The Step Pyramid of Djoser at Sakkara
KING’S BURIAL CHAMBERBeneath the step pyramid is a bewildering array of tunnels and chambers, the centre of which is a 90-foot-deep (28 meters) shaft that, at its bottom, contains the burial chamber of King Djoser. Recent conservation work in the burial chamber reveals fragments of the king’s granite sarcophagus, the names of queens still legible. “The step pyramid is the only pyramid in the Old Kingdom that 11 of the king’s daughters were buried inside,” said Egyptologist Zahi Hawass, former minister of state for antiquities, in a 2009 video discussing conservation work at the pyramid. The vault would have initially been decorated with limestone blocks containing five-pointed stars, creating a star-filled ceiling. However, for reasons unknown, this decoration was scrapped by its builders in favour of a simpler granite burial chamber. Tunnels and underground 'palace' Two passages lead underground and branch off in three directions. They contain three magazine galleries, a special tunnel for food offerings, and an uncompleted chamber that may have acted as an underground “palace” of sorts, albeit one for the afterlife. Three false doors contain stele showing the king engaged in rituals. The chamber is decorated with thousands of blue faience tiles imitating the reed matting found in the king’s real-life palace in Memphis. This chamber beneath the pyramid was hastily completed. Yet another tunnel, starting on the east side of the pyramid, contains 40,000 stone vessels, many of them belonging to the king’s ancestors. Sarcophagi and human remains were also found. Modern-day conservation The step pyramid is in a fragile state with estimates suggesting that, without conservation work, the tunnels beneath the pyramid could collapse, the monument being largely gone in a couple of decades. An Egyptian-led conservation effort began several years ago and recently a British engineering company called Cintec was called in to aid with efforts. They used giant airbags to hold up the pyramid’s roof while permanent repairs to the structure of the pyramid are carried out. Mark of respect The construction of the step pyramid would see the beginning of an ambitious pyramid building program that would culminate with the Great Pyramids at Giza. Imhotep, the man attributed with designing the step pyramid, would eventually be regarded as a sort of god. Egyptologist Marc Van De Mieroop writes in his book A History of Ancient Egypt, that king Djoser (Netjerykhet) gave Imhotep a rare honour, allowing his name and titles to be carved on the base of one the king’s statues. One of his titles calls him “chief of sculptors,” a phrase fitting for someone who designed the first Egyptian pyramid.
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