Pyramid and Mortuary Temple of Pepy I
Pepy I (Meryre) was the second king of Dynasty VI and the son of Teti and Queen Iput. By the time of his reign North Saqqara was crowded with burials and Pepy chose a location in the high desert immediately to the south of the main Saqqara necropolis for his funerary site. His pyramid complex was called ‘Men-nefer-Pepy’, [Pepy is] ‘Established and Beautiful’. The pyramid itself is now very ruined and looks like little more than a low hill rising to only 12m in height. The site can be found to the north-west of the modern village of Saqqara.
The pyramid was investigated by Perring in the 1830s and in 1880 by the Brugsch brothers who discovered vertical columns of green-painted texts on the walls of the burial chamber. This was the first example of a decorated pyramid to be found, although not the earliest. It was Pepy’s pyramid which began Gaston Maspero’s search for other hieroglyphic inscriptions and led to his detailed study of the ‘Pyramid Texts’. During the latter part of the 20th century, the French Archaeological Mission at Saqqara have re-excavated the pyramid complex, especially in the areas of the mortuary temple and Queens’ pyramids.
Pepy’s pyramid was originally constructed with a core of six steps of small limestone blocks and mortar, similar to the monuments of Teti and Djedkare-Isesi. The white limestone casing is now only seen on the lowest level of the structure. The pyramid is entered from the north wall, where a sloping passage leads from what was presumably an entrance chapel into a vestibule and a horizontal corridor, once blocked by three granite portcullis slabs. An antechamber lies directly beneath the pyramid’s apex and has the usual three niched magazines or statue chambers on the east side, with the vaulted burial chamber to the west. The ceiling of the burial chamber was painted with white stars on a black background and the walls were painted with the reed-mat motif. The burial chamber, antechamber and even the access corridor contained Pyramid Texts, an extended version of those found in earlier pyramids, but much of the inscriptions were found in fragments which the French archaeologists have spent many years piecing together. Many interesting details have been revealed during the restoration of the texts, including Pepy’s earlier throne name Nefersahor, which he must have later changed to Meryre.
The King’s black stone sarcophagus was situated against the west wall of the burial chamber and contained a line of Pyramid Texts around both the interior and exterior surfaces. After thorough investigation, it is suggested that this may have been a substitute sarcophagus, the original being damaged before the burial. A fragment of mummy was found in the underground chambers, but it is not known whether this belonged to the King, although a piece of linen was also found bearing the inscription ‘Linen for the King of Upper and Lower Egypt’ with Pepy’s names and titles (now in Cairo Museum). Excavators also found a pink granite canopic chest set into the floor in front of the sarcophagus, with fragments of alabaster canopic jars. A packet of viscera from one of the canopic jars lay nearby, tightly wrapped in linen and still holding the vessel’s shape.
Pepy’s mortuary temple follows what had become a fairly standard plan and has now undergone clearance by the French Mission. It had suffered extensive damage by ancient stone-robbers (there are even remains of a lime-burning kiln), but the ground plan is clearly marked out. A narrow entrance hall flanked by magazines led to an open porticoed court, while the inner section contained statue-chambers and a sanctuary surrounded by magazines. Several damaged limestone statues of headless, bound and kneeling prisoners were found in the south-western part of the temple, destined for the lime-kilns. These statues may have originally come from the pillared courtyard or entrance hall where they would have symbolised Pepy’s conquest of evil, or perhaps from the causeway. Remains of a false door can still be seen in the mortuary temple.
A small satellite pyramid stands at the south-eastern corner of Pepy’s pyramid, better preserved than the mortuary temple, and although this too is very damaged, remains of the casing stones, including the pyramidion have been found. Statue and offering stelae fragments suggest that the cult of Pepy I continued into the Middle Kingdom. A block-statue was found among the debris of the mortuary temple, naming one Smenkhuptah, who was an ‘Inspector of Prophets of the Pyramid of Pepy I’ during the Middle Kingdom.
In 1993 the French Mission found fragments of a restoration text by Khaemwaset (son of Rameses II) on the south side of Pepy’s pyramid, showing that the complex underwent some restoration work during the New Kingdom after it was discovered abandoned.
When the French Mission began to look for a queen’s pyramid they made their most dramatic discovery so far. They have found not one, but six small pyramids buried beneath the sands on the southern side of Pepy’s monument – three had been the highest number found in earlier complexes. Using modern electromagnetic sounding equipment, archaeologists first located three queen’s pyramids in 1988, each with its own associated structures. When these were cleared, they were ascribed to ‘Queen of the West’, ‘Queen of the East’ and ‘Queen of the Centre’. The eastern pyramid with its small mortuary temple belonged to a consort named as Nebwenet, and fragments of a pink granite sarcophagus and some items of funerary equipment were found in the burial chamber. The central pyramid complex, slightly larger than that of Nebwenet, probably belonged to another consort of Pepy, who is named as Inenek-inty. Her mortuary temple is unusually placed around three sides of the pyramid. The owner of the western pyramid is only given the title of ‘Eldest Daughter of the King’, so we do not know whether she was actually a royal consort, though it is presumed that she was. Fragments of an uninscribed sarcophagus and some funerary equipment were also found in her burial chamber.
A fourth pyramid ascribed to a ‘Daughter of the King and Wife of the King, Meritites’ was found to the south of the central queen’s pyramid. Little else is at present known of this structure. Two more small pyramids have recently been discovered in the vicinity of the others. These are presumed to have belonged to two more of Pepy’s wives, Ankhesen-pepy III and Ankhesen-pepy II. We know from a contemporary biographical text of Weni, that Pepy I married two sisters, both with the name of Ankhesen-meryre, whose father and brother were an influential officials at Abydos. Egyptologists assume that the name Ankhesen-pepy II corresponds with the name Ankhesen-meryre II, but we are still unclear as to the identity of the third lady of that name. Weni mentions an unsuccessful conspiracy against Pepy resulting in a lawsuit against an un-named queen, and it would seem that the queens were very competitive against each other in their aims to promote their own sons’ succession to the throne. In the most recent queen’s pyramid to be found, that of Ankhesen-pepy II, a massive basalt sarcophagus, bearing the Queen’s names and titles, was found in the burial chamber. It also contained examples of Pyramid Texts, unlike the other satellite pyramids. This queen obviously held a very privileged position and is presumed to be the mother and regent of Pepy II, who was only six years old when he came to the throne. The area is still undergoing excavation and only recently a fragment has been found in the area which contains the name of yet another previously unknown queen, Nedjeftet. The mysteries of Pepy I’s queens are not yet solved – perhaps more subsidiary pyramids still lie beneath the sands.
Only a few metres of Pepy’s causeway has so far been excavated, in the area immediately in front of his mortuary temple. His valley temple and pyramid town has not yet been found.
How to get there
To reach the South Saqqara Pyramids, visitors can hire camels or horses near the resthouse at North Saqqara and ride a few kilometres across the desert which separates the two areas. Alternatively you can drive to the modern village of Saqqara on the western edge of the cultivated area. A reliable guide is recommended. A taxi from Cairo can be hired for the day.