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Cary, North Carolina
June 6, 2006
From journal Cairo: We're Literally in BFE!
Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
October 14, 2004
Indisputably one of the richest archaeological sites in Egypt, Saqqara boasts some of the oldest monuments, dating from the earliest ancient Egyptian funerary structures to Coptic monasteries. It was developed as the royal necropolis for the Old Kingdom capital of Memphis just west of here, but as Memphis grew, so did the city of the dead until it covered an area approximately 7km from north to south. While Saqqara continued to be used as a burial site for officials during those days, it was eventually abandoned and, apart from the pyramid of Djoser (pronounced ZO-SER), lay buried under sand for centuries until Auguste Mariette discovered the Serapeum in 1851. Ever since then, regular finds have been made at Saqqara.
The centerpiece of the Saqqara necropolis is, of course, the Step Pyramid of Djoser, the prototype for the pyramids of Giza and all others that followed. It was designed and built in the 27th century BC by the high priest Imhotep, also the chief architect of the third Dynasty. This remarkable structure is a six-tiered funerary chamber and the first large stone building in the world.
It marked a leap forward in the history of architecture because, prior to its construction, pharaohs were buried in Egyptian royal tombs that had been underground rooms covered with low, flat, mud bricks called mastabas.
The great innovator and inventor Imhotep chose to use stone rather than mud brick, and to build not just one mastaba but six, one on top of the other, with each additional layer smaller than the one beneath it, thus creating the world's first pyramid. The vast enclosure surrounding the step pyramid marked yet another major achievement, as it provided the template for subsequent Egyptian art and architecture.
This was completed with bastions and colonnaded corridors of 40 pillars, which were ribbed in imitation of palm stems. Be sure to look out for a restored section of wall bearing a frieze of cobras as you walk along the Great South Court. Some of the oldest known examples of tourist graffiti dating from the 12th century BC can also be seen preserved in the buildings east of the pyramid.
On the north side of the pyramid, there is a life-sized painted statue of Djoser himself. It is installed in a serdab, a kind of stone box which is designed to allow the dead pharoah's ka (spirit) to interact with the living world. The statue is a replica, as the original is in Cairo's Egyptian Museum.
Special permission is required to enter the pyramid, so you'll need to check for more information with the local tourist authorities. You can find them located near the Giza plateau, just before you enter into the area where the pyramids stand.
From journal Phascinating Pharoahs
March 7, 2004
We were on camels before we knew what was happening. Our guides led us through a tangle of streets and into the pyramid complex; they spoke good English and were quite knowledgeable. We spent 2 hours riding all around the pyramids, stopping in several places for great pictures! It was very fun! After lunch and a few more stops we drove out to Saqqara to visit the Step Pyramid, the prototype for the wonders we had visited earlier. We enjoyed walking around the area, views of the pyramids at Giza to the north and of the Bent Pyramid and Red Pyramid at Dashur to the south.
From journal Exploring Egypt 2004