The sun of the Third Dynasty had not yet risen in the sky of ancient Egypt. Even then, the main raw materials for building a building, building, tomb were clay bricks, wood or reeds. The current chain was broken by the first pharaoh of the third dynasty, Jose. During his reign, the Step-Pyramid at Saqqara is claimed to be the first building in the world, built entirely of stone. Prior to this, the use of stone in building construction in ancient Egypt was limited to the construction of doors or main burial chambers. About 4,700 years ago, this step-pyramid was designed by the ancient Egyptian architect Imhotep. He served as chancellor to the pharaohs of Egypt. He was also the chief priest of the temple of the sun god ‘Ra’. He is considered one of the greatest architects, engineers and physicians of the ancient world.
During the reign of Djoser, the main tomb of the pharaohs was at Abydos. Because the Egyptians at that time believed that the god Osiris was buried in Abydos. But the tombs of the kings of the First Dynasty left little empty space at Abydos. Therefore, many pharaohs of the Second Dynasty built their own tombs in Saqqara. Also, because Saqqara was located very close to the capital Memphis, Pharaoh Jose chose Saqqara as his burial place. As the entire pyramid was to be built of stone, it required a skilled workforce. But the workers who were involved in the construction of the Step-Pyramid of Djoser could not be called slaves. Because slavery had not yet started in Egypt.
The step-pyramid had to be perfected by passing through various steps. At first, Imhotep wanted to build a simple mastaba (a rectangular ancient Egyptian tomb made of mud brick or stone, with sloping walls and a flat roof). Then most of the mastabas were 30-40 feet high. But Imhotep thought the height needed to be increased. So he devised a plan in keeping with ancient Egyptian religion—first a mound of sand would be built over the grave. It would represent a dune rising from a primordial body of water, essentially creating a unique mix of creation and re-creation. The mud brick mastaba will then be transformed into a stone tower. And then the mounds of sand will serve as holy steps, The stairs up which the pharaoh would join the imperishable constellations of space. Thus he wanted to infuse Egypt’s first stone architecture with religious ideas. Early mastabas were carved with inscriptions and reeds. Imhotep thought nothing of the exception. But he wanted these arts and crafts to be subtle, clear.
The entire pyramid complex was surrounded by a high wall, about 30 feet high. It was built in imitation of the Early Dynastic facade. The total number of doors in the wall was 14, of which 1 was a false door. An entrance was allotted to the survivors. It was built on the south-east side, corresponding to the Early Dynastic period. The False Doors were built for the Pharaoh’s spirit ‘Ka’.
The moat outside the walls was 2,460 feet long and 130 feet wide, the largest in the Memphis area at the time. The axis of this rectangular moat was along north-south. Intricately designed moats and false doors were originally provided to prevent unwanted entry. As a result, the entrant had to read through the maze. Therefore, anyone who wanted to enter the complex had to be told the entry rules.
From the main entrance, a 22-foot-high pillared, roofed narrow passage led to the interior of the complex. There were 20 pillars on this narrow path, made in imitation of reeds. Imhotep, the engineer of the Step-Pyramid, suspected that the pillars would not be able to support the roof if they were erected as separate structures without being attached to anything. That is why he attached half of the pillars to the wall. Small rooms existed between the pillars on either side of the narrow passage. At the end of the narrow passage, eight columns joined in pairs crosswise led to a chamber, which opened to the south square.
Inside the south square were two curved stone blocks of B shape, associated with the Heb-Sed festival. An altar exists to the south of this square. It is believed that it was built as an alternative to the Pharaoh’s throne on earth, so that even after death, he could sit on the masnad and perform all the worldly activities.
At the extreme south of the Dakshin Chatwar is the Dakshin Mandir and Samadhi. Considering the internal structure, the southern tomb is entirely in the step-pyramid mould. A stairway from the south temple leads to the Samadhiksha from the west. Half way down the path again merges into a rectangular gallery – where various stone vessels, pots, wooden planks, wooden boxes and canopies made of gold leaf were found. False doors were also provided in various rooms of the temple, and these were painted with scenes of pharaoh Djoser performing various rituals. The pharaoh’s name and title were carved on the top of the doors and on the top panel. Egyptologists believe that the South Tomb was completed before the construction of the main pyramid was completed. Therefore, its construction style is much smoother than the original pyramid.
Northern Shabgar Temple
During the Fifth Dynasty pharaohs became believers in reincarnation through the sun. Earlier they believed in the North Star. So Pharaoh Djoser organized so much to join the North Star. That is why the North Shabaga temple faced the north side of the pyramid. The site was reserved for the daily rituals of the deceased, the performance of sacrificial ceremonies and as a religious shrine. During the fifth dynasty, temples were built facing east.
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A rectangular space parallel to the south square is called the Heb-Sed square. It was built so that Pharaoh could celebrate the Heb-Sed festival in style after his death. Remains of two sets of altars were found on the eastern and western sides of the square, which were built in imitation of three different architectural styles. Three bhajanalayas with pillarless flat roofs existed at the north and south ends. The remaining chancel on the west side was designed in imitation of hollow pillars. An unroofed passage led from each bhajanalaya to the place of worship.
Stacked Mounds of the West
Three impressive mounds occupy the western flank of the pyramid complex. Looking at these small mounds, it seems that they are leaning towards the pyramid. However, most of its places have not yet been explored. The middle mound is 3 meters high and 25 meters wide, where many water wells have been found.
Phases of building the pyramids
Modern Egyptologists divide the construction stages of the Step-Pyramid into a total of six phases. These are – M1, M2, M3, P1, P1` and P2. Three mastabas and three pyramids were originally built on this site. Similar to the First and Second Dynasties, the mastaba that Imhotep built over the tomb was square. The only difference was this – he built the ‘M1’ mastaba with Tura Limestone. On a whim, he increased the volume around it by another ten feet (M2).
When Imhotep built the second mastaba, he reduced the height of the first by half a meter. Then it was increased in length on the east side by 25 feet. Thus the square mastaba became a rectangular mastaba. However, at this stage the height is slightly reduced. As a result, a three-tiered mastaba was created. Then the first pyramid (P1) was built based on the entire mastaba (M3) by extending the mastaba. Imhotep wanted, passing through the steps of this step pyramid, to join Pharaoh Jose’s immortal star. That is why the pyramid was built in total four steps. Mastaba was built horizontally. But each unit of the step pyramid was placed vertically, and tilted slightly inwards, so that it could stand on its shoulders with the weight of the whole pyramid.
The internal structures of this pyramid underwent a series of design changes during its construction. A central shaft measuring 7 meters in length, width and 28 meters in depth was located in its inner structure. This shaft was again linked by a maze of numerous rooms and corridors. The Step Pyramid of Djoser was more complex, larger in size, and unique in architecture than any other pyramid in the Old Kingdom.
Below the central shaft was the main tomb of Pharaoh Djoser. According to the French architect Jean-Philippe Lauer, the foundation of the tomb was made of diorite. In his opinion, limestone blocks were probably used only for ceilings, and were decorated with five-pointed stars. If Lauer’s hypothesis is correct, the tomb of Djoser is a building decorated with a five-pointed star, an art that was followed for approximately several hundred years. The only entrance to the tomb was built on the northern side of the roof. After the royal body was brought into the chamber through this entrance, it was closed with three and a half tons of granite stone. Among the objects found in the tomb, some mummified remains and a leg are notable. At first, it was thought to be the remains of Pharaoh Djoser. But carbon dating found the remains to be hundreds of years older than Djoser.
Other underground structures
The Step-Pyramid of Djoser has a labyrinth of corridors and tunnels about 6 km long underground. The main tombs, tombs of royal members, archives of grave goods are spread throughout this place. Apart from the central shaft, 11 other shafts were connected to various galleries. About 40,000 stone vessels of various shapes were found in the 6th and 7th pits. The vessels bear the names of various pharaohs and important royal members of the First and Second Dynasties. Names of pharaohs like Narmer, Zer, Den, Semarkhet, Azib, Ka, Heterpekhemui, Ninetzar, Sekhemib, Khasekhemui etc. Experts differ on why so many thousands of vessels were placed in Djoser’s tomb. Lauer believes, These were preserved by Khasekhemwi, the last pharaoh of the Second Dynasty. These vessels of Pharaoh Jose were gathered in the Step Pyramid to pay respect and proper respect to the ancestors. However, according to many historians, the vessels were thrown into the ditch to prevent robbers from entering the tomb. But even though the Step-Pyramid was created by such intricate and delicate design, the happiness was on the forehead of Pharaoh Djoser. The grave goods, even his mummified body, were looted by robbers.