The history of ancient Egypt and its amazing monuments still fascinate many travelers, although it must be admitted that this is not an expedition resembling the endeavors of the 19th century explorers. The Giza pyramids, the step pyramid at Saqqara, the ancient Egyptian temples or the romantic and peaceful sailing on the majestic Nile, the sun and the coral reef, what more do you need? 🙂
History of Egypt
Although Egypt‘s history does not begin until around 3100 BC with the unification of Upper and Lower Egypt, the beginnings of civilization on the Nile (the so-called predynastic period) go back many millennia.
At the end of the Paleolithic, major climate change began. At that time, the Sahara was still a green and fertile savannah, inhabited by numerous nomadic tribes. These people left traces in the form of rock carvings depicting hunting. In the Western Desert at Nabta Playa, Neolithic traces of settlement (8000 BC) have been discovered, including an astronomical stone circle, indicating for example the advent of the rainy season.
Hieroglyphs – the world’s first writing
However, further changes in the climate and the transformation of the Sahara into a desert meant that people eventually moved to the Nile valley, the regular floods of which guaranteed fertile land and bountiful harvests. Prosperity contributed to the rapid development of material culture. Not only mud-brick houses were built, but also sacred structures. The first writing in the world, the so-called hieroglyphs was invented. The excavations carried out so far show that it was already in use around 3250 BC (Abydos findings), that is, several centuries earlier than the cuneiform script from Mesopotamia.
Lower and Upper Egypt
With time, two separate and competing states emerged on the Nile, Lower Egypt in the delta and Upper Egypt in the Nile Valley. Finally, around 3100 BC King Narmer (also called Menes), the ruler of Upper Egypt, conquered Lower Egypt and thus led to the unification of the two kingdoms. He also founded the first of more than 30 pharaoh dynasties ruling Egypt ever since. The first capital of a united country was located in the strategic place, the city of Memphis.
Old Kingdom and Saqqara
Period 3100-2181 BC is the so-called Old State. During this period, not only the civil law was formed, but also the artistic style, so characteristic to the ancient Egyptian civilization, was developed. The first kings (pharaohs) chose Abydos to the south as their final resting place, while the later ones chose Saqqara closer to the new capital.
Step Pyramid of Djoser at Saqqara
One of the 3rd Dynasty pharaohs, King Djoser, built the first of all the pyramids of Egypt around 2665 BC. It was the step pyramid at Saqqara. This extraordinary structure, a great achievement in the history of architecture, was erected by the royal architect and High Priest, Imhotep. Imhotep replaced the mud brick used so far with stone blocks, and instead of a single mastaba previously erected over royal tombs, he erected 6 mastabas placed one on the other, thus obtaining the shape of a pyramid. The stepped pyramid of Djoser and the entire building complex, which apart from the pyramid included numerous warehouses and chapels, used to be surrounded by a 10.5 meters high wall.
The majestic step pyramid of Djoser, standing in the center of the necropolis at Saqqara, is the world’s oldest building entirely made of stone. Currently, it is 62.5 meters high, and its base measures 109 by 121 meters. The burial chamber itself is located under the pyramid at a depth of 28 m.
The Pyramid of Teti and the Texts of the Pyramids
Over time, other pharaohs of Egypt, such as Userkaf and Unis from the 5th dynasty, or Teti, founder of the 6th dynasty, father of Pepi I, also built their pyramids at Saqqara. There were numerous mastabas of the royal family and royal dignitaries around the pyramids. Some of the largest and most important are the mastabas around the pyramid of Teti, the mastabas of Mereruka and Kagemni. The Unis and Teti pyramids have quite unusual wall decorations, the so-called Texts of the Pyramids, religious spells that were to provide the pharaoh with a safe journey to eternal life. The texts of the Pyramids date back to predynastic times, but they disappeared with the First Intermediate Period (2181-2055 BC).
Discovery of Saqqara
However, even though Saqqara had been in use for 3000 years, there are Ptolemaic monuments and even Coptic monasteries, it was forgotten and buried under the sands of the desert (obviously not as high as the step pyramid of Djoser) as the rest of the ancient Egypt. Dormant, it waited for its discoverers until the 19th century, until the era of fascination with the past and great excavations. 🙂
If interested, I invite you also to my Youtube channel. Here is a short video presenting Saqqara.
Photographs of Saqqara
I am a passionate enthusiast of travel, archeology, photography and dancing 🙂 On this page I try to combine the first three elements: P and show you that travelling becomes definitely more interesting when we discover visited places, and often inconspicuous ruins hide the most fascinating stories 🙂