March 31, 2012

The Step Pyramid of Saqqara

The Step Pyramid of Saqqara
Today, Djoser's pyramid and its surrounding mortuary complex is recognized as the first stone building in the world. (Although stone had been used for certain features in earlier tombs, this was the first to be constructed entirely of stone.) The genius who produced this vast monument for Djoser was his vizier, Imhotep, who seems to have been a man of many parts. His high standing at court is indicated in the inscription on the base of a brolcen-off statue of Djoser where, after the name of the king, Imhotep's titles read: 'The Treasurer of the King of Lower Egypt, the First after the King of Upper Egypt, Administrator of the Great Palace, Hereditary Lord, the High Priest of Heliopolis, Imhotep the builder, the sculptor, the maker of stone vases...'

Djoser Step Pyramid
The whole concept of Djoser's funerary monument was that of an area for the spirit, focused on the pyramid itself. This began life as a normal mastaba, but was subsequently subject to several major enlargements, adding one mastaba upon another, until it consisted of six unequal steps rising to 204 ft (62 m). Its base area is 358 x 411 ft (109 x 125 m). The substructure is a honeycomb of shafts and tunnels, several of them dug by robbers which are difficult to distinguish from those original tunnels left unfinished. Vast quantities of stone vases were found beneath the pyramid, many of exquisite form and artistry, a number of them bearing the names of earlier kings. Perhaps Djoser added these vases to his monument as an act of piety towards his predecessors, to save their funerary goods as best he might. A mummified left foot found in one of the passages may be the only remains of the king. Other members of the royal family were buried in some of the shafts and tunnels, one being a young child of about eight years old found in a fine alabaster coffin. The various enlargements of the ground plan of the pyramid finally meant that these other tombs were all sealed beneath its expanding structure with no access. A new entrance to the king's actual burial chamber, cut from Aswan granite and plugged with a three-ton stopper after the burial, was dug from the north.

Close to this northern entrance stands the serdab (Arabic for 'cellar'), a box-like structure of finished Tura limestone with a pair of small holes pierced through its front-facing slope. This was found during the excavations of C.M. Firth and was a complete surprise. Within the serdab was a painted limestone, life-size seated figure of Djoser, the oldest royal sculpture of this scale known from Egypt. It represents the king closely wrapped in a long white cloak, probably that used in the king's jubilee or heb-sed festival (p. 19). Food offerings and incense would have been placed on an altar before the two small eyeholes in the wall of the serdab, enabling the ka (the spirit of the king) to partake of the spirit substance - whilst, at the end of the day, the mortuary priests could enjoy the material substance of the offerings.

Wall Surrounding Djoser Step Pyramid


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