Pyramid and Mortuary Temple of Pepy II
Pepy II (Nefer-ka-Re), the younger brother and successor to Merenre, came to the throne of Egypt as a young child and it is generally accepted that he ruled for ninety-four years (according to Manetho). His pyramid at the southern end of the South Saqqara necropolis was the last of the traditional Old Kingdom royal tombs. His monument can be found to the south of Merenre’s complex.
Like most of the Old Kingdom monuments, Pepy II’s pyramid was first investigated by Perring in the 1830s and entered by Gaston Maspero in 1881 during his search for Pyramid Texts. The pyramid almost cost Maspero his life when he was buried by a fall of masonry in one of the chambers and had to be dug out by Emile Brugsch. A more systematic investigation was undertaken by Gustave Jequier between 1926 and 1932, by which time all that remained was a low mound.
The pyramid was of a standard size, the core constructed in five steps with small pieces of limestone set in clay mortar. The casing stones were of fine white Tura limestone. At some point during the construction it was decided to enlarge the structure with a girdle of mudbricks about 6.5m wide around the level of the third step, necessitating the dismantling and rebuilding of the north chapel and enclosure wall which had already been completed. The explanation for this still puzzles Egyptologists. It has been suggested that there was a religious purpose for the elevated platform, perhaps to make it appear as the hieroglyph for pyramid – or that it was a structural strengthening of the monument.
The subterranean chambers were also fairly standard. From the entrance chapel on the northern wall, a sloping passage led to the vestibule where Jequier found many fragments of alabaster and diorite vessels as well as a golden knife blade or spatula. The horizontal corridor was blocked by three huge portcullis slabs and the walls were inscribed with Pyramid Texts. The antechamber and burial chamber to the west had a vaulted ceiling painted with stars, but the eastern chamber was a single room without statue niches. The west wall of the burial chamber was painted with the reed-hut motif and in front of this stood Pepy’s black granite sarcophagus, inscribed with the King’s names and titles. The sarcophagus was decorated at the head and foot in green-painted false door motifs and at the foot there was a niche in the floor for the canopic chest. The lid of the chest was found in the tomb, but the King’s mummy has never been recovered. The other walls of the burial chamber and antechamber were covered in Pyramid Texts.
For some reason Pepy II chose to site his pyramid only 120m away from the Dynasty IV tomb of Shepseskaf, known as the ‘Mastabat el-Faraun’, which almost adjoins Pepy’s complex. His mortuary temple on the eastern side of the pyramid is of a classical design but with an unusual feature of three chambers or chapels before the entrance, which may have had a specific religious significance. The open porticoed court originally contained 18 rectangular quartzite pillars, one of which remains in situ and depicts the figure of the King embracing Re-Horakhty. In the transverse corridor at the entrance to the inner parts of the mortuary temple and in the offering hall, remains of religious reliefs have been preserved. An alabaster statuette of Pepy II as a child was found in the five-niched cult chapel. Substantial parts of the temple have been restored in situ. The usual satellite cult pyramid lay at the south-east corner within the enclosure of Pepy’s complex.
Three of Pepy’s wives had their own mortuary complexes at the north-east corner of the King’s pyramid. Probably the oldest of the three Queen’s pyramids belongs to Neith, who was a daughter of Pepy I and the King’s half-sister. This was built to a similar plan to that of Pepy’s monument and in her pyramid a red granite sarcophagus, which was found empty, still stands in the burial chamber. At the entrance to her temple two small obelisks bore the Queen’s names and titles and fragments of reliefs of lions wearing ornamental sashes have given the name to one of the chambers in her mortuary temple – the ‘Lion Room’. Jequier found 16 wooden models of funerary boats in a pit at the south-east corner of Neith’s complex. The second Queen’s pyramid, now badly destroyed, belonged to Iput II, thought to be a daughter of Merenre. Iput’s mortuary temple was L-shaped with a southern entrance through two small obelisks bearing her names and titles. A red quartzite false door from the offering hall has been largely preserved. Another consort of Pepy II named Ankhesen-Pepy (IV?) probably outlived her husband and was buried without a pyramid of her own between the enclosures of Neith and Iput. Her sarcophagus was found in a store-room in Iput’s temple. The third of the Queens’ pyramids belongs to Wedjebten, another daughter of Pepy I and was discovered by Jequier in a very ruined condition. The complex is similar to the other two, with fragments of Pyramid Texts in the subterranean chambers. Her mortuary temple is entered on the northern side of her pyramid and here Jequier discovered a fragment of an inscription claiming that the pyramidion (the pyramid’s apex stone) was sheathed in gold. An alabaster offering table bearing the Queen’s name is virtually all that remains today of her mortuary temple. A secondary enclosure around Webdjen’s complex contained small houses and offering chambers of priestly relatives who were dependants of the Queen’s funerary estate.
Pepy II’s causeway took two turns before it reached his valley temple in order to take advantage of the sloping ground. The causeway contains remains of scenes depicting the funerary procession, offering bringers and reliefs of the King as a sphinx and a griffin massacring prisoners.
The King’s valley temple, which is very different to the standard plan, could be reached either from the desert or from a harbour. It was fronted by a large rectangular terrace with harbour ramps on either side and followed the course of a canal. In the centre of the wall of the terrace was a single red-granite doorway, inscribed with Pepy’s names and titles and this would probably have been the entrance to the complex used during the procession of the King’s burial.
How to get there
The pyramid of Pepy II is in a remote location, closer to Dashur than North Saqqara, which is about an hour’s walk across the open desert. 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, although the South Saqqara site is officially closed and it may not be possible to enter the area.