Necropolis of Saqqara
The vast necropolis of Saqqara, the cemetery area of ancient Memphis, lies on the edge of the Western (Libyan) Desert, on the west bank of the Nile, some 9mi/15km south of the Pyramid of Cheops. Extending over an area of almost 4.25mi/7km from north to south and 550-1,650yd/500-1,500m from east to west, it contains tombs from almost every period of Egyptian history. The whole necropolis has been repeatedly prospected and plundered from an early period down to modern times, notably under the Byzantine Emperors and the Caliphs. Nevertheless modern scientific excavations, most recently those directed by Walter B. Emery in 1936-56 and by the Egyptian Department of Antiquities since 1965, have still been able to recover much new material which has made important contributions to knowledge.
Opening hours: 8am-5pm
Entrance fee in EGP: Adult £35.00
Useful tips: ACCESS. By road from Giza (1,212mi/20km north).
The Step Pyramid of Saqqara is among the earliest, if not the earliest, of Egypt's large, stone structures. It is thought to have been built by lmhotep, and stands 60m high.
The Pyramid of Unas was built for the last King of the Fifth Dynasty. Visitors can climb the pyramid and enter the interior chambers.
On either side of the causeway leading up to the Pyramid of Unas are mastabas and rock tombs of the Fifth and Sixth Dynasties, discovered in 1844 and subsequently excavated.
To the east of this Double Tomb of Ni-ankh-khnumand Khnum-hotep is the Double Tomb of Nefer-seshem-ptah and Sekhen-tiu. From here a path leads south to the nearby ruins of the Monastery of St Jeremias (Jeremiah), excavated by J.E. Quibell in 1907-09. Founded in the second half of the fifth C. and destroyed by the Arabs about 960, the monastery buildings include two churches (fine capitals and reliefs from which are now in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo), a refectory, a bakery, an oil press and other offices, the room occupied by St Jeremias and cells for the monks, each with a niche in the east wall, many of which had frescos of the Virgin, the Archangels and the founder of the monastery; the frescos are now also in the Egyptian Museum.
The Tomb of Horemheb, who was Tutankhamun's General and Co-ruler, was discovered in 1975. It had been raided by tomb robbers in the 19th C, and items from this location were already displayed in museums.
Northeast of the Step Pyramid of Djoser is the mound of rubble which represents the Pyramid of Userkaf, founder of the Fifth Dynasty. It was relatively small, with an original base measurement of some 245ft/75m, and lay within a correspondingly small precinct. The mortuary temple was on the south side; and to the southwest of this are the remains of a subsidiary pyramid. In the area south of Userkaf's Pyramid and east of Djoser's are mastabas of the Old Kingdom.
Some 550yd/500m northeast of Djoser's Pyramid is the mound of earth which marks the site of the Pyramid of Teti, founder of the Sixth Dynasty. On its east side are the scanty remains of the mortuary temple, remains of an alabaster altar and many table like statue bases. Farther east is a confused tangle of structures excavated by the Egyptian Department of Antiquities and ranging in date from the Old Kingdom to the Ptolemaic period. The oldest are two large stone mastabas of the Old Kingdom, on top of which brick tomb were built during the Middle Kingdom. The brick enclosure walls, 30-33ft/9-10m thick, date from the Greek period. Farther northwest is a cemetery with brick built mastabas of the second and third Dynasties.
The Tomb of Mereruka features unique paintings detailing the deceased involved in various daily activities like fishing and inspecting workmen.
Immediately east of Mereruka's tomb stands the large Mastaba of Kagemni, Vizier and Judge under three kings of the Fifth and Sixth Dynasties
, which was also discovered in 1893.The entrance is at the south end of the east front, which has an inscription giving the name and titles of the dead man. It leads into a vestibule, with reliefs of fishermen and offering bearers, beyond which is a hall with three pillars containing an attractive series of scenes: dancing girls; hunting in the marshes; a farmyard; boats; cattle crossing a ford; boys feeding a puppy; court scene. To the left is a corridor, off which open five store-rooms (originally probably two storied). To the north of the pillared hall is the first chamber. Left hand wall: Kagemni inspecting his cattle and poultry; tame hyenas and poultry being fed; bird catching. Right-hand wall: Kagemni watching fishermen; the catch is recorded and carried away. Above the door into the next room: the dead man carried in a litter. To the west of this room is the serdab (inaccessible). Second room: the dead man receiving votive giftsfrom servants. To the left is a room in which two figures of the dead man have been obliterated. Third room, on longitudinal walls: Kagemni, seated on a chair, receiving votive gifts. In the end wall is a false door, in front of which stood the offering table, approached by steps. Fourth room: two figures of Kagemni, standing, while attendants bring in votive gifts; tables, with various vessels on them; large jars of unguents being brought in on sledges.From the vestibule a dooron the north side leads into a hall from which a staircase mounts to the roof of the mastaba. On the roof were two rooms 36ft/11m long, probably for the solar barques.
Mastaba of Ptahhotep is most noteworthy for the mural reliefs which adorn walls of the offering room. They are well preserved and represent the pinnacle of Egyptian art.
Some 275yd/250m north of the Tomb of Ptahhotep is the site of Mariette's House, built by the French Egyptologist Auguste Mariette when excavating the Serapeum as a site office and museum. The new building begun in the 1960s remains unfinished and ruined, a conspicuous landmark.
The Serapeum was a burial place for bulls. Extra-large sarcophagi can be seen throughout the underground structure.
The Mastaba of Ti is one of the highlights of Saqqara. It once belonged to a wealthy landowner during the Fifth Dynasty, and displays some of the finest mural reliefs of the Old Kingdom.
Some 275yd/250m west of the early Rock Tombs, large animal cemeteries have been excavated since 1965. They were associated with a large
temple of the Late and Ptolemaic periods which was replaced in Christian times by a church. The intricate system of underground galleries and passages in which the animal mummies were buried was entered from the temple terrace.The worship of animals was practiced in Egypt from early times, but developed on a considerable scale in the Late Period. The animals venerated as sacred were kept and reared for the specific purpose of being mummified and buried in specially constructed burial complexes. Burial-places of this kind have been found for ibises, falcons, baboons, dogs, jackals, crocodiles, rams, bulls, cows, fish, ichneumons, cats and other animals. It was regarded as meritorious for a pilgrim visiting a particular shrine to acquire one of the animals sacred to the divinity and to have it mummified, elaborately painted and decked with ornaments, and then buried in a stone or wooden coffin (or in the case of a bird a pointed pottery vessel)The animal cemeteries of Saqqara comprise a burial gallery for the 'Apis mothers" (the Iseum; only partly accessible), the counterpart of the Serapeum, in which the sacred cows were buried in stone sarcophagi; a baboon gallery, on two levels, with over 400 coffins; an ibis gallery, in which more than 2 million ibis mummies buried in pointed jars have so far been found; and a falcon gallery which contained a variety of cult vessels and equipment and yielded much valuable information.
In the northern part of the Saqqara necropolis are cemeteries of the Early Period. On the edge of the desert are rock tombs, some of them with brick superstructures, of the first Dynasty; farther west are tombs of the Second and Third Dynasties.