Saqqara was one of the largest burial grounds in Egypt and in use for more than 3,000 years. Most of it remains unexcavated, but among the wonders on show is the impressive Step Pyramid of Zoser. The Tomb was built by the innovative architect Imhotep for King Zoser in the 27th century BC. But instead of the king’s traditional mud brick mastaba grave, Imhotep built in stone and stacked several mastabas on top of each other to create the first pyramid and the first large stone building.
Originally the Step Pyramid complex was enclosed in a limestone wall, which had fake doors to confuse intruders.
With its original shiny limestone casing, Zoser’s pyramid stood 62m (203 feet) high and 118m (387 feet) by 140m (460 feet) around its base. A 28m (92-foot) deep shaft leads into the burial chamber. Part of the original limestone enclosed wall has been rebuilt near the entrance in the southeastern corner. Enter the complex via a pillared corridor, and on the right is the Heb Sed Court, where the king’s vitality was symbolically renewed at a festival held every seven years. The houses of the South and the North are thought to represent older shrines of Upper and Lower Egypt, and the Serdab has a copy of Zoser’s statue (the original is in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo). Across the Great Court is the shaft of the South Tomb that probably continued the king’s internal organs.
Other tombs to see in Egypt:
To the south rises the less impressive Pyramid of Unas, built 350 years after Zoser’s with its interior walls covered with the Pyramid Texts, the earliest-known examples of decorative writing in a tomb. To the southeast of the Unas’s pyramid are the recently opened B Tombs and the Persian Tombs.
Northeast of Zoser’s complex you can see the magnificent 6th-Dinesty mastabas of the viziers Mereruka, Ankh-Ma-Hor and Kagemni, containing the finest reliefs of the Old Kingdom. The double mastaba of Ankhti-Hotep and Ptah-Hotep shows the different stages of tomb decoration and also has some superb reliefs. The walls of the mastaba of the royal hairdresser Ti are covered with wonderful scenes of daily life in ancient Egypt. But the strangest place in Saqqara is the Serape-um, where mummified sacred bulls were buried like pharaohs in underground, rock-hewn galleries.
- The most spectacular approach to the Step Pyramid is on horseback across the desert. You can rent a horse from the stables in Saqqara.
- It gets hot in Saqqara, so make sure you take enough liquids.
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