Built in the middle of the 27th century BCE, the Pyramid of Djoser is the oldest pyramid in Egypt. It consists of six mastabas, rectangular structures with a flat roof used for building tombs, which were put atop each other. The height of the pyramid is 62 meters (203 feet), with the foundation of 109 and 125 meters (358 and 410 feet). The Step Pyramid is situated almost at the center of a large rectangular enclosure (37 acres) that is surrounded by a wall of white limestone 10 meters (34 feet) high and approximately 1,650 meters (5,400 feet) long. Although mastaba tombs had been built before the construction of the Step Pyramid, Djoser was the first monarch who began building stone structures (Bard 78).
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The architect of the pyramid was Imhotep, one of the most renowned figures in the whole history of Egypt. He served as a vizier (the highest official title in Ancient Egypt) to Pharaoh Djoser. Moreover, he is considered the first artist in human history whose name and activity were recorded. At his time, he was considered a man of great talent, and, apart from being the high priest, vizier, and engineer, he is also allegedly known as a judge, astronomer, poet, physician, and polymath (Jones 751).
The pyramid was built at Saqqara, the ancient necropolis located in Memphis that was the capital of Egypt at that time. Being built of a series of mastabas that are progressively diminishing from bottom to top, the pyramid resembles the great Mesopotamian ziggurats. However, in contrast to a ziggurat, the Pyramid of Djoser is a tomb and not a temple platform. Furthermore, it had two functions, namely, to protect the mummified monarchs and their possessions and to symbolize their godlike power. Additionally, under the pyramid, there is an underground network consisting of several hundred galleries and rooms carved at the Saqqara bedrock (Gardner and Kleiner 113). This subterranean complex was intentionally made to resemble a palace, as it was meant to be a home of Djoser after his death.
At first sight, it seems that the pyramid is plain and does not have any prominent features that make it unique and that reveal the technique of the architect. However, even being such an old structure, the Pyramid of Djoser consists of certain elements that were selected by the architect for a particular reason (Hartwig 154). Thus, the most outstanding features of this pyramid that can be regarded as the definition of the architect’s style are the use of mastabas of different sizes and placing them atop one another, the use of ashlar (cut stone construction), and the underground complex beneath the pyramid.
Mastaba is the earliest type of Ancient Egyptian tombs which is constructed in the form of a rectangular structure with a flat roof and sloping sides made of mud-bricks from the Nile River (Welc and Marks 127).
The main peculiarity of this kind of a crypt was the chapel, and a false door inside that served as a portal for the soul of the deceased in order to partake in the meals in the pharaoh’s honor (Hartwig 163). The main feature of Imhotep’s pyramid is that it was the first tomb consisting not of one but of six mastabas. Moreover, these mastabas were of different sizes and put atop each other, thereby creating the form of the pyramid.
The second element to which special attention should be paid is the ashlar. Cut stone or ashlar is finely worked masonry that consists of stones in the form of a block with very thin joints between them. In contrast to rubble masonry, it uses regularly shaped stones of the same size. In addition, the blocks are put in a way that a wall has only continuous horizontal joints between them, whereas vertical joints have the width of the block. Such structure makes the construction much more solid (Kalil et al. 14). In fact, the Pyramid of Djoser is regarded as the earliest cut stone large-scale construction.
The third peculiarity of the Step Pyramid is the large underground complex beneath it. Certainly, previous tombs had large rooms inside, where not only the pharaohs were buried but also their family members and their possessions. However, the complex built by Imhotep under the Step Pyramid was the largest at that time and consisted of many rooms (Bard 91). Moreover, if the earlier tombs were built for the preservation of the body and some items, the intention of this pyramid was different, namely, to be the home for a deceased monarch in the afterlife.
The main reason why I selected this work of art from the ancient world is that it is an outstanding construction that was considered an enormous achievement at the time when it was built. Of course, this pyramid is not as large as the Great Pyramid of Giza, but it laid the foundation for the construction of one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.
In particular, I am amazed at the number of years that this construction exists, and that enduring the influence of nature for such a long period of time, it mostly remained intact. There were many architectural monuments that were built much later and are already destroyed. Understandably, the main reason why the pyramid was not damaged is that it is located in a place where natural disasters such as earthquakes, tsunami, tornado, or volcanic eruptions do not occur. Nevertheless, it was built with an enormous effort and the intention to stand for centuries.
Another aspect of this construction that I am interested in is the scale at which it was built. Indeed, this pyramid can be considered a revolutionary achievement, as most of its features had not been used anywhere before. The unique design in the form of a pyramid and a slight change of the purpose of the construction laid the foundation to building other, much larger pyramids that even now, after such a long period of time, are associated solely with Egypt. Although there are similar pyramids in America, they look somewhat different and cannot be confused with those in Egypt.
Finally, the step-like style of the pyramid also drew my attention. In my opinion, it looks more interesting than a pyramid with the equal distance between all of its layers. As for me, I have never seen this pyramid in my real life, but I hope that someday I will visit Egypt and have a closer look at it and see some of its other interesting details.