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Pyramid and Mortuary Complex of Djosr


Pyramid and Mortuary Complex of Djosr the building of the step pyramid

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									       Pyramid and Mortuary
          Complex of Djoser

   Saqqara was the principal
necropolis for the ancient city
     of Memphis where, from
      Dynasty I onwards, the
      Egyptian elite built their
     tombs. The area is best
   known today as being the
         site of the first stone
   pyramid, built for a king of
    Dynasty III whose Horus
  name was Netjerikhet. The
 pyramid has been attributed
  to a King Djoser since the
 New Kingdom, but only the
 name Netjerikhet has been
   .found on the monument

  The pyramid structure rises
above the plateau in a series
    of six stepped ‘mastabas’
    and was surrounded by a
complex of dummy buildings
     enclosed within a niched
     limestone wall over 10m
 high. Beyond the wall was a
            rectangular trench
measuring 750m by 40m and
   although it is now filled by
 sand, it can be clearly seen
  on aerial photographs. The
  high limestone walls of the
   enclosure were decorated
  with niches and false doors
  which were carved into the
 wall after it was built – quite
    an enormous task! Some
  archaeologists believe that
the enclosure wall may have
      represented the earthly
residence of the King and so
      the term ‘palace façade’
became used for this type of
 decoration. It is thought that
        the design imitates the
 wooden framework covered
  by woven reed mats which
     would have been used in
 earlier structures although it
    has also been suggested
 that the motif may originate
   in Mesopotamia. The wall
  has been reconstructed on
    the southern rampart and
near the entrance and this is
   the best place to examine
             .the construction

  The single entrance to the
               enclosure is the
    southernmost doorway on
   the eastern side of the wall
        (the only one of the 15
      doorways which is not a
  false door) and leads to the
entrance colonnade. 20 pairs
          of engaged columns,
 resembling bundles of reeds
or palm ribs line the corridor.
Between the columns are 24
     small chambers, thought
     perhaps to represent the
  nomes of Upper and Lower
Egypt, which may once have
contained statues of the King
     or deities. The roof of the
      entrance colonnade was
      constructed to represent
     whole tree trunks. This is
 one of the places where the
    challenging experiment of
 copying natural materials in
   stone is most evident. The
columns were not yet trusted
   to support the roof without
     being attached to the side
    walls and the small size of
 the stone blocks used in the
 construction reflects the fact
that previous structures were
  built from mudbricks. At the
  end of the entrance hall two
   false stone doorleaves rest
     against the side walls of a
    transverse vestibule which
       has been reconstructed.
      Several statue fragments
   were found in the entrance
        colonnade but the most
 important was a statue base
      (now in Cairo Museum)
     inscribed with the Horus
name and titles of Netjerikhet
 and also with the name of a
 High Priest of Heliopolis and
     .royal architect, Imhotep

      Imhotep, who may have
      been a son of Djoser, is
credited with the invention of
     building in dressed stone
           and the design and
      construction of the Step
   Pyramid complex. He was
deified as a god of wisdom in
    the Ptolemaic Period and
   worshipped as Asklepios,
      god of medicine, by the
  Greeks. Netjerikhet’s name
        is directly linked to his
   predecessor Khasekhemy
       because mud sealings
bearing his name were found
    in 1996 in Khasekhemy’s
                  .Abydos tomb

 Immediately to the north of
  the entrance colonnade, on
   the eastern side of a large
open courtyard, is a series of
       reconstructed buildings
          thought to have been
     connected with the King’s
heb-sed, or jubilee festival. A
   rectangular building known
   as Temple ‘T’ is suggested
  to have been a model of the
   King’s palace and contains
       an entrance colonnade,
antechamber and three inner
    courts leading to a square
    chamber decorated with a
 frieze of ‘djed’ symbols. This
        structure leads into the
 southern end of the ‘Jubilee
    Court’, which is lined with
             dummy buildings
   representing Upper Egypt
    (on the eastern side) and
Lower Egypt (on the western
   side). These buildings are
  purely symbolic structures.
     There were originally 12
     chapels on the east with
         curved vaulted roofs
   representing the shape of
Lower Egyptian shrines each
 having a statue niche which
       would have contained
  statues of the King. The 13
          western chapels are
  modelled on the shrines of
Upper Egypt with three fluted
 half-columns and simulated
doorleaves at the entrances,
topped by an arched vaulted
 roof. The two chapels at the
        south had a staircase
    leading to a statue niche,
      while the other western
   buildings had more simple
façades and may have been
        robing rooms or other
buildings connected with the
  sed festival. A model fence
     imitating wooden palings
 separated the shrines. All of
  the structures represent, in
    stone, the earlier building
  materials of wood and reed
   mats and it is thought that
      the columns would have
been painted red to simulate
wood. At the southern end of
  the Jubilee Court there is a
    large elevated dais which
would have held the thrones
   of Upper and Lower Egypt
    where the King may have
  been symbolically crowned
     .during the ceremonies

  North of the Jubilee Court
    there are two mysterious
   buildings commonly called
 the ‘House of the North’ and
the ‘House of the South’ and
        it is thought that these
    structures were originally
 partially buried, which would
  have given them a funerary
      significance. They each
stand in their own courtyards
and are currently believed to
represent the archaic shrines
              of Nekhbet (from
   Hierakonpolis in the south)
 and Wadjet (from Buto in the
  north), although there have
    been many other theories
suggesting their significance.
  The two buildings are again
       constructed with stone
       fashioned to represent
     organic materials. In the
House of the South there is a
   continuous ‘khekher’ frieze
    over the entrance and the
    walls inside contain many
New Kingdom graffiti, written
     in ink by ancient visitors,
 naming Djoser as the owner
  of the complex. The House
of the North contains a shaft,
            20m deep, with an
   underground gallery which
   led Lepsius to believe that
        the two buildings were
       pyramids when he first
            .investigated them

Djoser’s mortuary temple lies
  against the northern wall of
      the pyramid, unlike later
  pyramids which usually had
 the mortuary temples on the
   eastern side. This was the
     cult centre of the King but
 now is badly ruined and only
            the entrance wall is
preserved. It is difficult to see
         the ground-plan of the
temple, which seems to differ
       considerably from other
   pyramid mortuary temples.
   The original entrance shaft
    into the Step Pyramid can
    still be seen in the floor of
the mortuary temple where it
  emerged to run through the
  structure above the ground.
In excavations of the temple,
     clay sealings were found
  bearing the name of a King
 Sanakht, previously thought
 to have been a predecessor
     of Djoser, and these may
     provide evidence that he
  actually ruled after Djoser’s

 On the north-eastern corner
       of the pyramid is a court
          which contains a small
           structure known as a
        ’serdab’. Inside this tiny
      sealed chamber, which is
 tilted upwards at an angle of
         30 degrees, a life-sized
     painted statue of the King,
  sat on his throne and gazed
        out through a peep-hole
     towards the northern stars
and the land of Osiris. Today
      the original statue can be
    seen in Cairo Museum but
you can peep into the serdab
  and see a replica statue of
      Djoser, disconcertingly
staring back you. The statue
 would have represented the
King’s ‘ka’ emerging from his
        burial chamber in the

 The Step Pyramid itself was
thought to have been built in
   several stages, beginning
        with an initial square
   mastaba and that its plan
  was changed several times
during construction. Scholars
   now doubt this theory and
       suggest that the whole
  structure was planned as a
     pyramid from the outset.
 Earlier mastaba tombs were
  always rectangular. Recent
 excavations at Abydos have
            shown that earlier
      enclosures contained a
‘mound’ of sand covered with
          mudbricks (possibly
   symbolising the ‘mound of
creation’) and perhaps acting
   as a prototype for Djoser’s
structure. It would seem from
    recent study that the Step
              Pyramid was first
      constructed as a square
mastaba which was enlarged
 and expanded in six stages,
        eventually becoming a
   4-step mastaba and then a
   6-step structure which was
    no longer square, but had
become a rectangle oriented
     east-west. The limestone
  blocks were laid in courses
 which were inclined towards
   .the centre of the pyramid

         Below ground the Step
 Pyramid contains a maze of
   more than 5.5km of shafts,
     tunnels and chambers. A
       large central shaft to the
 burial chamber descends to
 a depth of 28m, while above
      ground the pyramid’s six
steps rise to a height of 60m.
    Inside the burial chamber,
  the pink granite blocks may
have replaced original blocks
  of limestone or ‘alabaster’ –
   a theory based on Lauer’s
        discovery of numerous
       fragments of limestone
     nearby. Some limestone
     blocks carved with stars
    were found to have been
re-used with their decoration
 hidden and it is thought that
Djoser’s burial chamber may
      have contained the first
    example of a star ceiling.
   Little was found inside the
  granite burial vault – only a
few small fragments of bone
       wrapped in linen in Old
   Kingdom style, including a
  left foot and part of an arm.
         These have now been
radiocarbon dated and prove
      to be from a burial much
later than Djoser’s reign. In a
    passage north-west of the
    burial chamber a wooden
box was found inscribed with
            .Netjerikhet’s name

        Many galleries and
    magazines surround the
central burial vault. In one of
 the galleries on the eastern
 side, three false doors were
  carved from limestone and
    the walls were decorated
       with exquisite tiny blue
    faience tiles inter-spaced
      with rows and motifs of
       limestone to represent
wall-hangings of natural reed
 matting. A reconstruction of
     one of the panels is now
        displayed in the Cairo
Museum. Reliefs of the King
  wearing the red crown and
 the white crown, and running
    or walking, probably depict
      the heb-sed rituals. Other
   walls were also found to be
       decorated with blue tiles,
           although some of the
              chambers were left
     unfinished. It is suggested
   that the decoration of these
     chambers was inspired by
the King’s private apartments
      .in his palace at Memphis

   Another series of galleries
extended westwards from 11
 shafts on the eastern side of
    the pyramid. These were
thought to be for the burial of
         the King’s wives and
children. One of the galleries
     was found to contain an
              empty alabaster
    sarcophagus as well as a
wooden coffin belonging to a
  small boy and Netjerikhet’s
        name was found on a
seal-impression in one of the
   shafts. In other shafts vast
   quantities of stone vessels
     were found (around forty
  thousand in total) in a wide
         variety of shapes and
 materials and many bearing
       inscriptions of Djoser’s
   ancestors. The reason for
    these ‘heirlooms’ being in
          Djoser’s tomb is still
unexplained today and is the
       source of much debate
       .among archaeologists

 In front of the southern face
      of the Step Pyramid is a
          large open courtyard
measuring 180m by 100m. In
   the centre of the court are
 two curious buildings whose
low walls are shaped like the
     letter ‘B’ and are thought
         perhaps to have been
 associated with the heb-sed
    ceremonies. A limestone
   block was also found here
       bearing a text of Prince
          Khaemwaset (son of
Rameses II) who was known
to have restored many of the
 Old Kingdom monuments in
      his role of High Priest of
 The court is bounded on the
   southern side by the south
 wall of the enclosure. At the
      south-west corner is an
 enigmatic building known as
     the ‘South Tomb’, which
    appears to be a miniature
  replica of the subterranean
        chambers of the Step
   Pyramid. The South Tomb
contains similar decoration to
  the pyramid – including the
 same blue faience tiles and
        false doors, but better
         preserved than in the
         pyramid galleries. Its
purpose is unclear, the burial
chamber is too small to have
              ever contained a
sarcophagus. Many theories
    have been put forward by
 archaeologists as to its use,
   but the ‘tomb’ will perhaps
    .always remain a mystery

    The Step Pyramid is now
       considered unsafe for
 visitors. On its southern side
      is a gallery leading to the
     central burial shaft, which
     was cut by robbers during
     the Late Period. This was
  re-used for later burials and
is now the only safe entrance
    into the pyramid, but is not
  normally open. Visitors may
   occasionally be admitted to
   the South Tomb by special

   Djoser’s complex was first
  investigated by Napoleon’s
 expedition but the entrance
      tunnel and underground
galleries were not found until
     the early part of the 19th
                century. Many
          archaeologists have
        excavated at the Step
      Pyramid since that time,
 most notably Cecil Firth and
    Jean-Philippe Lauer who
          began a systematic
   investigation in the 1920s
 which lasted throughout the
             20th century. For
   Jean-Philippe Lauer, who
died in 2001 at the age of 96,
  Saqqara became a life-long
commitment and he returned
       year after year with the
        French Archaeological
      Mission to excavate and
       study the complex. It is
  primarily to Monsieur Lauer
  that the Egyptological world
    owes its knowledge of the
    history and architecture of
                       the site

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