Saqqara – The Step Pyramid of Djoser

These frequent discoveries prove that Saqqara is a virgin site of archeological history. We have merely excavated 30 percent of what is beneath the ground,” Hawass said. “The remaining 70 percent promise to yield more exciting findings. – Zahi Hawass

DjoserThe Step Pyramid of Djoser was built for the burial of Pharaoh Djoser by his Vizier Imhotep. It was constructed during the 27th century BC at the Saqqara necropolis to the northwest of the city of Memphis.

This first Egyptian pyramid consisted of six mastabas (of decreasing size) built atop one another in what were clearly revisions and developments of the original plan. The pyramid originally stood 62 meters tall and was clad in polished white limestone. The stepped pyramid (or proto-pyramid) of King Djoser is considered to be the earliest large-scale stone construction.

Pyramid Complex

Step PyramidMuch of the decoration and construction of the structures within the Egyptian Step Pyramid of Djoser complex, although built of stone, echo the appearance of earlier structures, which would have been built of wood, reeds or mud-brick. Whether this is due to artistic, symbolic or technological convention is unknown, although it is likely a combination of all three.

The complex surrounding the Stepped Pyramid of Djoser consists of an outer wall, built in stone (some of which has been restored by Jean-Philipe Lauer), wrapping this, was a ‘great trench’, which was not continuous, but spiralled around overlapping at the south end. The wall was built to resemble woven mats, and decorated with niches. There are 15 doorways, only one of which is actually a real entrance. This massive enclosure seems to echo the massive mud-brick ‘forts’ of the First and Second dynasties at Abydos and Hierokonpolis.

The real entrance consists of a colonnaded corridor which had a roof carved to imitate wooden logs. The actual entrance way is marked by 2 massive stone ‘doors’, carved in an open position.

Great Court

Between the Southern Tomb and the Egyptian Step Pyramid of Djoser there is a large open area. Its true significance is unknown but it would seem to be have been associated with the ceremonies of kingship and may echo a similar area (still undiscovered) in the Royal residence in Memphis, in which the king would perform the same ceremonies.

The court is about 180 m by 100 m and contained very few buildings or monuments.

Saving the Egyptian Step Pyramid of Djoser

Step Pyramid VideoThe Step Pyramid complex is visited by thousands of tourists every year. The relentless force of the desert wind over the millennia, combined with increasing underground moisture as the water table rises all over Egypt, have weakened this incredible monument. Jean Philippe Lauer, a French architect and Egyptologist who worked at Saqqara for over 70 years, did a great deal of restoration work in the complex. It was clear, however, that further action was needed.

In 2008, the Supreme Council of Antiquities organized a major conservation effort, carried out by an all-Egyptian team under the direction of Dr. Zahi Hawass. The team began their work on the western side of the pyramid. The first step was to develop and test an appropriate mortar to hold the replaced stones in their positions. A mixture of lime and sand was used in the original construction, and after careful study, it was decided that replicating this substance exactly would be the best solution.

As the work progresses, the archaeologists have been carefully mapping the pyramid and documenting the finds that they make. It is truly remarkable how, after centuries of exploration, a site like the Egypt Step Pyramid of Djoser complex can continue to reveal secrets as it is re-excavated. One of the most interesting things found is a previously unknown shaft near the northern end of the eastern face of the pyramid. Eleven shafts arranged in a straight line along this side of the pyramid were known before this discovery. Each one ends in a long chamber – four of these chambers were used for burials, and the rest were used for the storage of beautiful stone vessels.