A Little History
Have you even wondered which was the first ever pyramid constructed in ancient Egypt? Well, it is the step pyramid of Djoser located at Saqqara in Egypt built by the Pharaoh Djoser (Horus name- Netjerikhet). This pyramid was constructed about 100 years before the well known Great Pyramids of Giza. Djoser was considered the first of many Pharaohs who were obsessed with building the perfect pyramid for their journey to eternal life.
While the construction of the Great Pyramid falls under the fourth dynasty (est 2613 – 2494 BC) of the Old Kingdom, the ‘Pyramid of Djoser’ also referred to as the Saqqara Pyramid is a part of the third dynasty (est 2677 – 2613). Most of the pyramids (well over 100 in number) that has been discovered till day were built in these 2 dynasties. Hence, this period is often referred to as the ‘Age Of the Pyramids’
The exact construction year of the pyramid is unknown. But, Djoser is believed to have reigned between 2667 to 2648 BC. The pyramid is especially famous because this is the first ever monumental structure made of stones. Djoser’s high priest Imhotep was the architect who designed this pyramid. Till then construction of Mastaba was fairly common. A Mastaba is a rectangular stone structure with sloping walls and a flat roof.
Imhotep constructed a mastaba and piled 5 more on top – each with smaller dimension than the one below. It stands at 62 meters (203 ft) tall. The dimension of the base is 125 * 109 meters (411 * 358 ft). When completed, the complex had 14 stone built entrances to the pyramid. Among them 13 were fake ones to deter tomb robbers. Sadly, only 1 stands today through which we enter the complex.
A passageway full of limestone columns is the first thing we see upon entering the doorway. There are 40 columns representing the 40 cities ruled by Djoser. The stone column is very smooth to touch. It is speculated that the workers might have used honey to smoothen the surface. The quality of workmanship is incredible. Having no experience building a column before and to prevent it from collapsing, Imhotep decided to build a wall connecting 2 columns together.
Past the columns, we enter a large open area called the South Court. Djoser’s Heb-Sed festival is known to be celebrated at this space. This is a common ritual during the Old Kingdom. The pharaoh proves to his people every 30 years that he is still strong and capable to lead them. Djoser’s rule period is a topic of speculation because it is unclear. As per few sources, his reign was only for 19 years. In that case, the festival seems to have been conducted well before the intended timeline.
Below the pyramids structure, there are numerous tunnels with nearly 6 kms in length. It consists of the kings burial chamber, different rooms for family members, storage room for food and offerings for the afterlife. A 3.5 ton granite block was sealed over the sarcophagus. The mummy and all the treasures were looted by tomb robbers before the tomb was discovered.
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