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Saqqara (Saccara or Sacarrah) is a desolate patch of desert west of the Nile and 9 miles (14 km) south of Cairo. It is close to the Ancient Egyptian capital of Memphis and contains burials from much of Egypt's history. Saqqara took the name of Sokar, the Old Kingdom god of orientation (measurement of location), and there are theories that the ancient surveys of all Egypt took this as their starting point.



The Step Pyramid of Djoser (Zoser)

by Johann Frey.



Pharaoh Djoser (Zoser or Netjerikhet) (ruled 2668-2649 BCE) built the world's first Pyramid here, or more correctly his architect, Imhotep (Imuthes), designed the structure that today dominates the region. Along with the 210 foot tall Pyramid, the 37 acre (15 ha) (544 X 277 meters) complex recreates the Royal Palace in finely finished and detailed stone with a number of buildings, columns and shrines, some of them only facades.


A unique feature is a courtyard for the thirty-year Sed celebration where the Pharaoh would run a short course and thus be rejuvenated to rule for another 30 years. Thus Djoser planned to rule for eternity.


Indeed his name, and that of Imhotep, have endured as a result of his Pyramid - the oldest known dressed stone building in the history of man. (The temples of Malta from c.3700 BCE could also vie for that honor, but the stones are roughly cut.) That the oldest building would be such a vast, well engineered and extraordinarily beautiful endeavor .....

..... is highly unlikely.



Inside the Step Pyramid of Djoser

by E.J. Andrews, 1842.


Gisr el Mudir

The Gisr el Mudir (enclosure of the boss) is a sand covered rectangle west of Djoser's Step Pyramid. The walls enclose an area 1150 by 2130 feet (350 X 650 meters), much larger than Djoser's complex. The walls are of roughly finished stone blocks filled with rubble and are 15 feet high and 50 feet thick. This huge construction is as yet only minimally excavated. It is suspected to have been built by Pharaoh Khasekhemwy (ruled ?-2685 BCE) who reigned before Djoser, perhaps immediately before.


The stone enclosure found at the Gisr el Mudir and Khasekhemwy's complex at Abydos are large projects that entailed organization on a level approaching that of the Pyramids, yet the use of mud-brick at Abydos and fairly small, roughly cut stone at Saqqara show a greatly inferior technology. Still there was a quickening at Khasekhemwy's time, of new ideas, greater wealth, or both.



The Pyramid of Unas

by E.J. Andrews, 1842.



Pharaoh Unas (Unis, Oenas or Wenis) (ruled 2375-2345 BCE) also built his Pyramid at Saqqara. Inside he placed an undecorated black basalt sarcophagus and built the walls of his burial chamber of fine cream colored alabaster (calcite) carved and painted to resemble a sacred tent with a ceiling of golden stars. Here was engraved the first known example of the "Book of the Dead", careful instructions on overcoming the obstacles of the next world. This beautiful chamber is yet another treasure of Ancient Egypt.




Sekhemkhet (Djoser Tati) (ruled 2649-2643 BCE) built an unfinished Pyramid or mastaba at Saqqara. The successor to Djoser, it is apparent that he planned a complex only a little more modest. Located South West of Djoser's Pyramid, roughly where the name "Unas" is placed on the map below, Sekhemkhet's structure was unknown when this map was drawn.


The Sekhemkhet complex was discovered and excavated by Zakaria Goneim in the early 1950's. Months of hard work and the accidental death of a workman produced a small amount of Old Kingdom gold jewelry (a very rare find) and hundreds of stone containers of beautiful workmanship.


A great success appeared to have been achieved when an unopened, sealed alabaster sarcophagus was found deep under the Pyramid. Amid great publicity the sarcophagus was opened --- and it was empty.


Unfairly, Goneim took a great amount of abuse in the media as a result of this PR disappointment, the public neglecting the value of his other finds and the scientifically important information of the empty burial. Unable to resurrect his career, Goneim drowned himself in the Nile.



Map of the Pyramids of Saqqara

by E.J. Andrews, 1842.

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