Saqqara, also spelled Sakkara or Saccara in English is a vast, ancient burial ground in Egypt, serving as the necropolis for the Ancient Egyptian capital, Memphis. Saqqara features numerous pyramids, including the world famous Step pyramid of Djoser, sometimes referred to as the Step Tomb due to its rectangular base, as well as a number of mastabas (Arabic word meaning ‘bench’). Located some 30 km (19 mi) south of modern-day Cairo, Saqqara covers an area of around 7 by 1.5 km (4.3 by 0.93 mi).
At Saqqara, the oldest complete stone building complex known in history was built: Djoser’s step pyramid, built during the third dynasty. Another 16 Egyptian kings built pyramids at Saqqara, which are now in various states of preservation or dilapidation. High officials added private funeral monuments to this necropolis during the entire pharaonic period. It remained an important complex for non-royal burials and cult ceremonies for more than 3,000 years, well into Ptolemaic and Roman times.
North of the area known as Saqqara lies Abusir; south lies Dahshur. The area running from Giza to Dahshur has been used as necropolis by the inhabitants of Memphis at different times, and it has been designated as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1979.
Contrary to popular belief, the name Saqqara is not derived from the ancient Egyptian funerary god Sokar, but from the Beni Saqqar who are a local Berber tribe. Their name means “Sons of Saqqar.” Since they are not indigenous to the area it would not follow that they would fashion themselves as being born of an ancient Egyptian god whose identity was unknown until the age of archaeology.
The earliest burials of nobles can be traced back to the First Dynasty, at the north side of the Saqqara plateau. During this time, the royal burial ground was at Abydos. The first royal burials at Saqqara, comprising underground galleries, date to the Second Dynasty. The last Second Dynasty king Khasekhemwy was buried in his tomb at Abydos, but also built a funerary monument at Saqqara consisting of a large rectangular enclosure, known as Gisr el-Mudir. It probably inspired the monumental enclosure wall around the Step Pyramid complex. Djoser’s funerary complex, built by the royal architect Imhotep, further comprises a large number of dummy buildings and a secondary mastaba (the so-called ‘Southern Tomb’). French architect and Egyptologist Jean-Philippe Lauer spent the greater part of his life excavating and restoring Djoser’s funerary complex.
Early Dynastic monuments
- tomb of king Hotepsekhemwy
- tomb of king Nynetjer
- Buried Pyramid, funerary complex of king Sekhemkhet
- Gisr el-Mudir, funerary complex of king Khasekhemwy
- Step Pyramid, funerary complex of king Djoser
Nearly all Fourth Dynasty kings chose a different location for their pyramids. During the second half of the Old Kingdom, under the Fifth and Sixth Dynasties, Saqqara was again the royal burial ground. The Fifth and Sixth Dynasty pyramids are not built of massive stone, but with a core consisting of rubble. They are consequently less well preserved than the world famous pyramids built by the Fourth Dynasty kings at Giza. Unas, the last ruler of the Fifth Dynasty, was the first king to adorn the chambers in his pyramid with Pyramid Texts. It was custom for courtiers during the Old Kingdom to be buried in mastaba tombs close to the pyramid of their king. Clusters of private tombs were thus formed in Saqqara around the pyramid complexes of Unas and Teti .
Old Kingdom monuments
- Mastabet el-Fara’un, tomb of king Shepseskaf (Dynasty 4)
- pyramid complex of king Userkaf (Dynasty 5)
- Haram el-Shawaf, pyramid complex of king Djedkare
- pyramid of king Menkauhor
- mastaba of Ti
- mastaba of the Two Brothers (Khnumhotep and Niankhkhnum)
- pyramid complex of king Unas
- mastaba of Ptahhotep
- pyramid complex of king Teti (Dynasty 6)
- mastaba of Mereruka
- mastaba of Kagemni
- Mastaba of Akhethetep
- pyramid complex of king Pepi I
- pyramid complex of king Merenre
- pyramid complex of king Pepi II