|Sakkara is the largest burial complex in Lower Egypt near the ancient capital Memphis. It is one of the largest archaeological sites in the country, and sealed tombs are still found here. Unfortunately, Saqqara is underestimated by the tourism industry, although there are many interesting things for tourists. Let’s start our story with the title.
In March 2020, the main monument in Saqqara, the pyramid of Djoser, reopened to visitors. The restoration is over, and now you can see everything interesting inside. True, the necropolis was almost immediately closed due to the coronavirus, but was quickly reopened.
The official version says that the name “Sakkara” comes from the name of the ancient Egyptian god Sokar.
Sokar (Saker) was the god of the underworld in Memphis. He was venerated in the Old Kingdom, until his cult gradually began to be supplanted by the cult of Osiris.
It is worth noting one important feature of the ancient Egyptian writing. Ancient hieroglyphs display only consonants, and there are simply no vowels in the inscriptions. Egyptologists add all vowels themselves, based on experience and their own understanding.
Now we cannot say exactly how any word was read. Therefore, both versions “Saker” and “Sokar” have equal rights to exist.
Of course, it is beneficial for the Egyptians to support this version, as it is more attractive to tourists. Egyptologists also prefer the more romantic version of the ancient god. But there is a more plausible version of the origin of the name “Sakkara”, it comes from the name of the local Berber tribe “Beni Sakkar”.
The main thing that is interesting for Sakkara
There are many historical sights in Egypt, but they all belong to a certain period. For example, if you enter the Karnak Temple, you will notice that its elements are made in the same style of the New Kingdom era. All the Egyptian pyramids of Giza are similar to each other, this is the era of the Old Kingdom.
In Saqqara, there are monuments of all dynasties from the 1st to the 31st and also the Hellenistic period of the Ptolemaic dynasty. This is the only such place in the world. The Cairo Museum displays exhibits from all dynasties, but these are artifacts, not monuments.
A bit of history
Some burials in Saqqara date from the 1st and 2nd dynasties of the pharaohs, which suggests that the burial complex arose in the pre-dynastic period. Until the 27th century BC e. it was the burial place of the noble and wealthy citizens of the city of Memphis.
Pharaoh Djoser of the III Dynasty was the first of the Egyptian pharaohs to start building a tomb at Saqqara. Before him, all the pharaohs were buried in the city of Abydos.
He erected the first pyramid in Egypt, which has survived here to this day. It is the step pyramid of Djoser that is the main local attraction.
After Djoser, the pharaohs of the IV dynasty built pyramids north of Sakkara, on the Giza plateau. The pyramid of Cheops, the pyramid of Khafre and the pyramid of Mikerin is known to all tourists. The Sakkara necropolis was temporarily forgotten.
After Pharaoh Mikerin, the rulers of the 5th and 6th dynasties again build pyramids in Saqqara. We do not know the reasons for such changes in the fashion for the location of tombs; very few written sources have remained from the Old Kingdom. In total, 16 pharaohs are buried here, possibly more.
In subsequent periods of Egyptian history, tombs of noble people were arranged in Saqqara. Here he built himself a tomb of Horemheb, who was the commander of the armed forces under the pharaoh Tutankhamun. After the death of Tutankhamun, the courtier Eya usurped power, and Horemheb removed him. However, Horemheb himself made a new tomb for himself in the Valley of the Kings, and his wives are buried in Sakkara.
In all eras of ancient Egypt, rich and noble Egyptians were buried in Saqqara. As a result, the necropolis has grown to a record size of 6 by 1.5 kilometers. But not always new tombs were built for the dead. In the era of the Ptolemies, new sarcophagi were placed in old tombs, the idea of a “communal apartment” is truly immortal.
Now archaeologists are actively working in Sakkara. In tombs, mummies of the Old Kingdom and other eras are almost always found side by side. The mummies of the Old Kingdom look just awful. Often these are not even mummies, but their remains, torn to shreds.
Sakkara was completely plundered at the beginning of the 2nd millennium BC. in the first transition period. The robbers looked for amulets made of precious metals in the mummies’ shroud and did not stand on ceremony.
Several intact Old Kingdom tombs with intact mummies have been found in Saqqara. Such finds are a great success, and they instantly become famous all over the world. Of course, such a “catch” as in the tomb of Tutankhamun has never been found in Sakkara, but some of the finds are of great value for science.
The most famous find among Egyptologists is the “Sakkar List” of 58 pharaohs of ancient Egypt. It lists the kings from the 1st to the 19th dynasty. This list is incomplete, but it gave us a lot to determine the chronology of Egyptian history.
What to see for tourists in Sakkara
First of all, first of all, in Egypt, there is a large pyramid, where inside you can really wander through the many rooms. This is a unique pyramid and a unique experience as the Great Pyramids of Giza have only narrow passages and nothing more. Read our detailed article “Step Pyramid of Djoser”.
In addition to the pyramid of Djoser, there are pyramids of the pharaohs of the 5th and 6th dynasties, they are smaller in size. The largest of them is the pyramid of Pharaoh Unas (pictured on the left).
All these pyramids were no longer built from stone blocks, but from rubble and clay. Limestone blocks were still used, but not as the main building material, but to give a beautiful appearance.
All these pyramids look sad now. Many tourists do not even go to see them, paying more attention to temples, mastabs and a museum.
Around the pyramid of Djoser is a large burial complex with an area of 15 hectares. On the north side of the pyramid, you can see a small “serdab” structure. Through the openings in this building, gifts were brought to the deceased Pharaoh.
Inside there is a statue of Pharaoh Djoser. This is a copy, and the original can be viewed in the Cairo Museum. This statue is the first Egyptian full-length sculpture of a human. She was found here during the expedition of 1924-25.
The complex was fenced off by a 10.5 meter high wall, which is now almost completely destroyed. In some places, this wall can still be seen.
There were 14 doors in the wall, and only one in the south corner was a real entrance. The rest of the doors are false, they had ritual significance. These doors were considered to be a transition between the worlds of the living and the dead. The ancients believed that the deceased pharaoh could enter the complex through any of them, if necessary.
The colonnade leading to the southern square is well preserved. These columns reached 6.5 meters in height. When tourists see them, they think they are Greek. In reality, this is the work of Egyptian craftsmen, and these columns are 4,500 years old. At that time in Greece there was not even a “scent” of any columns, Minoan palaces in Crete were just emerging.
We will not describe in detail the rest of the objects on the territory of Sakkara. There are a lot of interesting things here, come and see. Let’s dwell on how you can get here.
How to get there
The easiest way to visit Sakkara is as part of an excursion group. It’s cheaper and easier that way. The only negative is the time limit for staying in the necropolis. You will definitely not have time to watch all the interesting things.
You can independently get here by taxi. From Kiara to Sakkara about 25 kilometers, the trip will cost from 80 to 100 Egyptian pounds one way. But keep in mind that you still have to go back, and it is difficult to catch a taxi in Sakkara itself for the return journey. Better to pay the driver a downtime – £ 20 per hour.
Buses run to Sakkara, but they stop in the village, not on the plateau. Climbing to the necropolis is not the most fun activity.
What’s the cover charge
Entrance fee to the necropolis is 180 Egyptian pounds.
A ticket to the inside of the Djoser pyramid is another 100 Egyptian pounds.
Some tourists say that they were not charged a fee at the entrance to the necropolis and / or pyramid. Apparently, the security is working there “slipshod”.
What time is the attraction open for visiting
From 8-00 to 16-00. Mummies have no weekends or lunch breaks.
How much time to plan to visit Sakkara
If you want to see the Djoser pyramid and the most interesting objects, then two hours will be more than enough. If you want to see everything in Saqqara, then plan a whole day. The latter will be of interest to lovers of ancient history. According to experience, an ordinary tourist gets bored with Sakkara already at the third hour of the inspection.
Many finds from Sakkara can be viewed in the local museum named after the priest Imhotep. His image is well known to tourists thanks to the films “The Mummy”, he became one of the most famous Egyptians in history. It was Imhotep who was the architect of the Djoser pyramid, and after his death he was deified.
The museum has six rooms. In the first room there is a statue of Djoser, which has been partially preserved. She welcomes visitors. This statue is notable for the fact that the name of Imhotep can be found on it. The mention of a minister on a statue of a pharaoh is a rare honor.
The rest of the rooms display interesting artifacts found by archaeologists in Saqqara. The fourth hall is of particular interest. Here you can see the elements of the tiles from the Djoser pyramid in case you don’t have time (or don’t want to) go inside the pyramid.
The sixth room is dedicated to the most famous archaeologist who worked on the excavations in Saqqara – Jean-Philippe Lauer (pictured on the right). He worked here for 75 years.
Almost everything that you will see in Saqqara has been excavated by expeditions led by this man. He spent his last expedition at the age of over 90! Egyptian workers nicknamed him “forgotten by the gods”, because, apparently, the gods forgot to call this archaeologist into the afterlife. Jean-Philippe Lauer passed away in Paris in 2001 at the age of 99.
Songs of the Pyramids
Probably many readers have heard of the “Pyramid Texts” or “Pyramid Songs”. These are texts of religious content, telling about the ideas of the Egyptians about the afterlife, the procedures for gaining this second life, about the gods and pharaohs.
Many tourists eagerly enter the Cheops pyramid in Giza, hoping to see these inscriptions. But alas. There are no inscriptions at all.
Until the 5th Dynasty, there were no traditions to cover the walls of tombs with frescoes and bas-reliefs. This custom only emerged in the 24th century. During this period, all the pharaohs were buried here. “Songs of the Pyramids” are found only in Sakkara, and nowhere else.
Tourists are not allowed into the pyramids of the 5th and 6th dynasties, and this is for the best. They have suffered greatly from time and it is not safe to be there.
It’s a pity, but you won’t be able to watch the “songs of the pyramids”.
Important and useful to know
– If you want to save a little, then in Cairo take the metro to El Monib station, which is the last on the orange line (in the south). From here, a taxi will be cheaper. For the subway map, see our article “Metro Cairo”;
– It is better to change dollars and euros for Egyptian pounds in advance in Cairo. Read our in-depth review “How to Change Money in Egypt”;
– Near the necropolis is the village of Sakkara. There are cafes, shops and even a couple of guest houses. If you wish, you can come to Sakkara for two days.
Necropolis of Saqqara