The pyramid of Sahure

Sahure was the second pharao of the fifth dynasty. He ruled for about 12 years around 2480 BC. He was probably the son of his predecessor Userkaf with queen Neferhetepes II, and was in turn succeeded by his son Neferirkare Kakai.

He had a pyramid built for himself in Abusir, thereby abandoning the royal necropolises of Saqqara and Giza, where his predecessors had built their pyramids. This decision was possibly motivated by the presence of the sun temple of Userkaf in Abusir, the first such temple of the 5th Dynasty.

The Pyramid of Sahure was known in ancient Egyptian as Ḫˁj-b3 S3ḥ.w Rˁ, "The Rising of the Ba Spirit of Sahure". It is much smaller than the pyramids of the preceding 4th Dynasty, with a base of 78.75 metres square and originally rising to a height of a mere 47 metres. But the decoration of his mortuary temple is more elaborate.

Its core was made up of roughly shaped limestone blocks that were quarried to the west of Abusir. They were laid in five or six steps, with the blocks held together with mud mortar.

The funerary complex contained all the elements which, by that time had become standard: a pyramid in the west with its entrance in the north and a mortuary temple stretching east. There were also a satellite pyramid in the southeast and a Valley Temple. A Queen's Pyramid appears to be missing.


The Sahure mortuary temple

An important part of the funery complex of Sahure is the mortuary temple in the east of the pyramid. The high temple is also remarkable for the variety of building materials used for its construction, from the alabaster and basalt floors to the fine limestone and red granite of the walls. The causeway and mortuary temple of his pyramid complex were once adorned by over 10,000 m2 of fine reliefs, which made them renowned in antiquity. The architects of Sahure's pyramid complex introduced the use of palmiform columns (that is columns whose capital has the form of palm leaves), which would soon become a hallmark of ancient Egyptian architecture. Panorama of the temple of the Sahure pyramid

Once Sahure was the first king to have his funerary monument built at Abusir, he was free to choose the best place to realize his plans, without already having to take into account already existing buildings. Borchardt has made this point in the following words:

Beim Sahu-re Tempel aber mußte, wenn nicht alles täuschte, ein normaler Grundriß vorliegen, das zeigte schon der äußere Augenschein. Die aus dem Schutte hervorsehenden Züge der Kernmauern waren ganz symmetrisch, der Aufweg gerade, die Spur des Torbaus im Tale lag axial zum oberen Tempel.

Was der Augenschein lehrte, mußte eine einfache historische Erwägung bestätigen. Sahu-re ist der älteste der Könige, die sich hier aufgebaut haben; er dürfte sich wohl einen Platz ausgesucht haben, der durch keine älteren Bauten eingeengt war, während seine Nachfolger, wenn sie nicht ihre Hauptstadt von Abusir fort verlegen wollten, Bauplätze wählen mußten, die schon mit Denkmälern besetzt waren, die sie nicht abreißen konnten oder wollten. So deutete also alles darauf hin, daß wir im Sahu-re-Tempel endlich ein normal angelegtes Grabdenkmal der fünften Dynastie finden würden.

Ludwig Borchardt, Das Grabdenkmal des Königs S'a3ḥu-Rec, p. 2

Excavations of the Sahure pyramid complex


Here is how it looked after the excavations made by Borchardt between 1902 and 1908 (picture from Borchardt 1910 p.6).