Djoser's Step Pyramid in Saqqara
Quick Link: Return to Topic Home Page: Ancient Egyptian Monuments Project
Djoser was King of Upper and Lower Egypt in ca. 2680 BCE. Djoser was a king early in the 3rd dynasty. The construction and development of the pyramid complex is generally attributed to the architect Imhotep.
The inscription above is a redrawing of a statue base giving the names and titles of Imhotep as well as the name of Djoser. On the left is the text identifying Imhotep. To the right of the first Djed pillar on the left is a serekh (palace facade) topped by a falcon mentioning the name Netjerikhet (another name for Djoser).
The above description is based on information given by Miroslav Verner.
The earliest Egyptian Pyramids were step pyramids. During the Third Dynasty of Ancient Egypt (AE) (27th Century B.C.), the architect Imhotep built Egypt's first step pyramid, the Pyramid of Djoser, by building a series of six successively smaller mastaba like structures (an earlier form of tomb structure), one atop of another. Later pharaohs, including Sekhemkhet and Khaba, built similar structures. The first step pyramid was built for Djoser (or Zoser).
But, by the time of the Fourth Dynasty, plans had changed into the transformation of the "true pyramid". The earliest smooth-sided pyramid, located at Meidum, started out as a step pyramid under Huni structure. Sneferu's own later monuments, the Bent Pyramid and Red Pyramid at Dahshur, were the first true pyramids to be built as such from scratch, and it was with this innovation that the age of Egyptian stepped pyramids came to an end. 
Djoser's Pyramid, commonly referred to as the Step Pyramid is part of the Djoser Complex and Precinct. It consists of the Pyramid, a large enclosure The Perimeter Wall which features bastions, and several structures within the compound. Outside the complex is The Great Trench or culvert which surrounds the entire composition. The Djoser Complex is part of a larger necropolis which is essentially a large cemetery. This site has remenants from the 1st Dynasty onward. Parts of the Djoser Complex are built over or incorporate earlier structures. The pyramid as we see it today was built in series of attempts to reach the final design solution. This visual evolution of Djoser's Pyramid is unique as it highlights the transition from a flat top mastaba design into a completely new monument type. --NBuccalo 15:22, 14 January 2009 (UTC)
Orientation & Layout: The complex is orientated North and South. The East and West faces of the Pyramid are not as long as the North and South sides making the base a rectangle. The Great Court is situated squarely on the South side of the Pyramid and its two side walls overlap the base of the pyramid making it difficult to see the sides of the pyramid from this area. All other formal spaces that have a view of the Pyramid are situated in such a way that only one side of the pyramid can be seen, except the Sed Festival Court. --NBuccalo 15:22, 14 January 2009 (UTC)
While it is readily apparent which elements of the tomb were not functional, it is not as easy to determine which elements of the complex were in use. The northern end of the enclosure is still unexcavated, leaving scholars in doubt as to how it was used, and the ruined state of the complex likewise hinders an accurate perspective. Lauer argued that the functional elements in the complex were the entrance at the southeast corner of the enclosure, the pyramid which served as a tomb for Djoser, and the Northern temple used for the funeral service. The American archeologist Mark Lehner suggested that it is more likely that Djoser’s funeral procession entered the building over the still-existing ramp at the northeast corner than through the functional entranceway at the southeast. None of the passageways that lead from the southeast entrance to the northern temple are wider than one meter (39 inches), so a funeral procession through the complex would be very difficult. The functional entrance way to Djoser’s complex is located at the southeast corner of the enclosure wall. This location parallels similar functional entrances in the southeast corners of the enclosures that kings of the First and Second Dynasties built at Abydos. Djoser’s entranceway, however, was built of stone carved to imitate a building built of reeds and wood. A monumental doorway leads to a hallway surrounded on both sides with engaged columns attached to the sidewalls painted green and carved to resemble columns made from bundles of reeds. The limestone roof is painted brown and carved to resemble logs. Clearly this entranceway imitates the type of ritual buildings that Egyptians built of these light materials previous to the Third Dynasty. 
The Great Trench
To paraphrase Verner's description: "...dug in underlying rock, the Great Trench resembles the hieroglyphic sign for h, "gournd plan for a house." It is 750 meters long and about 40 meters wide... is the largest structure of its kind in the Memphis necropolis. Oriented North and South... the southern segment is shorter... but in some parts it is doubled into two trenches with offset openings, making access to the true perimeter wall of the Djoser complex more difficult (en chicane). The trench walls were originally decorated with niches..." 
The Perimeter Wall
The Hypostyle Hall and Entrance Colonnade
The Great South Court
The South Tomb
The Southern Tomb, possibly symbolizing the tomb for Upper Egypt, is a near-duplicate of the underground structures under the pyramid, but without the above ground structures. It consists of one unknown room that scientists and archaeologists can detect, but have not searched yet because it has been sealed. w:Pyramid_of_Djoser
It is situated on the South side between the inner walls of the Great Court and the exterior wall of the Perimeter Bastion Wall. Access to the underground structures was from the West facade and at the terrace level, at about 8.000 meters(?) above the Great Court surface. The structure itself protruded above the terrace level making it probably noticeable to views from the Great Court. It may of had an arched roof. The exposed face material and finish are unknown. Access to the terrace appears to have been from the East Hypostyle Hall or possible from the West Terraces via the North Court. Its orientation is East/West. Above description unless noted otherwise.
The South Tomb at Djoser’s complex is located against the center of the south enclosure wall. Below the building are structures similar to the burial structures under the pyramid, including the vertical shaft leading to the burial chamber and an underground palace decorated with limestone relief sculptures and faience tiles. The vertical shaft in the south tomb replicates the dimensions of the vertical shaft in the pyramid, but the burial vault is so small that it is unclear what could have been buried there. It was only 1.6 by 1.6 meters (5.2 by 5.2 feet) square with a height of 1.3 meters (4.2 feet). Egyptologists have suggested that it could represent the burial of the king’s ka in the form of a statue, the burial of the royal placenta, the burial of the royal crowns, or that it symbolically represented the burial of the king of Upper Egypt. Before this time, the Egyptians buried the king in Abydos in Upper Egypt (southern Egypt). Some Egyptolgoists believe that the south tomb was a reference to this Egyptian tradition, now abandoned. The many possible explanations stem from the fact that so little evidence remains to be interpreted. Egyptologists may never know definitively why such great effort was expended to build the South Tomb. 
The T Temple
(editing) Unlike most structures in Djoser's complex which were filled with rubble, the T Temple had interior rooms where the Pharaoh could prepare himself for rituals and ceremonies. (add description and reconstruction images)
The Sed Festival Complex
South Pavilion and North Pavilion
Unlike the Sed-Hed Court which is adjacent to the Great Court, this compound is located directly adjacent and East of the face of Djoser's Pyramid, the South Pavilion representing upper Egypt and the North Pavilion representing lower (delta) region of Egypt. The locations of these two compounds, the Sed-Hed compound and the Pavilion compound may of signified their importance with regard to ceremonies that were performed there.
Two of the non-functional buildings at Djoser’s complex represent the palaces of Upper and Lower Egypt. They are called the Pavilion of the North and the Pavilion of the South. They are located near the northeast corner of the pyramid, not far from the mortuary temple. The two buildings face each other across an open courtyard. Lauer suggested that the two buildings symbolically represent the palaces Djoser maintained in life as the king of Upper Egypt and the king of Lower Egypt. Both buildings are only façades and may have been buried along with all the dummy buildings in the complex after completion. These buildings attest to the earliest political division in Egyptian thinking, the division between Upper and Lower Egypt. The Egyptians often called their country “The Two Lands” ( tawy ) in reference to this division. The king was actually regarded as a king of two different places that were combined in his person. 
The Mortuary Temple
This temple was situated at the north side of the step pyramid. (Note: Wikipedia has the wrong images and description regarding the Mortuary Temple and doesn't actually describe it at all: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pyramid_of_Djoser )
The Serdab and the Northern Part of the Djoser Complex
The serdab is small room situated at the north side of the pyramid. It is angled at 17 degrees, which exactly matches the inclide of the pyramid.
The serdab has small holes in its north wall. The statue of Djoser was placed in the serdab in antiquity so that he could view the forecourt of the complex through the holes in the wall. The original statue was taken and is now on display in the Cairo Museum. A copy of the original was placed in the serdab.
The West Mounds
Reconstruction Efforts and other Scholarly Research
- M. Verner The Pyramids: The Mystery, Culture, and Science of Egypt's Great Monuments 1997, Grove Press, New York Cite error: Invalid
<ref>tag; name "Verner" defined multiple times with different content
- Wikipedia: Step Pyramid and Ancient Egypt
- http://encyclopedia.jrank.org/articles/pages/26 The North-South Pyramid Complex: King Djoser's Complex at Saqqara
Resources & Outside Links
Specific Sources related directly to the Djoser Pyramid and immediate surrounding area:
- The Pyramids of Egypt Website created by Frank P. Roy. The author states that he "organized the web site into areas of the pyramid sites". Researched material with a page of references.
- EgyptYoyager.com Virtual Tours with info on several highlights of Egypt
- TourEgypt.net: The Step Pyramid of Djoser at Saqqara in Egypt plus much more.
- ZoomAndGo.com Good photographic resource: Cairo, Al Qahirah, Egypt, Cairo - Saqqarah (Sakara) - Djoser Complex.
- Ancient-Egypt.org: Saqqara, City of the Dead A few specific photos not seen elsewhere.
- Sights.Seindal.dk ±48 photos.
Sources with information and images on Djoser Complex, Saqqara Necropolis and other Pyramids:
- Ancient Egyptian Religion with many links to other sites
- Saqqara I - Djoser´s Step Pyramid with many links to other Saqqara structures This has great plans of mastabas and their relationships to particular families, which can help identify a timeline.
- EgyptSites.co.uk: Egyptian Monuments Covers the basics of several main Egyptian sites.
- LATE PREDYNASTIC AND EARLY DYNASTIC EGYPT by FRANCESCO RAFFAELE History of Egypt up to 3rd Dynasty.
- Giza Pyramids The ultimate source for the Giza Plateau. The site gives the reader access to an online library of articles pertaining to the Giza Plateau. Search features allows one to search the database for mastabas, persons, etc.
Comments and Questions
Moved discussion to Talk: Djoser's Step Pyramid in Saqqara. Or click on discussion tab at the top of the page.