A 20-slide description of the pyramid of Djoser, otherwise known as the Step Pyramid of Saqqara or Sakkara. It is believed to be the first major stone building in the world, and one of the tallest structures before the 19th century AD.
The Pyramid of pharaoh Djoser, sometimes called the Step Pyramid at Sakkara or Saqqara, is the first major stone building in the world. About 200 feet high, it covers an area of 358 x410 feet. Though not a true pyramid, it represented an important step in the development of the pyramids of Giza, and of Egypt in general.
Sakkara, or Saqqara, is on the west bank of the Nile across from Memphis, the early royal capital of Egypt. It is south of Giza, where the main group of pyramids are, and north of Dashur and Meidum, another important royal burial place. These royal necropolises stand on the boundary line between North/Lower Egypt and South/Upper Egypt, and helped to unite the two lands.
The pyramid is imposing, but up close it shows that it was constructed of many small blocks of stone, as opposed to the imposing 2.5 ton blocks of the later pyramids.
It originally began as a simple Mastaba style tomb. Mastabas, named after the Arabic word for a &#x201C;bench&#x201D;, were flat-roofed buildings of mud bricks that covered over tombs dug out of the rock below them. They often contained a simple shrine or chapel to the family that was buried below.
Pharaoh Djoser, which name means &#x201C;strong right arm&#x201D; or something like that (Strong in arm and Speech?) ruled for two decades. His simple cartouche, and statue, show a strong fierce man that no one wanted to upset. He probably convinced his architect to build something grander than a mere mastaba.
The architect, a man named Imhotep, was regarded by later Egyptians as a god for his success.
Imhotep took the simple mastaba built of stone, and covered it over with a &#x201C;wedding cake&#x201D; or stepped pyramid. An even larger stepped pyramid was built on top of that.
Beneath the pyramid, an elaborate network of chambers and tunnels either hid the pharaoh&#x2019;s tomb, or served as storage space for his property, or gave his soul somewhere to wander after death.
Many of the chambers were finished off with blue faience tiles, but not all... the pharaoh may have died before all the decoration was completed. Within the pyramid itself, a small chamber called the Serdab hid a statue of Djoser, where holes allowed him to look out at the world.
A vast complex of buildings, enclosed by a fortified stone wall, surrounded the pyramid. Among these buildings was a nominal palace for the spirit of the dead king, a series of chapels to the major Egyptian gods (that were dwarfed by the pyramid itself), and the Heb-Sed court, where pharaohs of later dynasties ran ceremonial races to ensure their place on the throne.
The pyramid complex today looks like this... the last remnants of Djoser&#x2019;s quest for immortality.
The whole of the complex is designed to emphasize the smallness of visiting mortals.
Within, the decorations are designed to convey that Djoser is king of two lands &#x2014; the columns look like papyrus, which grows only in northern Egypt. The cobras were the symbol of southern Egypt. The king himself is shown with symbols that convey his might and power.
The myriad buildings and structures are built without mortar or cement.... just like the dozen other pyramids within line-of-sight of the top of the Step Pyramid.
The architect and his successors learned a lot about construction techniques, and immediately experimented with larger blogs of stone in their next several construction projects. These efforts were not always successful. Some, like the pyramid at Meidum, collapsed.
Others developed such structural defects that their angle of ascent had to change in order to be successful, even partway through the construction process.
After Pharaoh Sneferu, who had three pyramids built for him &#x2014; none of them particularly good or successful, and all with structural defects &#x2014; the pharaohs began to choose dedicated architects, who thought about engineering as much as they thought about the divinities the pyramids were supposed to please.
The result was a newfound confidence that became apparent at Giza, where three major pyramids and a host of minor ones were constructed over three lifetimes.
Step Pyramid of Djoser
The step pyramid of Djoser
Sakkara: a Royal City
• At boundary between Upper
Egypt and Lower Egypt
• Closer to Upper Egypt
• "Near" the Faiyum — an
artificial oasis off the Nile
• Across the river from Memphis
— the royal palace and Egypt's
• Arabic for "bench"
• Early Egyptian tomb
• Temple inside building
• Building covers shaft-grave
• Shaft-grave is rock-cut, below
• Pharaoh, 2868 - 2649 BC
• Name means "strong in arm and
• Convinces his architect to
expand on the Mastaba design.
• Long, peaceful reign permits the
construction to go on
Imhotep the Architect
• Contemporary with Djoser
• First builds stone Mastaba
• Then builds small "wedding
cake" on top of it
• Then expands wedding cake to
Three Phases of Constuction
• Gray= first
• Traditional rock-
Most Complex Underground
• Original centric shaft of the
• Sloping tunnel to tomb from
mortuary temple outside
• Numerous branching rooms
• Pyramid surrounded by complex or compound of builidings.
• For priests? Scholars? The next pharaoh?
The Big Picture
• Complete compound represents 20 years of constant effort
Next Generation of Pharaohs
• Go for smooth sided pyramids
• Not steps
• Use larger stones
• Get construction details wrong
• Like here at Mediyun
Bent Pyramid, Dashur
• Built for Pharaoh
• Along with two others —
Mediyum and Red
Bent Pyramid, Dashur
• Built at too steep an angle
• Pyramid had to be re-
engineered before it collapsed
• Plenty of experience building
bad pyramids — they collapsed,
they cracked, they fell apart
• Engineers got good at their jobs
Upcoming Project: Giza
• How do the Egyptians build a pyramid out of stones the size of
VW Beetles, each weighing more than a Dodge Ram 1500?