Saqqara  - Pyramid of Saqqara in Egypt

Saqqara is a enormous, very old burial ground located in Egypt and is also has a number of pyramids that also includes the world famous Step Pyramid of Djoser that is at times also known as the Step Tomb because of its rectangular base along with a number of mastabas. This burial ground is located about 30km south of Cairo in the present times. Saqqara covers an area of about 7km by 1.5km. The oldest hewn stone building called the Djoser’s step pyramid  that was known in history was built in the third dynasty. There were sixteen other Egyptian kings that also had made pyramids in this region. These pyramids are now in a dilapidated condition and they are now under preservation. There were some high officials that also added private funeral monuments to this famous necropolis during the Pharonic period. During the Roman and the Ptolemaic times this burial ground was an important venue for burials and cult ceremonies for over 3000 years.

The region Abusir lies to the north of Saqqara and Dahshur lies to the south of this burial ground. The area that stretches from Giza to Dahshur has been used as a resting ground by the people living in Memphis at different period of times and this region has been designated in the year 1979 by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. There is a belief that the name Saqqara was derived from the ancient Egyptian god named Sokar but this is not true. The region derives its name from Beni Saqqar that is a local tribe in the area. The meaning of this name means- the sons of Saqqar- they were not indigenous tribes in the region and they were in no way linked to the ancient Egyptian god whose identity was disclosed until the archaeology age.

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When it comes to the first burials that had occurred in the area this can be traced back to the first dynasty and this was also done on the north side of the Saqqara plateau. At that particular point of time the royal burial ground was located at Abydos. The first royal burials that had taken place in this area had underground galleries and these date back to the second Dynasty. The last king of the Second Dynasty Khasekhemwy was also buries in this particular tomb at Abydos and he had also built a funeral monument at Saqqara that had a huge rectangular enclosure known as the Gisr-el-Mudir. It is believed that this structure may have been the inspiration behind the Step Pyramid complex. The complex of Djoser’s that was built by the famous royal architect Imhotep also had many dummy buildings along with a secondary mastaba that is the so called Southern Tomb. The French architect and the Egyptologist Jean-Philippe Lauer spent most of his life excavating and also preserving Djoser’s funerary complex.

Saqqara is one place that has been the subject of interest to many Egyptologists. There were three major discoveries that had been recently made at this region and they include the prime minister’s tomb, the pyramid of a queen and the tomb of the son of a dynasty founder. It has been revealed that each discovery brings with it a fascinating story and unveils many secrets of the ancient past of Saqqara. As mentioned above Saqqara is famous world wide for the Step Pyramid that is believed to be the oldest of the 97 pyramids of the world. This pyramid was constructed for king Djoser who was a 3rd Dynasty king. The architect was the renowned genius Imhotep who has constructed it keeping in mind its design. This monument is considered to be revolutionary and unique in nature and he was the first Imhotep was one of the first to build such stone tombs in the area in honor of the King. He was granted many titles in that age and he had considerable importance during that era too.

There were some 5th Dynasty kings like Userkaf and Djedkare-Izezi that also had built their pyramids in the area. The last king of the 5th dynasty called Unas has decorated his burial chamber with many famous “Pyramid Texts” that were written to help the king to ascend to the heavens and descend again in order to disclose the relationship of the kings with the gods. There were some 6th Dynasty kings like Pepi I, Merenre and Pepi II that also had constructed their pyramids to the south of Saqqara.

 

Saqqara is also known for its secret and private Old Kingdom tombs that also contain many beautiful and revealing scenes like men forcing feeding geese, a man dragging a statue on the sled, men force feeding geese and many more other pictures. The most reputed tombs that are those of Ti Kagemni –the Two Brothers and Ptahhotep that is the most famous of Meruruka. During the tenure of the New Kingdom in the year c 1570 to 332BC Memphis had taken second place to Thebes as the capital of Egypt. The administration at that time was in Thebes and the government officials who governed and ruled Egypt lived in Memphis and they were buried in Saqqara. It was here that Geoffrey Martin had discovered the popular tomb that Horemheb had built for himself before he became the pharaoh while he was the supervisor of Tutankhamun’s army.

 

One of the first of the recent discoveries that were made in Saqqara was the New Kingdom and this site is now being developed by the French Archaeological Mission of the Bubasteion in Saqqara that was under the supervision of Alain Zivie who was the Director of Research at the Centre Nationale de la Recherche Scientifique at Paris. Zivie also began work at the place in Saqqara are called Abwab el-Qotat, that is also called “The Doors of The Cats”. The name was so called because there were many cat mummies that were discovered here. The ancient Egyptians worshipped the cat goddess Bastet whose prime place of worship found at tel-Basts near Zagazig in the eastern part of the Delta. Her sanctuary at Saqqara stood above a cliff where some tombs of the New kingdom were cut and some of them were reused much later for cat burials.


The Abwab El-Qotat site also has been neglected for many years and it is dangerous as the cliff was crumbling and the tombs were also falling apart. The French archaeological team has been working on the above project for the last 14 years and the main focus of their research work was the tomb of Vizier Aperal or the Aperel. In the 14 century he had served as the prime Minister of the Lower Egypt under the Pharaohs named Amenhotep III and his son Amenhotep IV. Aperia’s tomb was discovered in 1987 and there were several episodes of excavation and the consolidation of the tomb and this gave Zivie the opportunity to clear almost completely a large burial ground for all four levels. The last level of the gorund comprised of a large part of the funeral treasure of Aperia and his wife Tuaret and their Huy that was a prominent general.


There were some in the neighboring tombs and they can be dated back to the beginning of the Ptolemaic or the Greek period. This site would have been consolidated for reuse in the cat burials at the sanctuary of the Bastet that was above the cliff. It was also necessary to remove the blocking in order to explore the chapel totally and this was a technical task and could not have been done by excavation. This was subsequently undertaken by the Egyptian Antiquities Organisation and this operation also provided the Mission with the chance of a great discovery where the larger part of the tomb had been hidden by the masonry. The decoration also had been preserved well behind the stones and the mortar. This work took many months and now the chapel is completely cleared. The first level of the tomb can now be seen and it gives tourists a very impressive view. There are three square pillars that can be seen and there is one that is completely unknown. This pillar has some representations of the Vizier and his son and the fourth pillar is no longer present for view. There is a beautiful ceiling and it is also decorated in many brilliant and sparkling colors. Another significant discovery of the era is the back wall of the burial chamber and there is a sarcophagus that has been found on the chest of the king. The viscera is wrapped in bandages that are made of fine linen and the expedition that examined the high sand mounts on the southern side of Pepi’s pyramid discovered the small pyramids of queens and those who may have been queens. There is evidence that Pepi I had married the two sisters who were the daughters of the Mayor Of Abydos and he is first recorded as the King who married commoners. It was from his records that discoveries revealed that tombs were also built for queens.


It was in the year 1995 that the pyramid of Queen Meryt-it-is was discovered and she was the wife of King Khufu who was the builder of the Great Pyramid. She also enjoyed the titles of the King’s Daughter and King’s Wife and it was this newly discovered pyramid of hers that increased the total count of the pyramids in the country to 97.




 

It was also expected that the above expedition would also find some more 8th Dynasty pyramids in the region as research and studies have indicated that Saqqara was the burial place of these famous kings that had already located the pyramid of the King Iby. The biggest surprise that came was the discovery of the funerary chamber that was found hidden behind the stairway. There was an ancient plunder but it was observed that the equipment of the funerary was safe and intact. This of course was extraordinary and quite unexpected too. It was here that the last mortal remains of the Vizier, his wife and his son were found in these beautiful coffins along with the canopic jars that contained alabaster and other objects of daily use that had religious importance. There were jewels and gold and this was later transferred to the Cairo Museum. There are still in exhibit there till this date. The designs of these beautiful rings and bracelets can be compared to the ones that were found and discovered in Thebes at the start of the century.

 

Some of the notable monuments that tourists can get to see at Saqqara are - The tombs of Kings Hotepsekhemwy, Nynetjer, the buried pyramid of the funerary complex of king Sekhemkhet, the Gisr el-Mudir that is the funerary complex of King Khasekhemwy and the Step Pyramid that is the funerary complex of king Djoser.

 

Here it was observed that all the Fourth Dynasty kings has selected a different location for their pyramids and during the second half of the old kingdom under the 5th and the 6th Dynasties Saqqara again became the royal burial ground. But the 5th and the 6th Dynasty Pyramids were not made of massive stone and they were built with rubble. These monuments were not well preserved than the pyramids that were built by the 4th dynasty kings at Giza. Unas who was the last ruler of the 5th Dynasty was the first king to make wonderful texts in his pyramid. It was an old age custom for the courtiers that lived in the Old Kingdom to be buried in those Mastabe tombs that were close to their pyramids of the King that they served. This is the reason why there are many clusters of private pyramids that were found during this era. There are many monuments that are still standing today but they have dilapidated with the passage of time. Some of them were repaired by Prince khaemweset who was the son of Ramesses II. He also restored the Pyramids of Unas and added to the south face an inscription to commemorate the restoration that was done by him. He also enlarged the Serapeum that was the burial site of the Apis Bulls that were mummified.