Pyramid and Mortuary Temple of Teti
Teti was the first king of Dynasty VI and is the owner of the most northerly of the Saqqara pyramids, situated to the north-east of the Step Pyramid complex. Teti’s pyramid is currently the only one open to visitors at Saqqara. Its subterranean chambers contain walls inscribed with columns of hieroglyphs, known as the Pyramid Texts and there is also an especially well-preserved satellite pyramid which adjoins the mortuary temple.
The Pyramid of Teti was investigated by Perring in 1839 but was first entered by Maspero in 1882 during his quest for pyramid texts. It was excavated by James Quibell in 1907-8 and during the latter part of the 20th century by Jean-Philippe Lauer and Pierre Leclant and others.
The pyramid complex was called ‘Teti’s (cult) places are enduring’ and follows the plan of Dynasty V structures, similar to that of Teti’s predecessor Unas. The King’s pyramid consisted of a core of five levels of masonry encased in small locally-quarried limestone blocks, some of which are still in situ on the eastern side. The original height of the pyramid is thought to have been over 50m and its length on each side is 78.5m. The structure today however, is little more than a rounded hill of rubble, having suffered much robbing of its stone in antiquity when the area was used as a quarry over the centuries.
The entrance to the substructure was found on the pyramid’s northern side, underneath a pavement in the northern entrance chapel, which had the usual offering reliefs on its walls. A descending granite-lined passage leads to a horizontal corridor which was originally blocked by three granite portcullis slabs. The vestibule or antechamber, which like others of the period lies directly under the centre of the pyramid and also like the others had vaulted ceilings of huge limestone blocks which continued into the burial chamber. There are doorways to the east and west of the antechamber. To the east is a chamber with three niches or magazines (perhaps originally containing statues of the pharaoh) and to the west is the entrance to the burial chamber.
The walls of the burial chamber are inscribed with Pyramid Texts, following the example of Unas and describe the King’s journey from the land of the living to the Netherworld. These spells or ‘utterances’ were intended to guide the pharaoh successfully towards his eternal life with the gods. (See the page on the Pyramid of Unas for more details). The texts are beautifully carved in columns and his cartouche is easy to pick out in hieroglyphs, but they were never completed and are more damaged than those in the Pyramid of Unas. It is suggested that Teti died before the decoration of his burial chamber was complete – the ancient historian Manetho states that he was murdered by his bodyguards, though there is no evidence for this. Parts of the walls were also decorated with stylised reliefs painted to resemble a ‘palace façade’ and the ceiling was painted with stars.
Teti’s grey basalt sarcophagus was found on the western side of the burial chamber but its lid had been broken by robbers while they plundered the tomb. The lower part, which is well-preserved, was originally decorated with gilded inscriptions (a single band of Pyramid Texts) and although unfinished, was the first sarcophagus known to be decorated. At the foot of the sarcophagus the King’s canopic chest was originally sunk into the floor. Teti’s mummy was not recovered, but remains of an arm were found among the rubble which may have been all that was left behind by the grave-robbers.
Little remains of the mortuary temple on the eastern side of the pyramid because this was also badly robbed for stone in antiquity. A plaster mummy-mask (now in Cairo Museum) was found in the temple remains, but it is not known whether this was taken from the King’s mummy. The structure more or less follows the standard plan for the period, only differing in its entrance which was on the south-east corner. This was perhaps because an earlier pyramid existed to the east (Lepsius XXIX). From the entrance there is a transverse corridor leading to an entrance hall on the temple’s main axis, which had a ceiling decorated with stars. The open courtyard had a portico of 18 pink granite pillars and here Teti returned to the square pillars of Dynasty IV at the corners. A low stone altar, similarly decorated to those in the mortuary temples of his predecessors, stood in the centre. A short staircase in the centre of the western wall led up to a niched statue-chamber or chapel, with granite doorways inscribed with the names and titles of the King and from there to the offering hall. The massive quartzite base of a false door on the western side of the offering hall still remains in situ and it was here that the mortuary cult of Teti was maintained.
A satellite pyramid is situated at the south-east corner of the mortuary temple, the entrance on the northern side gives access to the single chamber through a descending passage. It is enclosed within its own perimeter wall and there were four libation basins set into the surrounding courtyard pavement.
Two of Teti’s queens had their own pyramids to the north of his complex in a revival of Dynasty IV tradition. Iput was the mother of Teti’s son Pepi I and thought to be a daughter of Unas. Archaeologists suggest that her tomb was altered from a mastaba to a small pyramid by her son, a conclusion reached by the fact that although there was a small chapel on the northern side, there was no entrance there, but a vertical shaft led to the burial chamber from the second layer of the structure. A rough limestone sarcophagus was found, containing fragments of a cedar coffin and the skeleton of a middle-aged woman as well as five limestone canopic jars, a headrest, necklace and bracelet and a small tablet with the names of sacred oils among the debris of model vessels and tools. On the eastern side of Iput’s pyramid there was a small mortuary temple with a chapel, court, a chamber with three niches and an offering hall. In the western wall of the offering hall was a limestone false door and an inscribed granite altar naming the queen as the mother of Pepi I.
There are little remains of the other queen’s pyramid, belonging to Teti’s consort Khuit (Kawit). It was first investigated by Victor Loret in the 1890s and Cecil Firth in 1922, but archaeologists at the time were not able to positively identify the structure as a pyramid. Only recent excavations conducted by Zahi Hawass since 1995 have led to the certainty that this was a pyramid of Queen Khuit. Hawass has investigated the pyramid’s subterranean chambers and re-excavated a mortuary temple on the eastern side of the pyramid, locating an offering hall with a false door and an altar.
Teti’s pyramid complex is surrounded by mastaba tombs of the officials of his reign, including the largest of the Saqqara tombs belonging to the vizier Mereruka, who was married to the King’s eldest daughter. Mereruka was later to become the high priest of Teti’s funerary cult. His causeway and valley temple have not yet been properly excavated.
The Pyramid of Teti is currently open to visitors. Photography is no longer allowed inside the pyramid.