After 14 years of renovations and restoration work, the oldest pyramid in Egypt – and the world – has finally reopened to the public.
Located about an hour southwest of Cairo in the sprawling necropolis of Saqqara, the Step Pyramid of Zoser is the world’s earliest stone monument and one of Egypt’s must-see sites, comprising six stacked terraces and standing more than 60m tall. But an earthquake in 1992 caused significant interior damage, Agence France-Presse reports, and repairs have continued on and off since 2006, rendering the 4700-year-old structure off-limits to visitors for nearly two decades.
Last week, after extensive restoration efforts tallying EG£104 (US$6.6) million, people were once again permitted to step inside, state-owned newspaper Al-Ahram reported 5 March. Repairs to the historic landmark included restoring loose blocks and filling in the gaps between them, reinforcing subterranean walls and ceilings, and removing dust and debris from terrace surfaces, per the paper; rubble was also removed from the burial chamber and its corridors, an excavation that unveiled the pharaoh’s granite sarcophagus, a 176-ton behemoth.
To improve the visitor experience, a new main entrance was introduced and a new lighting system installed, and the site is now wheelchair-accessible. According to Reuters, paths leading to the pyramid and tunnels leading to the burial chamber were also given a refresh.
Though tourism and antiquities minister Khaled El-Enany described the restoration to Al-Ahram as “a meticulous medical surgery,” it hasn’t been all smooth sailing. As AFP reports, “controversy erupted in 2014 when Egyptian media reported that the...pyramid had been damaged during restoration work, with several Egyptian NGOs saying the monument's original facade had been altered. Enany said on Thursday that after criticism from Unesco experts, works were undertaken in conformity with the UN body's norms and ‘in 2018, Unesco gave us positive reports’.”
Set in the middle of a funerary complex, enclosed by a 1645 metre‑long limestone wall, the Step Pyramid was commissioned by the second king of ancient Egypt’s third dynasty, Zoser, from his chief architect, Imhotep, in 2650 BCE. As part of the Necropolis of Memphis, it was added to Unesco’s World Heritage List in 1979.