Standing 60 metres high, Netjerikhet's Step Pyramid, the oldest pyramid-like monument built in Egypt , was the centrepiece not only of the Netjerikhet complex but of the entire Saqqara area. On a bright day its distinguishing shape can be easily seen from as far as Cairo or Giza to the North, and Meidum to the South.
Who built it?
It was built by Netjerikhet, one of the most famous kings of the 3rd Dynasty , ruled for about 19 years.
Why was it built?
This pyramid was built as the ancient Egyptians believe in resurrection.Netjerikhet was buried in this pyramid according to the ancient Egyptian concept of life after death.
The Step Pyramid has gotten its modern-day name from the fact that it is not a true geometrical pyramid, but consists of 6 rectangular steps, each step smaller than the one beneath. Although it was not the only Step Pyramid to have been built in Ancient Egypt, it is the only one to have have been preserved in such good conditions.
It is with the Step Pyramid that it becomes most clear that the entire complex was built in several stages. Initially, both the shape and the size of Netjerikhs funerary monument were a lot more modest: a uniquely square mastaba, consisting of a core of local stone encased in an outer layer of limestone, stood slightly off-centre in a rectangular enclosure wall .
The substructure of the pyramid too was built in stages and altered to compensate for the increasing size of the superstructure. It consisted basically of a great Central shaft of 7 metres square and 28 metres deep, that gave access to a maze of corridors and rooms. With its more than 5.7 kilometres of shafts, tunnels, chambers and galleries, this substructure was without parallel both in size and complexity among the other Old Kingdom pyramids.
Some mummy parts, among which a foot, were found in the burial vault. The mummification technique used on these remains are characteristic of the oldest mummies of the Old Kingdom, so it was long assumed that these were the remains of Netjerikhet himself. A recent carbon dating, however, has dated these remains to several centuries younger than Netjerikhet.
From the bottom of the Central Shaft, passages in all but the Eastern shaft wall lead towards 3 sets of crudely cut magazine galleries. In the East of the Shaft's wall, another passage opens into a set of corridors and chambers, decorated with rows of blue faience tiles set in the limestone, perhaps an imitation of the reed-mats that adorned buildings for the living or even the king's palace. This decoration was organised in 6 panels, three of which were topped by an arch of blue faience Djed-pillars. In the West-wall of the Eastern-most of these chambers, there are three false door stelae, showing Netjerikhet performing a ritual run and visits to shrines. The east-wall of this room was apparently never finished. The builders left it roughly hacked from the rock and the decorators appear to have finished their job in a hurry. Two further rooms, believed to represent the king's inner apartments, were fully decorated with faience tiles. Their doorways were framed with Netjerikhet's name
It is not impossible that the three sets of magazine galleries were also intended to receive such an exquisite decoration. The similarity in shape of these three galleries and the difference with the structure of the corridors and chambers on the East side, however, may suggest that their purpose was entirely different.
At least four of these galleries were used as tombs: two of them contained an intact alabaster sarcophagus, and fragments of other sarcophagi were also found. One of the intact sarcophagi appears to have contained the remains of a child. In the room at the end of one of the Eastern galleries, the hip-bone of an approximately 18-year old woman was found.
The long-held belief that these Eastern galleries were tombs for the direct members of Netjerikhet's family has been contradicted by a carbon-dating of one of the female remains, that has shown at least the examined body to have been several generations older than Netjerikhet. Fragments of vessels made of alabaster and other fine stone, were also found in the galleries. Based on the inscriptions they bore, most of them were not made for Netjerikhet, but were probably older. A seal impression found in one of the galleries, on the other hand, gave the Horus name of Netjerikhet, which indicates that at least this shaft had been accessed in Netjerikhet's time. Were the galleries part of Netjerikhet's funerary complex, or were they perhaps older and accidentally stumbled upon when work on the complex was started? Does the seal impression with Netjerikhet's name indicate that the burial found in the galleries occurred during his reign, but that older mummies, perhaps members of Netjerikhet's ancestors, were (re-)buried, or that an existing set of burials was examined?