Step pyramid of Djoser

The step pyramid of Djoser from south-east and north-west. The pyramid originally stood 62 metres (203 ft) tall, with a base of 109 m × 125 m (358 ft × 410 ft) and was clad in polished white limestone.

The painted limestone statue of Djoser, now in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, is the oldest known life-sized Egyptian statue. At the site in Saqqara, where it was found, a plaster copy of the statue stands in place of the original. The statue was found during the Antiquities Service Excavations of 1924–1925. Unfortunately, the pyramid itself is actually not open to the general public. Visits are very much restricted - to scientists, or guests of the state, or those who otherwise succeed to get a government permission for visiting it.


The stepped pyramid of Djoser was built during the 3rd dynasty during the Old Kingdom (27th century BC) for the burial of Pharaoh Djoser. Djoser or Zoser is only the name given to this pharao by New Kingdom visitors over a thousand years later. The only royal name found on the walls of the complex is Netjerykhet. He is also known under his Hellenized names Tosorthros (by Manetho) and Sesorthos (by Eusebius).

Lehner gives 2630-2611 BC for his 19-year reign, but one should generally be sceptical about absolute dates.

The constructor was Imhotep , his vizier, and Great Seer (high priest) of the Sun God Ra.

The step pyramid (or proto-pyramid) is considered to be the earliest large-scale cut stone construction, (although there is a nearby enclosure known as Gisr el-mudir, which seems to predate the complex).

This first pyramid consisted of six steps (of decreasing size) built atop one another. Mastabas - similar to a single step of the pyramids - have been known before. According to Jean-Philippe Lauer, the main excavator of the site, there were also six stages of the construction (M1, M2, M3, P1, P'1, P2). First, the first step was build as a square mastaba (M1). Then, the mastaba was enlarged two times (M2, M3). Only then, higher steps where added, first a four-step structure (P1) and only finally a six-step structure (P2).

Does this enlargement in several steps show that the step pyramid has not been planned that way initially? This seems plausible, but here is what Lehner writes about this: "Evidence suggests that the builders partially buried the dummy structures of Djoser's enclosure - the Pavillons of the North and South the South Tomb and Sed Chapels - almost immediately after they build them in the first stage. Likewise they encased the king's mastaba in fine limestone in the first stage and then only a few years later entirely covered it with the Step Pyramid - an act which, if Stadelmann is right, they may have planned from the beginning. The half-submerging of the dummy buildings must have signified the chthonic, underworld aspect of existence after death. And the full envelopment of the mastaba conforms to the pattern of early Egyptian monuments that successive stages conceal earlier ones. Tomb building appears to have been part of a large ceremonial cycle, an act of consolidation and renewal that necessitated burying finely crafted structures." (Lehner 1997, p. 84f)


The Djoser pyramid itself is the center of a greater complex, which contains also a lot of other temples and mastabas. And this complex itself is only one part - the center of the necropolis at Saqqara .