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  • Writer's pictureWendy Bradfield

Don’t Miss Saqqara, Ancient Egypt’s Oldest Burial Ground

Updated: May 9, 2023


Djoser's Step Pyramid

Saqqara was an ancient burial ground for the rich and famous and was active from the

Archaic period to Roman-Greco times.

It was a pilgrimage site for everyday Egyptians and prime real estate for burial, worship, and animal cults.

Here you could buy animal mummies from vendors and present them as offerings at nearby

temples.


If you had enough wealth, you could buy space in a burial shaft and be in good company with royalty.

At around 4,700 years old, the Step Pyramid is considered the world's first and oldest stone pyramid.


Saqqara is a hotbed for ongoing discoveries and is Egypt's most active and important archaeological site.

The ruins at Saqqara offer an exclusive look inside the history that marks the beginning of pyramid construction in ancient Egypt.


Djoser's Step Pyramid

Djoser's Step Pyramid

The revolutionary architect, Imhotep, led the "pyramids as tombs" trend that lasted throughout ancient Egypt.


The Step Pyramid was the first one built of stone rather than other materials like mud-brick. Egypt's first and oldest pyramid started as a mastaba (rectangular tomb) and evolved into a step pyramid through stages.


Imhotep was actively experimenting with pyramid construction as he fashioned mastaba on top of mastaba to build a masterpiece for the king.


All the Pharaohs that followed Djoser aimed to replicate the majesty of the Step Pyramid, the tallest monument of its time. Imhotep's Step Pyramid set the standard for pyramid construction for future dynasties and glorified King Djoser for eternity.


Pyramid of Unas

Pharaoh Unas was the last ruler of the 5th dynasty, and although his pyramid is the smallest of the three, it contains a priceless treasure.


Exquisitely carved and painted in blue, you can see one of the oldest religious texts in the world! Pyramid texts are essential because they reveal how ancient Egyptians viewed life, death, and the universe.


These Pyramid texts offer a rare glimpse at what would later become the Book of the Dead, sacred funerary spells created to guide royalty into the afterlife.


Pyramid of Teti

Pyramid text, Tomb of Teti

Pharaoh Teti was the first king of the 6th dynasty, and although his pyramid above ground didn't weather very well, his mastaba (tomb) below is worth a quick visit.


Inside the Teti Pyramid, you can see carefully crafted ancient Pyramid texts (hieroglyphic spells) on the walls to guide the king into the afterlife. The ceiling is covered in a canopy of mesmerizing stars in the room where his sarcophagus lies.

Tomb of Kagemni

Dancers, Tomb of Kagemni

Kagemni was Chief Justice and Vizier to King Teti. Kagemni's tomb is a spectacular display of

finely carved relief, including fishing & hunting scenes, birds, and many animals.

You will find lively acrobatic dancers and a hippo & crocodile having a seriously dramatic disagreement!

This tomb is a must!


The Serapeum: the mystery of the Apis bull cult

Serapeum

The Serapeum of Saqqara is a maze of catacombs where sacred Apis bulls were laid to rest in massive sarcophagi weighing up to 80 tons!


Once below, you find yourself winding through burial galleries with ancient hieroglyphs carved into granite and limestone tombs.


Egyptians believed the Apis bull was an incarnation of the god Ptah and gained immortality upon its death.


The bulls were worshipped as gods at the temple of Ptah in Memphis, and when their royal reign was over, they were mummified and moved in grand procession to the underground tombs.


Discovered in 1851 by Auguste Mariette, the Serapeum was an active burial site from 1390 - 1352 BC to 30 BC.


Logistics & recommendations

Saqqara is only 45 minutes from the Pyramids of Giza, making exploring easy and convenient. One of the more enjoyable things about Saqqara is there are fewer tourists, so you can really absorb the energy of ancient Egypt.


If you only have a few hours, I recommend visiting the mastabas of Mereruka, Kagemni, and or Ty, the Pyramids of Teti or Unas (underground), and Serapeum if you're curious about animal cults.


The Serapeum is a bit of a walk through the desert, so keep that in mind when choosing footwear and planning for extra time.


You will need a guide to visit the Tombs of the Nobles or the New Kingdom. As these tombs are rarely visited, your guide must search for someone to unlock these for you.


Note that you will be expected to tip the guard for opening the tombs for you. 20 LE should be sufficient.

And you can't miss the Step Pyramid because it's in the center of the necropolis!


Two additional mastabas have recently opened to the public.

*Mastaba of Niakauisesi - High-ranking official

*Mastaba of Ankhmahor, Vizier to King Teti


Ticket prices

180 LE Saqqara Complex NOTE: The Imhotep Museum is closed indefinitely for restorations

100 LE Inside Step Pyramid

100 LE Southern Tomb of Djoser

150 LE Serapeum

140 LE Tombs of the Nobles

50 LE Tombs of the New Kingdom

80 LE Tomb of Mereruka 80 LE


Bring small bills to tip the tomb attendants, as is customary throughout Egypt for sightseeing.


To eat

Don't forget to stop at the

restaurant Pharous in Al-Badrashin, nearby Saqqara, for a delicious lunch before or after your visit.


They have tasty authentic Egyptian cuisine with grilled meats, dips, salads, and fresh bread.


It's open-air dining with a canopy-style tent and a gorgeous countryside view. And if you're lucky, the drummer & the mizmar player will play you a welcome tune!


Journey to the afterlife

There are loads of reasons you shouldn't miss Saqqara if you visit Egypt. The most exciting is the stunningly well-preserved relief inside the tombs.


The most compelling reason is that it's an active archeological site with daily discoveries. The Saqqara necropolis was part of the ancient capital of Egypt called Memphis for over eight dynasties.


Chiseled scenes of daily life and star-carved ceilings of royal tombs lay claim to Egypt's glorious history.


Saqqara is a UNESCO World Heritage site that boasts tombs from ancient Egyptian history to the end.

If you are a lover of all things Egypt, this ancient burial ground is not to be missed.


*All photos by the author


Writers need coffee! I need coffee strong enough to wake up my ancestors! You can buy me one here if you enjoy my scribblings!


If you like this, check out 10 Amazing Facts About Ancient Egypt








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