Saqqara is a vast, ancient burial ground in Egypt, serving as the necropolis for the Ancient Egyptian capital, Memphis.Saqqara features numerous pyramids, including the world famous Step pyramid of Djoser, sometimes referred to as the Step Tomb due to its rectangular base, as well as a number of mastabas (Arabic word meaning ‘bench’). Located some 30 km (19 mi) south of modern-day Cairo, Saqqara covers an area of around 7 by 1.5 km (4.35 by 0.93 mi).

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At Saqqara, the oldest complete stone building complex known in history was built: Djoser’s step pyramid, built during the Third Dynasty. Another 16 Egyptian kings built pyramids at Saqqara, which are now in various states of preservation or dilapidation. High officials added private funeral monuments to this necropolis during the entire pharaonic period. It remained an important complex for non-royal burials and cult ceremonies for more than 3,000 years, well into Ptolemaic and Roman times.

Djoser was the first or second king of the 3rd Dynasty (ca. 2667 to 2648 BC) of the Egyptian Old Kingdom (ca. 2686 to 2125 BC). He is believed to have ruled for 19 years or, if the 19 years were biennial taxation years, 38 years. He reigned long enough to allow the grandiose plan for his pyramid to be realized in his lifetime.

Djoser is best known for his innovative tomb, which dominates the Saqqara landscape. In this tomb he is referred to by his Horus name Netjerykhet; Djoser is a name given by New Kingdom visitors thousands of years later. Djoser’s step pyramid is astounding in its departure from previous architecture. It sets several important precedents, perhaps the most important of which is its status as the first monumental structure made of stone. The social implications of such a large and carefully sculpted stone structure are staggering. The process of building such a structure would be far more labor-intensive than previous monuments of mud-brick. This suggests that the state, and therefore the royal government had a new level of control of resources, both material and human. Also, from this point on, kings of the Old Kingdom are buried in the North, rather than at Abydos. Furthermore, although the plan of Djoser’s pyramid complex is different than later complexes, many elements persist and the step pyramid sets the stage for later pyramids of the 4th, 5th, and 6th Dynasties, including the great pyramids at Giza. Finally, another intriguing first is the identification of the architect Imhotep, who is credited with the design and construction of the complex.


February 1983, Praktika XL, Agfa slides