It is the most remarkable construction of the necropolis of Saqqara, south of the city of Memphis. Some tourists walk next to the pyramid..Saqqara, Egypt. March 27, 2008

© Angel Villalba / Getty Images


Top choice in Cairo Outskirts & the Nile Delta

Covering a 7km stretch of the Western Desert, Saqqara, the huge cemetery of ancient Memphis, was an active burial ground for more than 3500 years and is Egypt’s largest archaeological site. The necropolis is situated high above the Nile Valley’s cultivation area, and is the final resting place for deceased pharaohs and their families, administrators, generals and sacred animals. The name Saqqara is most likely derived from Sokar, the Memphite god of the dead.

Old Kingdom pharaohs were buried within Saqqara’s 11 major pyramids, while their subjects were buried in the hundreds of smaller tombs. Most of Saqqara, except for the Step Pyramid, was buried in sand until the mid-19th century, when the great French Egyptologist Auguste Mariette uncovered the Serapeum. Since then, it has been a gradual process of rediscovery: the Step Pyramid’s massive funerary complex was not exposed until 1924, and it is in a constant state of restoration. French architect Jean-Philippe Lauer, who began work here in 1926, was involved in the project for an incredible 75 years until his death in 2001. More recently, there has been a string of new discoveries, including a whole slew of mummies and even a new pyramid.

If you keep up a good pace, you can see the high points of Saqqara in about half a day. Start with a quick visit to the Imhotep Museum, to get the lay of the land. Head for Zoser’s funerary complex, entering through the hypostyle hall, and gaze on the Step Pyramid, the world’s oldest pyramid. Walk south towards the Causeway of Unas then drive to the Pyramid of Teti to see some of the famous Pyramid Texts inside. Afterwards, pop into the nearby Tomb of Kagemni before ending with the most wonderful tomb of all, the Mastaba of Ti, with its fascinating reliefs of daily life.

Lonely Planet's must-see attractions

Nearby Cairo Outskirts & the Nile Delta attractions

1. Step Pyramid of Zoser

0.23 MILES

In the year 2650 BC, Pharaoh Zoser (2667–2648 BC) asked his chief architect, Imhotep (later deified), to build him a Step Pyramid. This is the world's…

2. Monastery of St Jeremiah

0.24 MILES

Uphill from the causeway of Unas, southeast of the boat pits, are the half-buried remains of this Coptic monastery, which dates from the 5th century AD…

3. Pyramid of Userkaf

0.25 MILES

Northeast of the Step Pyramid is the Pyramid of Userkaf, the first pharaoh of the 5th dynasty (closed to the public for safety reasons). Although the…

4. Tomb of Horemheb

0.29 MILES

Originally designated as the final resting place of General Horemheb, this tomb became irrelevant in 1323 BC when its intended occupant seized power from…

5. Pyramid of Unas


To the southwest of Zoser’s funerary complex is the Pyramid of Unas, last pharaoh of the 5th dynasty (2375–2345 BC). Built only 300 years after the…

6. Pyramid of Teti


The Pyramid of Teti (2345–2323 BC), the first pharaoh of the 6th dynasty, was built in step form and cased in limestone, but today only a modest mound…

7. Pyramid of Sekhemkhet

0.43 MILES

Closed to the public because of its dangerous condition, the unfinished pyramid of Zoser’s successor Sekhemkhet (2648–2640 BC) is a short distance west of…

8. Tomb of Mereruka

0.44 MILES

Mereruka was the successor to Kagemni as Pharaoh Titi's chief justice and his tomb, like Kagemni's, is full of preserved reliefs of daily life. Some of…