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Cairo Sights

Step Pyramid

Updated 12/31/1969

Fodor's Review

H Step Pyramid. The pyramid complex was built in the 3rd Dynasty (2649–2575 BC) for the pharaoh Djoser by his architect Imhotep, and it has been undergoing study and restoration since 1927. This monument has earned Djoser, and more importantly Imhotep, everlasting fame—Imhotep was later deified and regarded as the patron god of architects and doctors. The base of the pyramid measures 459 feet by 386 feet, and the structure was originally 197 feet tall.

The pyramid complex is completely unlike those of the 4th and 5th Dynasties. It is the first stone pyramid (and complex) to have been built in Egypt, and its form imitates wood, papyrus, mud brick, and matting in limestone. The Step Pyramid itself was begun as a mastaba tomb, but its design was modified six times before the final, six-stepped pyramid emerged. The structure was enlarged by accreting vertical faces, visible on the east side as you walk around the pyramid rather than by stacking mastabas on top of one another.

You enter the complex from a small doorway that leads through a long passage flanked by columns that in turn leads to the vast open Heb-Sed court. The Heb-Sed was a race that the pharaoh had to run every 30 years, theoretically, in order to reaffirm his strength, power, and ability to rule—and to renew the favor of the gods. After he successfully completed the race, the pharaoh would officiate and participate in religious rituals that emphasized the support of the gods for his reign and the fealty of his nobles and governors. These ceremonies took place in the adjoining courtyard, which is flanked by shrines.

The simple mortuary temple attached to the pyramid is to the north rather than to the east. Just before reaching it is a small structure, the serdab (a small room containing the statue of the deceased). It contains a statue of the pharaoh—a plaster cast, as the original is in the Egyptian Antiquities Museum—that was placed there to receive offerings. The substructure is closed to the public because it is unstable, but you can view it from a window that has been constructed.

The site of Djoser's Pyramid was a great attraction in antiquity: As the graffiti attests, people came here as tourists and seekers of blessings from as early as the Middle Kingdom (2040–1640 BC), if not earlier. Portions of the pyramid were restored in the 26th Dynasty.

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Sight Information

Address:

Saqqara, Egypt

Sight Details:

  • £E60, as part of the Saqqara general admission
  • Daily 8–4

Updated 12/31/1969

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