At the World’s Oldest Pyramid: A Day at Saqqara

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Saqqara is the most important part of the cemetery of the ancient residence of Memphis.
Memphis (Greek for Mennof Ra’) was the capital of the first province of Lower Egypt. Only Thebes in the South was comparable in importance and splendor to Memphis.

In the early 2nd dynasty, the royal necropolis (city of dead) moved from Abydos to Saqqara, which derives its name from the funerary god Sokar.
The necropolis has pyramids, tombs and monuments from almost every period from the Early Dynastic Period down to the Greco-Roman times, but it remains most famous for monuments from the Third, Fifth and Sixth Dynasties.

The visitor to the present-day site of Saqqara can enjoy several attractions, the most extraordinary of which are the Step Pyramid of Djoser (the world’s oldest pyramid), the Pyramid of Teti (accessible through a steep causeway), the Pyramid of Unas (with the earliest pyramid text in history), the Tomb of Mereruka, the Tomb of the Butchers and the Tomb of the Brothers (Khnumhotep and Niankhkhnum), all featuring very interesting paintings depicting scenes from daily life in Ancient Egypt.

The Step Pyramid of Djoser (Pyramid of Saqqara)
Djoser is the founder of the 3rd Dynasty. His Step Pyramid is the first ever built and the oldest stone building of its type (built around 2660 B.C.). The Pyramid is 62 meters high and consists of 6 “mastabas”. It was constructed by Imhotep, a genius physician and architect, later venerated by Greeks as “Esculapius”.

The Tomb of Irukaptah (The Butcher’s Tomb)
This is the tomb of Irukaptah, the Master Butcher of the King. It comes as no surprise that the walls are loaded with scenes of butchers at different ‘stages’ of their job: tying up an animal, cutting through its chest, dismembering it, and carrying offerings to the king.

Nevertheless, the interesting thing about this Tomb is a row of 14 statues sculpted in niches, looking almost identical. Some interpret them as self-portraits of Irukptah, tracing different stage of his life: a visual diary that starts with the young butcher, and ends with the same man whose back is a bit hunched as a sign of old age.

The Tomb of the Brothers (Khnumhotep and Niankhkhnum)
The fashion industry and the ‘beauty centers’ are nothing new or modern. Khnumhotep and Niankhkhnum were the Overseers of the Royal Manicurists during the 5th Dynasty some 4,400 years ago!

They are depicted in a very unusual pose on the inner walls of their tomb, as they seem to embrace, with their noses touching. This led provoked a debate about whether they were gays. Other scenes featuring them both with their wives seem to present a counter-argument, but the controversy lingers on.
Brothers (or lovers) apart, there are scenes of men milking cows or acting as ‘midwives’ as they help some cows ‘deliver’ calves.

The Tomb of Mereruka
This tomb belongs to an important vizier from the 6th Dynasty. It has some unique paintings, the highlights among which are the goldsmiths’ scenes. Next come the depictions of men standing in their boats and hunting hippopotamuses in the Nile (or keeping them at bay).

The wealth of details and the realism employed in painting the different species of fish is awe-inspiring to say the least.

The Tomb of Idut

This 5th Dynasty tomb shows a spectacular scene of men in papyrus boats tricking their cattle into crossing a canal: they take a calf away from its mother by the canal, then sail away slowly, thus forcing the poor mother to follow them venturing into the water. The entire herd follows, and the job is done.

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