Step Pyramid Interior Reopens to the Public

The Step Pyramid of Djoser at the Sakkara necropolis south of Giza.
(Photo credit: Shutterstock)

The Step Pyramid of Djoser at Sakkara is one of the most unique pyramids in Egypt and the oldest pyramid still standing anywhere in the world. While most of the other famous pyramids nearby at Giza and Dashur have been generally open for the public to go inside of them to explore the narrow passageways and see the vast hollow burial chambers, the interior of the Step Pyramid at Sakkara has remained closed for the past 14 years as it underwent major restoration work to shore up its structural integrity.

A 5.9-magnitude earthquake in 1992 centered in Dashur caused significant damaged to the Step Pyramid’s interior and rendered the monument unstable. The government began a multi-year, USD 6-million renovation project at the site in 2006, but the tumult and fallout of the Arab Spring halted work in 2011 and 2012. Work resumed in 2013 and was finally completed this year, allowing the government to safely reopen the Step Pyramid of Djoser to the public.

The Step Pyramid is unique not only because it looks different than Egypt’s other pyramids, but because it represents an important transition in technique and style for Old Kingdom pharaonic burials. Previously, royal and noble burial monuments took the form of a rectangular mound called a mastaba. The two layers typical of these structures caused them to resemble a bench, hence their Arabic name of mastaba – or bench – in Arabic.

Under the direction of the Pharaoh Djoser’s famous adviser and architect, Imhotep, the Step Pyramid was the first royal burial monument to begin to take on a more pyramidal shape as the rectangular form was squared off and additional successively smaller layers were added to the top of the structure.

The monument dates to the 27th century BC during the Third Dynasty, which corresponds to the first dynasty of the Old Kingdom period, and was the central structure of a larger necropolis complex consisting of mortuary temples and additional tombs. The pyramid originally stood 62.5 meters (205 feet) tall, but interestingly it was not a perfect square, with its base measuring 109 meters by 121 meters (358 feet by 397 feet).

The Step Pyramid under renovation in 2015.
(Photo credit: John Nicholson of Egypt Travel Blog)

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