most prominent monument at Saqqara is the
Step Pyramid of Djoser, first king of the
3rd Dynasty (ca. 2650-2575 BC). This structure,
believed to have been designed by a high
official named Imhotep is the first pyramid
and the earliest example of large-scale stone
construction in Egypt.
Step Pyramid stands at the heart of a large
ritual complex, which covers roughly 15 ha
(37 acres). A massive buttressed limestone
wall surrounds the area, its exterior surface
carved with niches in imitation of a royal
palace façade, within which a number
of different structures once stood.
pyramid itself was first conceived as a large
square mastaba, subsequently enlarged in
several stages over the course of Djoser’s
reign. The entire structure was originally
covered with a casing of fine white limestone.
Below the center of the pyramid is a large vertical shaft, at the bottom
of which lies a granite burial vault. The vault was sealed with a granite
plug weighing some 3.5 tons; nevertheless, robbers were able to enter the
tomb in antiquity, making off with the king’s treasures. A few mummy
fragments were found in the vault in modern times, but carbon-dating has
indicated that they are from a much later date than the reign of Djoser.
In addition to the main shaft, eleven smaller vertical shafts lie below the
eastern side of the pyramid, leading to galleries that extend to the west.
We know from the presence of two intact alabaster sarcophagi, as well as
fragments of others, that four of these galleries were used for the burials
of royal family members. The other galleries were filled with stone vessels,
some dating to the Early Dynastic era and most likely buried here to associate
Djoser with his predecessors. The walls of the ‘king’s apartment’ are
covered with blue faience tiles laid on a limestone background, imitating
a reed-mat façade with niches containing carved scenes depicting the
king performing rituals for his Sed-Festival (Jubilee).
structures surround the Step Pyramid. The
South Tomb, the specific function of which
is unclear, has a long descending underground
corridor that leads to a series of chambers.
Like the 'king's apartment', its walls are
lined with blue faience tiles and carved
reliefs of the king. A series of “dummy” buildings
to the east of the pyramid has been identified
as a sed-festival complex was the ritual
location for the eternal celebration of the
king’s rejuvenation. The stone architecture
of these buildings was carved to represent
perishable materials, such as wooden beams
and reed matting. This large pyramid-funerary
complex was built for the transformation
of the deceased king into a god, and to ensure
his well-being in the afterlife through the
maintenance of his mortuary cult.
Back to Saqqara
View of the
Step Pyramid Complex of Djoser
wall of tiles imitating matting from
beneath the Step Pyramid, in
the Imhotep Museum (Gustavo Camps)