Tombs of Saqqara
The Saqqara complex is one of the most important archeological sites of Egypt as it is the burial area of the first dynasties of the old kingdom.
This period was a period of prosperity and richness which is reflected in the structures constructed in this era. Pyramids, like the step pyramid of Djoser, the most ancient rock structure in history, and the pyramid of Unas, tombs like the tomb of Irukaptah and Mehu, Mastaba tombs like the Mastaba tomb of Mereruka and Khnumhotep and Niankhkhnum, make the Saqqara complex one of the most important touristic attraction in Egypt.
In this article we will shed some light on the most important tombs of Saqqara.
The tomb of Irukaptah:
This tomb is named the blucher's tomb. This is because it belongs to Irukaptah, the blucher of a king that belonged to the 5th dynasty. His formal title was ""Head of the Butchers of the Great House" and "Waab Priest of the King".
The tomb of Irukaptah in Saqqara has particular significance for two reasons. The first reason is that its design is different than any other tomb in Saqqara and the second reason is that it is the finest preserved example of the old kingdom's art and architectures that still sustains its beauty. This tomb of Irukaptah is the most famous tomb in Saqqara.
The tomb is located just to the north of the passageway leading to the pyramid of Unas and it was completely cut out of rock. The opening of the tomb almost faces the north and then it leads to a semi rectangular shaped offering room.
The most remarkable characteristic of the tomb of Irukaptah is the set of statues that were carved out of rock. Some of these statues are completed while others were left in different stages of construction; therefore this tomb represents an important demonstration of the rock construction of the old kingdom. These rock cut statues are not found anywhere else in Saqqara. They are only found in some tombs of the old kingdom in Giza. These statues belong to the family of Irukaptah and some of them belong to him.
Away from the architecture, these statues give a reliable example of the clothes that the servants of the royal family used to wear in the old kingdom. While the skin was painted in dark red, it seems like the servants at that time used to wear skirts and they were painted in yellow with bright colored belts around them and a short black hair wig on the head, which is a common feature of the costumes of the old kingdom.
On the eastern walls of the tomb and above the remarkable statues, there are the famous butchering scenes showing a number of men, in the other life, cutting slaughtering an ox.
The Mastaba of Kagemni:
This Mastaba tomb belongs to an official who was appointed as a chief of justice, the highest governmental post in old Egypt, in the reign of the king Teti the first king of the 6th dynasty.
Kagemni was a son in law to the king and this was why he trusted him with such a high post. This enabled Kagemni to build an extraordinary ornamented tomb close to the pyramid of his king, Teti. With his high post and royal connections, Kagemni was able to get the best Egyptian workers of the time to build his tomb.
The Mastaba is exactly located to the north of the pyramid of Teti and to the northeast of the main pyramid at the complex of Saqara, the pyramid of Djoser. This location reflects the great power of such a high govermtal post of the time.
This Mastaba tomb, which is an important stage in the transition from Mastaba building to pyramids building, was first discovered by Richard Lepsius, pioneering Prussian Egyptologist and linguist and pioneer of modern archaeology, in 1843.
Once one enters the tomb, he finds himself inside a room that contains three pillars with magnificent scenes of fishing and different animals drawn on the walls of the room. Then, there is another room to the right that contains a number of reliefs with monkeys and greyhounds. There is a relief of Kagemni himself in this room. There are also remarkable sketches of birds.
The tomb of Mehu:
This tomb hosts the body of Mehu, the Chief of justice and Vizier during the reign of the fifth dynasty. This man had three wives, with one of them, called Iku, was named " the king's daughter of his body" as she was a very important figure of the time.
The tomb of Mehu is located to the north of the passageway to the pyramid of Unas along with many other tombs. The tomb of Mehu is considered to be one of the most colorful and best preserved tombs in the Saqqara complex.
The tomb of Mehu, unlike many other tombs in Saqqara, was discovered by Egyptian scholars as it was discovered by Zaky Saad and excavated by Salam Hussein in the year 1940.
This tomb contains four highly decorated rooms with a wide courtyard. The wall to the left of the first room displays the scenes of trapping different colorful birds using nests. While the other wall of this room shows Mehu in different hunting scenes, a common characteristic of the tombs of the old kingdom as hunting was considered a symbol of power and intelligence.
At the end of this room, there is a long passageway going westwards and decorated with many scenes of the daily life of the Egyptians during the reign of the old kingdom with drawings of boat sailing, fishing, harvest, and hunting as well.
On the wall to the right of this corridor, there is a door that leads to the wide courtyard that hosts two large pillars with reliefs of Mehu on both sides. On the back of these two pillars, there is the false door of Kahotep, Mehu's son.
At the end of the corridor there are amazing well preserved scenes of different men presenting offerings. These reliefs show some colors that are not present at any tomb that goes back to the old kingdom. These paintings continue in the next small room with other drawings of men dancing, singing, and celebrating.
A door to the right-hand side leads to a rectangular shaped chapel that contains the false door of the tomb, which was unusually decorated with the dark red color and the inscriptions were made in yellow which resulted in an astonishing detailed piece of art.
A small chamber at the end of this chapel contains the body of Meryre-ankh, the inspector of the priests responsible for the pyramid of Pepi. Most scholars believe that Mehu took this tomb from its original owner. However, he left his offering room intact.
The Mastaba of Mereruka:
Mereruka held many important official posts during the reign of Teti like the Chief Justice and vizier, Inspector of Priests attached to the Pyramid of Teti, Scribe of the Divine Books, and Chief Lector Priest. It seems like he was one of the most favorite men of Teti.
The Mastaba of Mereruka is located to the north east of the complex of Saqqara just to the north of the pyramid of Teti.
The considerable size and quality of the Mastaba of Mereruka and the Mastaba of Kagemni reflect the power and prestige of the aristocratic families during this period, in contradiction to the poor quality and size of the pyramids of the kings of this period which reflects the decline in their power.
The Mastaba of Mereruka was discovered by J. de Morgan in July 1893 and went through many stages of excavating afterwards.
The Tomb of Khnumhotep and Niankhkhnum:
It is believed that Khnumhotep and Niankhkhnum were the sons of Khabaw-khufu and Rewedzaweres. Khnumhotep was married to a lady called Khentikawes and they had three sons and three daughters, while Khnumhotep was a married to lady called Khenut and they had five sons and one daughter.
This tomb is sometimes called the tomb of the "two brothers' . These two men were buried in the same tomb because of their close relationships as it was said that they were brothers who shared the same lifestyle and some assumptions say they were twins. However, there is no clear and accurate proof of the fact of being twins. Some other notions suggest a homosexual relation between the two men, but this is idea is largely rejected because both of these men had wives and children.
Khnumhotep and Niankhkhnum lived in the reign of Neussere, the sixth king of the fifth dynasty of the old kingdom. They held the titles of the " prophets of Ra" and the "wab priests" of the pyramid and the sun temple of the king, Neussere, which are located in Abu Ghaleb to the west of modern Cairo.
The Mastaba tomb of Khnumhotep and Niankhkhnum is located in the northern part of the complex of Saqqara and near the Pyramid of the king Unas. It was discovered in the year 1964 and it is considered one of the largest and most remarkable Mastaba tombs in the area of Saqqara.
It seems like the construction of the Mastaba tomb, which was built in three phases, went through a lot of modification and transformation. The first phases consisted of building or let's say the cutting out of the northern part of the tomb or the entail chamber in the beginning. This chamber was enlarged to the south maybe to double its size and to add an offering chamber and this was the second phase of construction. The third phase included adding the main passageway that leads to the original antechamber.
The first scenes one views when he enters the tomb are the scenes of baking bread out of barley and making beer. Other inscriptions display building ships, harvesting, sailing, and netting of birds.
The Eastern wall contains the names of the other family members who were buried in this Mastaba tomb. At the lower part of this wall, Khnumhotep and Niankhkhnum are drawn inside a large ship.
The antechamber contains a lot of rock cut ornaments that included mainly agricultural scenes like throwing seeds and taking care of animals. There are also some amazing inscriptions of the two men with their sons and daughters.
This tomb is considered to be the most famous tomb in Saqqara and the tomb which is visited the most by tourists. This is mainly because of two factors: the tomb is located near the pyramids of Saqqara and Unas, the most important structures of the complex. The second factor is that most of its magnificent colors still sustain its beauty.
The tomb of Queen Nebt:
Queen Nebt together with Khenut were the wives of the king of Unas and they were buried in the same tomb beside his pyramid in the complex of Saqqara exactly to the north of the pyramid. Her tomb is considered to be one of the most remarkable and fine preserved tombs of the area. This is why all the tourist who visit the Saqqara complex should visit this tomb.
The tomb of Nebt and Khenut is a double Mastaba tomb divided into two parts: one for Nebt and the other for Khenut. Both parts of the tomb are accurately equal in size and layout. However, history had its saying in their preservation. The part constructed for Khenut is much ruined while the part of Nebt is well preserved and extremely amazing.
The tom of Nebt contains three rooms with the second room to be considered the most remarkable. It contains beautifully decorated walls with many inscriptions of the queen.
The entrance to the tomb is from its southeast side and it leads to an antechamber highly decorated with scenes of the queen sailing along with many funerary scenes of offerings and women servants.
Afterwards, a passageway leads to a small chapel with many votive offerings of the queen and her daughter.