What to see at a glance :
The Step Pyramid of Djoser:
The impressive Step Pyramid of Djoser grandly dominates Saqqara’s necropolis in a breathtaking manner. Constructed in the 27th Century by brilliant architect Imhotep, the pyramid was built to serve as a burial and funerary cult of King Djoser- of the 3rd Dynasty- setting an unprecedented leap in the world’s architecture. The latter is due to the fact that the stepped pyramid is the world’s first and oldest ancient Pyramid built entirely of stone, with stepped sides -unlike Giza Pyramids that have smooth sides-. Before Imhotep’s breakthrough, innovative design, ancient tombs took the form of flat underground rooms built of mud brick mastabas; or steps. Imhotep constructed the stepped pyramid of stone, and rose with it by adding six mastabas on top of each other. In ancient times, the function of the mastaba was to protect the body and provide a cult place for the deceased. The stepped pyramid at Saqqara (Sakkara) is bordered by a 34 feet high limestone wall, which is magnificently decorated by niched- façade style that was an imitation of the King’s palace, in addition to an area known as “the fortress of Gods” to serve as a ceremonial enclosure. Originally, the stepped pyramid’s complex incorporated vast courtyards, chapels and shrines, but almost all treasures failed to survive the ravages of time. However, excavation works started in 1924 until 1926 by French architect Jean Phillipe Lauer, who managed to restore the ancient treasures in an authentic manner. Today, visitors can soak up the details of the magnificent restoration works manifested in the ancient wall, decorated with recesses and bastions leading to entrance of the enclosure. Moreover, visitors will be captured by the spectacular grandness of a colonnaded corridor, crowned by 40 pillars designed in the shape of palm trees. Such a grand corridor, leads into the Great South Court, where the wall is awe-inspiring bearing fixed cobras, and some of the oldest graffiti dating back to the 12th Century. Visitors should make sure to check out the northern side embracing a painted statue of King Djoser, and his “serdab”-stone burial box- designed for his spirit or “Ka” as known in ancient times, to descend and interact with the world!.
Opened to the public in the year 2006, Imhotep Museum-located on the right side from the parking lot- is a must visit. This gem museum is open daily from 9am to 4pm and tickets cost L.E. 15 for adults and L.E. 10 for students. Visitors will be able to see some of the rare monuments excavated from Saqqara, which were never on display anywhere before. Make sure to check out the two halls dedicated to Imhotep and the stepped pyramid. Your checklist in this museum should include; statue of King Djoser, the bronze statue of Imhotep, the boundary stone set up at the stepped pyramid and a variety of rare and precious mummies.
Visitors will be struck by a crumbled pyramid located on the southern side of the enclosure walls, known as the Pyramid of Unas. The Pyramid dates back to the end of the fifth Dynasty, and was originally more than forty meters high, but today is half its size. The significance of this pyramid lies in the fact that it embraces the first inscribed religious text dating back to the beginning of the pharaonic culture. The text found in Unas’s pyramid was to ensure that the King wakes up after death, and ascends to heaven, and it set from then onwards the ancient tradition of religious inscription on burial structures. Today, visitors can enter the pyramids’ chambers and enjoy the sight of beautifully decorated tombs aligned east of the pyramid.
Teti’s Pyramid :
Teti was the 6th Dynasty’s first king and the successor of Unas. What might appear today to visitors as a mound of rubble, was originally 12 meters higher than the pyramid of Unas, yet with the exact architectural plan. It is highly recommended to visit the King’s well preserved burial chamber; bejeweled with a giant basalt sarcophagus. Visitors should take time to soak up the magnificent star decorations on the ceiling and walls, and also notice the inscribed text to assure the King’s resurrection. This is the only pyramid that ancient funerary writings-although existing in other pyramids-are accessible to the public, hence making it a must visit. Once you are out of Teti’s Pyramid, walk across to visit the tomb of Mereruka –his vizier and son in law-the largest and most famous in Saqqara.
Tomb of Mereruka :
The tomb of Mereruka is Saqqara’s major highlight, as it consists of 33 rich and extensive chambers worth visiting. The main tomb has some of the best ancient wall paintings, with Mereruka’s hunting among animals as the most refined. Also make sure to wander aroundthe tomb’s largest hall embracing Mereruka’s statue, and a sacrificial center for animals.
Tomb of Ankhma-Hor:
A short walk from Mereruka’s tomb will lead you to the astonishing tomb of Ankhma-Hor, also known as “Physician’s tomb”. This structure’s walls reveal fascinating reliefs reflecting ancient surgical advancement. The walls depict a surgery performed on a man’s toe, in addition to an astounding circumcision practiced in the 6th Dynasty!
The Serapeum is the strangest monument found in Saqqara, serving as the burial chamber of the Apis Bull. Ancient Egyptians believed that the Apis Bull was the incarnation of Ptah; God of Memphis, hence, priests looked after it due to its divinity. Today visitors will visit a series of long passageways with side chambers, which embrace 25 giant sarcophagi-70 tons each-. Originally the latter contained the mummified corpses of the Apis bulls, yet when Auguste Mariette discovered the site in 1851 all chambers were raided except for one; containing a mummified bull displayed today at the Agricultural Museum in Cairo.
Mastaba of Ti:
Located east of the Serapeum, the Mastaba of Ti is the tomb of a 5th dynasty official, serving three main kings in the same period. Visitors will get the chance to get an in-depth idea of the daily life of ancient Egyptians in the Old Kingdom.
Once you’re done with your tour of the entire plateau, make sure to observe the Philosopher’s Circle known for its grouping of statues–such as Plato and Homer- created by the Ptolemaic Greeks. The circle was designed by the last Egyptian Pharaoh Nectanebo in the 4th century, to be set next to his temple. The temple couldn’t survive the ravages of time; however the Philosopher’s circle still exists.
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