Essential Architecture-  Egypt

Zoser's Necropolis








Ancient Egyptian




cemetary Tomb, Mausoleum
Our first full day of touring in the Cairo area would begin with tours of Sakkarah and Memphis, which are both located a few miles outside of Cairo. Sakkarah is a very important ancient site in Egypt. The necropolis of Sakkarah was the largest in all of Egypt and of historical significance because all of the principal dynasties of Egypt are represented here. Its name was derived from the Egyptian god Sokar.
The most prominent ancient ruin at Sakkarah is the step pyramid of Zoser, the pharaoh who founded the IIIrd dynasty. Surrounding it are other pyramids and mastabas that are characteristic of the eras. Mastabas, the Arabic word for bench, were the burial chambers of the nobility and its court dignitaries. They were rectangular with slightly inclined walls. Zoser was the first pharaoh to envision a more grandiose burial complex. He commissioned the architect Imhotep to design and build his funerary complex. Imhotep's name can be found in the hieroglyphic characters on the base of a statue representing Zoser. Thus Zoser's was the first funerary structure to appear in the world. Imhotep was also a High Priest and doctor and a man of much genius. The Greeks, two thousand years later, named a god, Esculaphus, after him. Looking at the pyramid one can see what Imhotep did. He built a large rectangular mastaba and on it he placed five successively smaller mastabas to form the pyramid.
Zoser's step pyramid
Zoser's Step Pyramid at Sakkarah
Surrounding Zoser's step pyramid are a number of other funerary structures from different periods. The pictures below show some of these structures as they exist in the hot Sun at Sakkarah today.
Zoser's step pyramid <<< Zoser's step pyramid with other pyramids and funerary structures visible. To the south of Zoser's step pyramid lies the pyramid of Unas (small pyramid in background), the last pharaoh of the Vth dynasty. While it was already destroyed by 2000 B.C. the pyramid of Unas was important because it contained a large part of the pyramid text from the Old Kingdom.
Zoser's step pyramid
Zoser's Step Pyramid
Anne standing by Zoser's step pyramid
Anne standing by the
loose bricks of Zoser's Step Pyramid
Funerary complex at Zoser's step pyramid
Side wall of the funerary complex at Zoser's
Step Pyramid
Inside the funerary complex at Zoser's step pyramid
Inside the funerary
complex at Zoser's
Step Pyramid
Cloxe view of the stones at Zoser's step pyramid
Close up of the loose
stones on Zoser's
Step Pyramid
Probably the pyramid of Unas The photo at left is probably the remnants of the pyramid of Unas, a relatively small but important pyramid. As you can see by the doorway you can enter a number of the mortuary complexes at Sakkarah and within them view the ancient hieroglyphs that adorn the wall. Many exists today and show the same vibrant colors that they did when they were originally painted on the walls thousands of years ago. Here at Sakkarah we also viewed some of the oldest graffiti known to exists. A message that an Englishman left on the walls of one of the lesser tombs that dated to the early 1800's.
Special thanks to
Netjerikhet Djoser (Turin King List "Dsr-it"; Manetho "Tosarthros") is the best-known pharaoh of the Third dynasty of Egypt, for commissioning the official Imhotep to build his Step Pyramid at Saqqara.

The painted limestone statue of Djoser in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo is the oldest known Egyptian life-size statue. Today at the site in Saqqara in which it was found, a plaster copy of the statue stands in place of the original at the museum. The statue was found during the Antiquities Service Excavations of 1924-1925.

In contemporary inscriptions, he is called Netjerikhet, meaning body of the gods. Later sources, which include a New Kingdom reference to his Step Pyramid, help confirm that Netjerikhet and Djoser are the same person.

While Manetho names one Necherophes, and the Turin King List names Nebka, as the first ruler of the Third dynasty, many Egyptologists now believe that Djoser was the first king of this dynasty, pointing out that the order in which some predecessors of Khufu are mentioned in the Papyrus Westcar suggests that Nebka should be placed between Djoser and Huni, and not before Djoser. More significantly, the English Egyptologist Toby Wilkinson has demonstrated that burial seals found at the entrance to Khasekhemwy's tomb in Abydos name only Djoser, rather than Nebka. This proves that Djoser buried and, hence, directly succeeded Khasekhemwy and not Nebka. (Toby Wilkinson, Early Dynastic Egypt, Routledge, 1999, pp.83 & 95)

Reign Length
Manetho states that Djoser ruled Egypt for 29 years while the Turin King List states it was only 19 years. Because of his many substantial building projects, particularly at Saqqara, some scholars argue that Djoser must have enjoyed a reign approaching nearly three decades. According to Toby Wilkinson's analysis and reconstruction of the Palermo Stone in 2000, Manetho's figure appears to be more accurate from evidence gathered by Toby Wilkinson in his analysis of the Palermo Stone--which mentions the beginning and end of Djoser's reign. Wilkinson states that the Annal document gives Djoser "28 complete or partial years" and notes that Years 1-5 and 19-28 of his reign are preserved on Palermo Stone register V and Cairo Fragment 1, register V of the document. (Toby Wilkinson, Royal Annals of Ancient Egypt, pp.79 & 258)

Because Queen Nimaethap, the wife of Khasekhemwy, the last king of the Second dynasty of Egypt, appears to have held the title of "Mother of the King", some writers argue that she was Djoser's mother and Khasekhemwy was his father. Three royal women are known from during his reign: Inetkawes, Hetephernebti and a third, whose name is destroyed. One of them might have been his wife, and the one whose name is lost may have been Nimaethap. The relationship between Djoser and his successor, Sekhemkhet, is not known.

Djoser dispatched several military expeditions to the Sinai Peninsula, during which the local inhabitants were subdued. He also sent expeditions to the Sinai which were mined for valuable minerals such as turquoise and copper. The Sinai was also strategically important as a buffer between Asia and the Nile valley. He also may have fixed the southern boundary of his kingdom at the First Cataract.

Some fragmentary reliefs found at Heliopolis and Gebelein mention Djoser's name and suggest that he had commissioned construction projects in those cities. An inscription claiming to date to the reign of Djoser, but actually created during the Ptolemaic Dynasty, relates how Djoser rebuilt the temple of the god Khnum on the island of Elephantine at the First Cataract, thus ending a seven year famine in Egypt. Some consider this ancient inscription as but a legend. Nonetheless, it does show that more than two millennia after his reign, Egyptians still remembered Djoser.

Other spellings of his name include: Zoser, Dzoser, Zozer (or Zozzer), Dsr, Djeser, Zosar, Djéser, Djésèr, Horus-Netjerikhet, Horus-Netjerichet.

Rosanna Pirelli, "Statue of Djoser" in Francesca Tiradriti (editor), The Treasures of the Egyptian Museum, American University in Cairo Press, 1999, p. 47.
Toby Wilkinson, Early Dynastic Egypt, Routledge, (Routledge:1999), pp.83 & 95
Toby Wilkinson, Royal Annals of Ancient Egypt: The Palermo Stone and Its Associated Fragments, (Kegan Paul International), 2000.