Tour To Saqqara, Dahshur And Memphis

One visible entrance that dates back to the 26th Dynasty was dug on the southern side of the pyramid leads directly to the great central shaft. A great discovery of 40,000 stone vessels of the most varied forms and materials was made in the funerary apartment of the Step Pyramid. Many of the vessels were made from alabaster, diorite, limestone, and slate. Some vessels were polished, faceted as fluted while others bore inscriptions, engraved or painted in colors, with both royal and non-royal names. Among the royal names are those of the 1st and 2nd Dynasty rulers.

The Serdab:

The extensive ground lying between the mortuary temple and the north pavilion is called the Serdab Courtyard. This Serdab (Cellar) consists of a small enclosed chamber in which the north wall is a pair of round observation holes. Through them, the statue of the sitting Djoser gazed out on the forecourt of the whole tomb complex and on the rituals performed there. A life-sized statue of Djoser in limestone is now displayed in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo. It represents the ruler sitting on the throne wearing a close-fitting mantle and a long tripartite wig, as well as the Nemes crown.

Statue of King Djoser at the Egyptian Museum
Statue of King Djoser at the Egyptian Museum

The statue radiates a feeling of great royal grandeur. A copy of this statue occupies the original Serdab today. This statue was regarded as the seat of his ka, which would see the offerings and smell the burning incense through two small round holes which were the only openings.

Imhotep:

Imhotep is one of the great geniuses in the history of mankind. He was an architect, magician, philosopher, and physician the Greeks identified him with Asclepius, their god of Medicine. His father’s name is Ka-Nefer, whom the pharaoh personally appointed to be in charge of all the nation’s buildings. It seems he learned his trade in his father’s workshop, probably in Memphis.

Imhotep also was the High Priest of Heliopolis as well as Vizier. At the base of Djoser’s statue, he is described as “Chief Minister”. On becoming a deity, Imhotep – whose name means “He comes in peace” – joined the Triad of Ptah.

Where was Imhotep buried?

This question has fascinated several generations of Egyptologists and archaeologists, and all till now failed to answer this question.

Tourists can also visit in Saqqara;

The Pyramid of Unas.

The Pyramid of Teti. Both pyramids are famous for their Pyramid Texts.

The Mastaba of Meriruka.

The Mastaba of Kagemni.

The Mastaba of Ti.

The Mastaba of Akhet-Hotep and Ptah-Hotep.

The Tomb of Neferherenptah (the Birds Tomb).

The Tomb of Nefer and Kahay.

The Mastaba of Mehu.

The Mastaba of Ankhmohor (The Doctor Tomb).

The Mastaba of Idut.

The Tomb of Horemhab (later pharaoh Horemhab).

The Tomb of Maya and Merit.

The Serapeum (dedicated to Apis Bulls).

The Museum of Imhotep.

Some of the above sights will be dedicated to other articles.

How to get to Saqqara from Cairo?

To get to Saqqara from Cairo, you can use various transportation options, such as taxi, bus, or car. Saqqara is located about 30 kilometers south of Cairo, and it’s known for the famous Step Pyramid of Djoser. Here are a few ways you can reach Saqqara:

Taxi:

The most convenient way is to take a taxi from Cairo to Saqqara. You can negotiate the fare with the taxi driver before starting the journey or use a metered taxi.

Uber or Careem:

You can also use ride-sharing services like Uber or Careem to reach Saqqara. This may be more convenient and provide a more predictable fare.

Tourist Bus or Guided Tours:

Egypt Best Vacations offers a wide range of guided tours to Saqqara, which may include transportation from Cairo. This option is convenient if you prefer a guided experience.

The Step Pyramid of Djoser at Saqqara is included in all of our Egypt travel packages as well as in some of Cairo Day Tours.

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