|Pharaoh Djoser’s step pyramid is not as popular as the Great Pyramids of Giza. Outwardly, it is not as attractive to the average tourist as the pyramid of Cheops or the pyramid of Khafre. In size, it can be compared with the third in Giza – the Menkaur pyramid.
Great news! From March 2020, the Djoser pyramid is again open to tourists. The restoration is finally over, and now you can see everything interesting inside. True, it was closed almost immediately due to the coronavirus, but very quickly it was opened back.
And one more great news! Since September 2021, the South Tomb near the pyramid has been opened after restoration. We can say that the restoration of the entire burial complex has been completed. It’s time to go to see Sakkara.
The height of the Djoser pyramid is 62 meters, the base measures 109 by 125 meters. This monument has a stepped shape of 6 levels. The total volume of the stone inside is 330,400 cubic meters. It really does seem “small” in comparison with the tomb of Cheops, which is 138 meters high and has a volume of 2.5 million cubic meters.
But. For lovers of the history of ancient Egypt, it is she who is of the greatest interest of all. They would trade one trip to her underground tunnels for visiting all the other pyramids combined.
The tomb of Pharaoh Djoser is unique not only for its stepped shape, but also for many others, which we will discuss in this article. Let’s start with how to get here and how much the entrance costs.
How to get there
The pyramid of Djoser is located in the center of the Saqqara burial complex, 25 kilometers south of the city of Giza.
The easiest way to get from Giza (or from Cairo) to Sakkara is by taxi, it will cost 80-100 Egyptian pounds. However, do not forget that you need to not only come here, but also go back. Therefore, we do not recommend letting the taxi driver go. Better to pay for a simple car and return trip. The total trip will cost 160 pounds and 20 pounds for each hour of waiting.
Buses to Sakkara do not run, only to nearby villages. You will have to walk several kilometers from the stop – a dubious pleasure. We do not recommend this method.
And, of course, you can come here as part of an organized excursion group. This is the cheapest option, but your time in Saqqara will be limited.
What’s the cover charge
Entry to the Saqqara archaeological site is subject to a fee of 180 Egyptian pounds.
View Jeser Pyramid inside – £ 100 extra.
Many tourists say that they entered the necropolis and / or the pyramid for free. There was simply no staff at the entrance to sell tickets. Egyptians are generally not very disciplined, and on distant attractions, the staff and even more so.
Attention! In Saqqara, there are scammers who practice deceptions: “It is forbidden to take photos here”, “Put things in your bag on a camel”, “You have a fake ticket”. Be vigilant, read our review “Deceptions of tourists in Egypt”.
There are nuances to visiting Sakkara. It is the largest burial complex in Lower Egypt and has not yet been excavated. Archaeologists are still working, and Sakkara is not always open to tourists. Or some parts of the necropolis may be temporarily closed.
This is the advantage of an organized excursion, as you can be sure that the complex will be open. If you are driving on your own, you will “play the lottery”.
From 8-00 to 16-00 daily.
How much time to plan to visit
If you are only interested in the pyramid of Djoser, then one hour will be enough for you to examine it. If you are still interested in the burial complex around, then 3 hours will definitely be enough. If you want to see the whole of Saqqara, then plan for the whole day.
Features of this tourist attraction
Sakkara is not popular with tourists, and there is no tourist infrastructure at all. There are no cafes, restaurants or souvenir shops. Some locals earn money here with tourist services and fraud. Consider this and do not give them money.
There is almost nowhere to hide from the sun. Stock up on hats, sunscreen, and water in advance. Of course, there is a chance that you will meet a private trader who will sell you a can of water at an exorbitant price, but you should not seriously count on this.
The Djoser pyramid itself was in very poor condition. Reconstruction began in 2006, and many of the photos show the scaffolding. On March 6, 2020, the pyramid was inaugurated to the public, attended by Minister of Antiquities and Tourism Khaled el-Enani and Egyptian Prime Minister Mostafa Madbuli.
It was opened and almost immediately closed due to the coronavirus. And then they reopened from July 1, 2020.
All of Saqqara is still a huge archaeological site. Not all parts of the burial complex are open, and in some places you risk falling into some kind of mine. Be careful and watch your step.
There is an opinion among tourists that it is dangerous to travel to Sakkara, and even more dangerous to travel to Dakhshur, which is located even south of Sakkara. Of course, a trip through the desert always comes with some risks. On the other hand, thousands of tourists visit Sakkara every year, and there have been no high-profile kidnappings in recent years. In any case, it is our responsibility to inform our readers of the potential threat.
Djoser’s pyramid is unique – it is the first pyramid in Egypt
Before the pyramid of Djoser, the Egyptians built “mastabs” – these are low rectangular burial structures. For the first time, Djoser put several mastabas on top of each other and got a pyramidal structure.
The shape of the pyramid is symbolic – it is a “staircase to heaven”, along which the soul of the deceased can climb up to meet Osiris and other gods.
It was the tomb of Djoser that set an example for subsequent rulers and became the prototype of all the Egyptian pyramids.
The stepped surface gave way to a smooth one in the later tombs of the pharaohs. The Djoser pyramid remained the only stepped pyramid in all of Egypt. After Djoser, the pharaohs began to build similar stepped pyramids, but they all ruled for a short time and did not have time to finish their tombs. The first who succeeded was the pharaoh of the 4th dynasty – Sneferu, and his Broken and Pink pyramids were already smooth.
Another innovation was the location of this royal tomb. All the rulers of the 1st and 2nd dynasties were buried in the city of Abydos. Djoser broke this tradition for the first time and founded the Saqqara burial complex in the south of the capital of ancient Egypt – Memphis.
Unique – the first monumental stone building in Egypt
Before Djoser, all mastabas were built from raw bricks. This is not the best building material, and it is not surprising that all these mastabas are now in a deplorable state or have not survived at all.
Djoser was the first to use the stone. Limestone blocks were mined near Sakkara and processed locally. The blocks for the inner part of the pyramid were roughly processed, the voids between them were filled with construction waste and clay. Blocks facing outward were carefully processed.
Some guides say that this is the first large stone structure in the world, but this is not at all the case. The first stone monumental building is recognized as Barnenes in France, which is 6.5 thousand years old.
Unique – we know the architect
The architects of the Egyptian pyramids are unknown; history has not preserved their names. But Djoser’s tomb is an exception. It was built by the chief minister Djoser, his name was Imhotep. Surprisingly, he became more famous than Pharaoh Djoser himself. Thanks to the Mummy movie trilogy, he became one of the most famous Egyptians.
Imhotep was a universal scientist, however, in those days in ancient Egypt there were no scientific specialties at all. All educated people were engaged in all kinds of knowledge at the same time.
Imhotep received a great honor – his name is written on the statues of the pharaoh and is often found in the burial complex. However, his tomb has not yet been found. Perhaps we still have a grandiose archaeological discovery in the future.
Imhotep was deified after death, and he was worshiped as the god of medicine. The sick gathered in his temples in the hope of miraculous healing. The cult of Imhotep survived until the era of the Roman Empire. The figurine from the Louvre (Paris) in the photo on the left is from a later era. She does not pretend to be accurate in depicting Imhotep, but rather a cult object.
Unique – construction progress
The Djoser pyramid was built in 4 stages – this is a record for such structures. These stages can be seen with the naked eye even now. In different places of the building there are slightly different masonry, different preservation of structural elements, the configuration of underground tunnels and chambers exactly indicates these stages to us.
At first, a mastaba was built for Pharaoh Djoser, but not of brick, but of stone. Apparently, he did not like her size. In the second step, the mastaba was increased in width and length.
At the third stage, three more mastabs were built on top, and the first version of the pyramid with 4 tiers was obtained.
Probably, the size again did not satisfy the pharaoh, and it was completed – increased in length and width and added 2 more tiers on top. You can see the result now if you go on an excursion to this attraction.
It was the construction of stone that allowed Djoser and Imhotep to build on the tiers from above. A brick structure just couldn’t have stood it. Apparently, they did not immediately understand the enormous potential of stone structures, awareness came to them gradually. Hence the four stages of construction.
Unique – “home” for the whole family
All the royal Egyptian pyramids meant the burial of only one person – the Pharaoh himself. All but one. The Djoser pyramid inherited the mastab ideology and was the burial place not only for the ruler, but also for his wives and daughters.
Now we do not know exactly how many members of the royal family were buried inside. We can say for sure that no less than 12.
The mines on the eastern side of the pyramid are very interesting. These shafts are 32 meters deep, deeper than the main shaft for the pharaoh (28 meters). Who was buried below under this mine, now it is difficult to say for sure.
There is a very bold assumption that this was the grief of the pharaoh. In this case, the number of “inhabitants” of the tomb could have been more than a hundred.
A more believable version is the treasure trove. In total, more than 40,000 items for various purposes were found in the pyramid. If the pyramid of Djoser had not been plundered in antiquity, even more items would have survived.
Unique – underground tunnels
In total, under this monument, scientists have counted more than 5.5 kilometers of tunnels, and inside you can really get lost. The Pyramid of Cheops is just a few hundred meters of tunnels. The pyramid of Khafre is about a hundred meters. Even the Great Pyramids pale in comparison to Djoser’s tomb.
Unique – decoration of burial rooms
Many tourists enter the Cheops pyramid with lust, and leave disappointed. There are no inscriptions, no frescoes, or bas-reliefs on the walls of the tunnels. The pyramids of the 4th dynasty (Sneferu, Cheops, Khafren, Menkaur) look very boring inside.
This is not the case for the Josser pyramid. The burial chamber and tunnels are lined with tiles of turquoise and green colors, and they look mesmerizing. In the photo on the right is a photo from a museum in San Jose (USA), these tiles are from the Djoser pyramid.
Tiles in ancient Egypt were very similar to our modern ceramic tiles. Only our tiles would not have lasted in place for 4600 years, and the tiles in the tomb of Pharaoh Djoser have survived, although half of them have already flown off.
Inside, on the walls, there are several bas-reliefs depicting the pharaoh and the gods. The bas-reliefs are very well preserved, as they were carved into the surface of the granite blocks that make up the walls and roof of the pharaoh’s burial chamber.
Inside, archaeologists have found fragments of the sarcophagus of Pharaoh Djoser. They were identified by the applied names of the queens. The symbols of the five-pointed star are found in the tomb. This symbol in ancient Egypt was considered the emblem of the world of the dead. Subsequently, such stars were no longer used in Egyptian symbolism.
Can you get inside?
From March 6, 2020, you can already get inside. The reconstruction lasted 14 years and is finally completed.
Inside you can see everything: the sarcophagus, bas-reliefs, and tiles. Most of the tunnels are open to visitors. Light was brought inside, and now it is a pleasure to look at the pyramid inside. You can see firsthand what the Egyptians spent 103 million Egyptian pounds on (the cost of the restoration).
Important and useful to know
– Near the necropolis there is the village of Sakkara. There you can have a snack or go to the store. There are also several guest houses in the village, and if you wish, you can come to Sakkara with an overnight stay;
– We recommend changing your money back in Cairo. Read our review “Currency Exchange in Egypt”;
– If you want to save money on taxi, then take the metro to El Monib station – the southernmost on the orange line.
Pyramid of Djoser