Egyptian / Egyptian Revival Architecture - Table of Contents.........................Architecture Around the World

Saqqara Necropolis, Egypt
Saqqara (or Sakkara, Saqqarah)

Map of Saqqara Necropolis
TEXT Beneath Illustrations

Necropolis: large cemetery or burial place

Click on illustrations for larger size - and more information


World's first columns

World's first stone columns

Covered Colonnade

Cobra Wall (Uraei)

Cobra Wall (Uraei)

Viewing Colonnade from top of Cobra Wall

View from Cobra Wall

Step Pyramid of Djoser ..... Pyramid of Unas

Pyramid of Unas

Step Pyramid of Djoser - the first pyramid

Step Pyramid of Djoser

Step Pyramid of Djoser

Located some 30 km south of modern-day Cairo, Sakkara is a vast, ancient burial ground in Egypt, serving as the necropolis (large cemetery or burial place) for the Ancient Egyptian capital, Memphis.

Sakkara is best known for the Step Pyramid, the oldest known of Egypt's 97 pyramids.

It was built in 2700 BC for King Djoser (Zoser) of the 3rd Dynasty by the architect and genius Imhotep, who was the first to build stone tombs in honor of the king's majesty.

Today it is considered as one of the oldest stone structures built by man, and the first time the Ancient Egyptians would attempt to use limestone. Zoserís Pyramid is entirely built of limestone, small bricks of limestone, and not of the best quality, and yet it has remained for more than 4700 years.

Prior to its construction. pharaohs were buried beneath rectangular mastabas which were ancient Egyptian tombs, in the form of a massive brick or stone mound with battered walls on a rectangular base. The sarcophagal chamber was deep underground below.

Imhotep created a pyramid by stacking six increasingly smaller mastabas on top of each other.

Later pharaohs took it a step further to create the
pyramids seen at Giza and elsewhere.

The World's First Stone Columns

The buildings imitate in stone masonry various types of of temporary structures made of plant stems and mats that were erected in Upper and Lower Egypt for the celebration of the Jubilee Festival, the rituals of which perpetually renewed the affirmation of the royal existence in the hereafter.

The translation into stone of structural forms previously made out of plants may be seen in the long entrance corridor to Zoser's [Zoser: the First Dynasty pharaoh] funerary precinct where columns that resemble bundles of reeds project from short spur walls on either side of the once-roofed and dark passageway.

A person walking through would have emerged suddenly into a large courtyard and the brilliant light of the Egyptian sun. There, to the right upon exiting the portico, one would have seen the gleaming focus of the entire complex, Zoser's Pyramid.

Greek columns

The columns flanking the pathway into Zoser's precinct resemble later Greek columns, and there is little doubt today that the architecture of ancient Egypt had a profound impact or, the designers on the first stone columnar temples of the Greeks. The upper parts of the columns of the Saqqara entrance portico are not preserved, but those of Zoser's North Palace still stand. They end in capitals that take the form of the papyrus blossoms of Lower Egypt; the column shafts resemble papyrus stalks.

Greek columns will also terminate in capitals, although the Greek capitals will take a very different form. The shafts of Greek columns are also generally freestanding, but all the columns in the Saqqara complex are engaged (attached) to walls; the builders seem not to have realized the fullstructural potential of stone columns. Still, this is the first appearance of the stone column in the history of architecture and thus epochal for its subsequent development in later periods.

The architect of Zoser's mortuary complex is the first known artist of recorded history: Inhotep, the king's grand-vizier and a man of legendary powers. Priest, scribe, physcian, and architect, Iiiihotep later was revered as a god. As an architect, his greatest achievement was to translate the impermanent building types of both Upper and Lower Egypt into stone and combine them with two funerary traditions in a single compound, thereby consolidating and giving visual permanence to the idea of a unified Egyptian kingdom.

- "Gardner's Art Through the Ages, Tenth Edition," by Richard G. Tansey and Fred S. Kleiner. Harcourt Brace College Pub. 1996, pp. 70-71


[The] passage into the interior of the complex, which consists of a long hall with twenty pairs (40 total) of limestone columns....

Today, the roof of the colonnade has been added by the restorers, and is somewhat higher than the original, allowing more light to enter this part of the building...

Reaching a height of almost six meters, the columns in the colonnade were composed of drum shaped segments. However, they were not freestanding, but were rather connected with the side walls by masonry projections. At this early date, the architects obviously did not yet trust columns as sole supports, for the most part. The form of the columns is modeled on a bundle of plant stems."

- Alan Winston, The Step Pyramid of Djoser at Saqqara in the South Courtyard, And South Tomb Jan. 2010

Photos and their arrangement © 2009 Chuck LaChiusa
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