Saqqara

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The vast cemetery at Saqqara, which spans a period from the 27th century BC to the 10th century AD, is possibly named after Sokar, god of the burial sites. The site itself lies on the desert plateau about 3km (1.75 miles) west of Memphis. Its Step Pyramid is the earliest of all the pyramids, and its tombs are among the most finely decorated. The Old Kingdom tombs at Saqqara, south of Giza, are adorned with painted relics of the deceased, his wife and children, overseers of his estates, supervisors of his factories, scribes, artisans and peasants.

See Egypt's earliest pyramid at Saqqara

A welcome addition to Saqqara is the modern Imhotep Museum, which opened in 2006 in an attempt to redistribute many of the treasures in the Egyptian Museum to more relevant locations.

Of the many highlights are objects found inside Saqqara’s pyramids and tombs, including a wooden model of a rowing boat with human figures from the tomb of Khennu, a royal scribe of the Middle Kingdom.

The mummy of King Merenre I, who ruled for five years from 2297 BC, is the oldest complete mummy yet found.

Don’t miss the haunting limestone bas-relief of the “Starving Men of Unas” from the causeway ramp of 5th Dynasty King Unas; it shows the ribcages of the starving Bedouin before they are given food by the king.

The ticket office at the entrance to the necropolis stands above the valley temple attached to the Pyramid of Unas. Built in the 24th century BC by the last king of the 5th Dynasty, this houses the earliest pyramid text. The ceremonial causeway linking the two has been excavated and the pyramid at the end is one of the least difficult for visitors to enter.

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Pyramid of Unas at Saqqara, Egypt © Shutterstock

Best things to do at Saqqara

There are plenty of things to see at Saqqara. Go and explore the stunning Step Pyramid of Zoser, an architectural marvel that dates back to ancient Egypt, take a mesmerizing camel ride through the desert or just enjoy the history of this sight.

#1 Swot up at the Imhotep Museum

The Imhotep Museum really helps to explain the importance of the Saqqara site (admission is included in that of the Saqqara site; no flash photography).

The six spacious halls here showcase an impressive collection of ancient treasures. The museum's prized exhibits include the stunning painted Greco-Roman mummy and the impressive double statue of High Priest Amenemopet and his wife.

Don't miss the breathtaking coffin belonging to Imhotep, as well as the fascinating green faience panels from the tomb of Djoser.

In addition to these masterpieces, the museum boasts a wide variety of other archaeological finds, such as intricately carved wooden and stone statues, ancient tools, wall ornaments, and objects used in funerals.

Finally, make sure to visit the museum's last hall, which is dedicated to the life and work of the renowned French Egyptologist, Jean Philippe Lauer.

#2 Go inside the Pyramid of Unas

Built in the 24th century BC by the last king of the 5th Dynasty, this houses the earliest pyramid text. The ceremonial causeway linking it to the Step Pyramid of Zoser has been excavated and the pyramid at the end is one of the least difficult for visitors to enter.

#3 Walk the ruins of the Monastery of St Jeremiah

Quite close to the parking space below the enclosure on the opposite side of the causeway to the Pyramid of Unas are the ruins of the Monastery of St Jeremiah.

Founded in the second half of the 5th century and destroyed by the Arabs in about AD 960, the monastery buildings include two churches, a refectory, a bakery, an oil press and cells for the monks.

The monastery was the source of most of the objects in rooms 6 and 7 of the Coptic Museum in Cairo.

#4 Seek out the Step Pyramid of Zoser

Dominating the area is the Step Pyramid of Zoser (built 2668–2649 BC), the earliest of all the pyramids and the first great monument in the world to be built of hewn stone.

The entire complex within the enclosure, including shrines, courtyards and the Step Pyramid itself, was the conception of a single man, Imhotep, Zoser’s chief of works, who some consider the first recorded genius in history.

An inscription left behind by a New Kingdom tourist venerates him as “he who opened the stone”. He was later identified with magic, astronomy and medicine, finally becoming deified in the 6th century BC.

Translating motifs from more perishable materials, such as wood or papyrus reeds, into stone, the Zoser complex displays many features that became a permanent part of the Egyptian architectural vocabulary

The Step Pyramid can be entered only with special permission (a tour takes several hours).

Hypostyle hall at the Pyramid of Zoser - Saqqara, Egypt © Shutterstock

Best areas to stay

Most travellers will visit Saqqara on a day trip from Cairo without staying overnight. However, it’s possible to visit from Giza and Dahshur too. Here’s where to stay.

Cairo

Situated around 40km north of Saqqara, most people will stay in Cairo. The city is full of accommodation options, ranging from high-end hotels to budget-friendly hostels.

Giza

The city of Giza, located approximately 30km north of Saqqara, is an excellent choice for accommodation, as it's home to a wide range of hotels, from budget-friendly options to luxurious resorts.

Dahshur

For those looking for a more relaxed and secluded retreat, the nearby town of Dahshur is an excellent choice, located some 12km south of Saqqara. It has a number of small hotels and guesthouses.

Things to know before visiting Saqqara

Make the most out of your visit to Saqqara with these tips. Here’s what you need to know.

Entrance fee

The entrance fee for visiting Saqqara is 60 EGP for a standard ticket and 30 EGP for students (must have valid ID).

Opening hours

Saqqara is open to visitors daily 8am–4pm. The last entry is 3pm.

Dress code

There is no dress code at Saqqara, however, as in the rest of Egypt it’s considered proper to cover your arms and legs. It can be very hot at Saqqara, so pack sunscreen and a hat.

Guided tours

Several tour companies in Egypt offer guided tours of Saqqara. Ask your hotel for recommendations. Tours of Saqqara vary in length, but most last between 2-4 hours.

How to get here

Most people will visit Saqqara on a tour from Cairo because of the limited options for getting here. A private taxi is a good alternative.

By taxi

Other than on a tour, the best way to get to Saqqara is by taxi. It’s worth hiring a car and driver by the day.

By microbus

It is possible to get to Saqqara by microbes from Cairo. However, it's a 20-minute walk from the microbus stop in Saqqara to the ticket office.

Find out the best ways to get to Egypt.

Best time to visit Saqqara

The best time to visit Saqqara is during the winter months (November to February) when the weather is mild and comfortable for exploring the outdoor tombs and monuments. The temperature during this time typically ranges from 15-25°C (59-77°F).

It's worth noting that the summer months in Egypt can be very hot, with temperatures soaring above 40°C (104°F), making it uncomfortable to visit outdoor sites during the daytime.

Additionally, during the month of Ramadan, the sites have reduced opening hours.

Find out more about the best time to visit Egypt.

The Rough Guide to Egypt and related travel guides

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updated 4/26/2023
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