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THE PYRAMID COMPLEX OF USERKAF AT SAQQARA IN EGYPT


 

by Jimmy Dunn writing as Alan Winston

 

>>Pyramid Index / Saqqara

 

 

A view of the Pyramid of Userkaf at Saqqara in Egypt


 

 

Traditionally, Userkaf was the founder of the 5th Dynasty. Probably for political reasons, as well as the religious aspects, he built his pyramid in the shadows of Djoser's Step Pyramid at Saqqara, fairly distant from his predecessor, Shepseskaf's mastaba or the tombs of the 4th Dynasty rulers. Later kings of the 5th Dynasty would build on the Abusir pyramid field, though many Egyptologists consider Abusir was probably thought of by the ancient Egyptians as simply a Saqqara extension. His pyramid was called "Pure are the (cult) places of Userkaf", but today it is deserving of its local name, "ruined pyramid".

 

 

 

 

 

Orazio Marucchi discovered the opening to this pyramid in 1831, not in the north wall, but rather in the pavement of the courtyard. The interior was not entered until 1839, when Perring explored the lowest chambers by entering through a robber's tunnel. He is the only one to have explored the interior of the tunnel, and in 1991 the entrance was buried beneath rubble after an earthquake. Perring thought the pyramid belonged to Djedkare and not until 1928 did Firth determine it to be that of Userkaf. Firth died in 1931 and excavation of the pyramid was not resumed until 1948, when Lauer pursued further investigations. He worked their until 1955, and in 1970, Ali el-Kholi also investigated the pyramid for a brief time.

 

 

A view of the Pyramid and mortuary temple  of Userkaf at Saqqara in Egypt

 

 

Surrounding Elements

 

 

 

Today, the causeway leading to the mortuary temple and Userkaf's valley temple remain uninvestigated and unexcavated. The mortuary temple and the pyramid itself were protected by a large enclosure wall Strangely, the mortuary temple was built on the south side of the pyramid. 4th Dynasty rulers built theirs on the east side, as did most of the other rulers of the 5th Dynasty. 3rd Dynasty rulers built their mortuary temples on the north side of their pyramids. Every Egyptologist seems to have a different explanation for the mortuary temple's location. Perhaps the most likely is that there simply wasn't enough space, as the pyramid was likely located between Djoser's Step Pyramid and a great trench, leaving room only on the south side for the temple. Another explanation, given the 5th Dynasty's occupation with the sun cult, is that on the south side of the pyramid the mortuary temple could be bathed in sunlight all day.

 

 

Ground Plan of the Pyramid of Userkaf at Saqqara in Egypt

 

 

It is very difficult to arrive at details of the mortuary temple. Not only was it subject to stone thieves over the years, but during the Saite period a large shaft tomb was built in its midst. The entrance to his temple was at the southeast corner where the causeway ended. There were apparently five storage annexes near the entrance, along with a stairway to the roof terrace. Inside the entrance the corridor first takes a 90 degree right turn and then a 90 degree left turn prior to arriving at the pillared courtyard. The pink granite pillars surround the courtyard on all sides but the south, and are inscribed with Userkaf's name and titles. The paving of the courtyard is basalt, as is also the inscribed dado that was on the limestone walls of the ambulatory. One fragment of the dado currently in the Egyptian Antiquities Museum is well known, showing scenes of life in a papyrus thicket. Near the south wall once stood a five meter high colossal statue of Userkaf. The head of this statue is also to be found in the Egyptian Antiquities Museum in Cairo. After the Great Sphinx, it is the oldest known colossal statue of an ancient Egyptian King.

 

 

 

 

 

A very interesting aspect of this mortuary temple is that the inner sanctum is actually located on the south side of the courtyard with the courtyard separating it from the pyramid itself. The offering hall therefore is not located in the inner sanctum, but rather in a small, separate limestone temple in front of the pyramid's east wall. The inner sanctum section of the mortuary temple consisted of a small room with four pairs of pink granite pillars and a chapel with three to five niches where cult statues of Userkaf were placed.

 

 

 

 

 

The offering hall on the east side of the pyramid had two pillars and as customary, there was a large false door made of quartzite on the wall adjacent to the pyramid. Granite dadoes decorated with scenes of sacrifice graced the upper sections of the other walls.

 

 

 

 

 

At the southwest corner of the pyramid courtyard stood a smaller cult pyramid, but today only the two lowest levels of its core remain. It had a single underground chamber that was entered from the north.

 

 

 

 

The Pyramid

 

Another view of the  Pyramid of Userkaf at Saqqara in Egypt

 

 

 

Like his successors' pyramids at Abusir, Userkaf's pyramid was most likely built in horizontal layers rather then using the accretion layer method. Rough local limestone

 

 

 

Technical:

 

 

 

 

 

Main Pyramid

 

 

 

was used in the pyramid's core, with a fine, while limestone casing. The entrance to the pyramid first descends, but then becomes level and leads to the underground chambers. In the level section of the corridor was once a plugging block of pink granite. Just after the plugging block was the entrance to a storage annex shaped like the letter T. The chamber first leads to an antechamber that lies exactly on the pyramid's vertical axis. Here, the gabled ceiling is made from huge blocks of fine white limestone and the walls are covered in the same material. From the antechamber, the interior plan takes a 90 degree right angle leading into the burial chamber. The burial chamber is constructed nearly identical to the antechamber, but is about twice as long. Near the west wall Perring found fragments of an undecorated basalt sarcophagus.

Original name: Pure are the sites of Userkaf
Date of construction: 5th dynasty
Original height: 49 m / 163 ft
Angle of inclination: 53o
Lengths of sides of base 73.3 m / 240.5 ft

 

Cult Pyramid


Original height: 15 m / 49.2 ft
Angle of inclination: 53o
Length of sides of base: 20.2 m / 66.3 ftSee Also:

 

References

 

 

Title Author Date Publisher Reference Number
Atlas of Ancient Egypt Baines, John; Malek, Jaromir 1980 Les Livres De France None Stated
Oxford History of Ancient Egypt, The Shaw, Ian 2000 Oxford University Press ISBN 0-19-815034-2
Pyramids, The Verner, Miroslav 1997 Grove Press ISBN 0-8021-1703-1

 

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