Pyramid of Khendjer
Two pyramids were built at South Saqqara by pharaohs of the Middle Kingdom. The first of these structures belongs to Khendjer, a little-known king of Dynasty XIII whose name (which means ‘Boar’) is probably Asiatic in origin. Khendjer’s pyramid is found at the southernmost point of South Saqqara, to the south-east of the ‘Mastabat Faraun’.
When the pyramid was discovered in 1929 by Gustave Jequier, he found that its core was constructed of mudbricks, which undoubtedly contributed to its now ruinous condition. Today the pyramid remains rise only about one metre above the sand. The core was originally covered with an outer casing of limestone blocks which were removed by stone robbers in antiquity. The entrance to the pyramid was in an unusual position, at the foot of the southern end of the western wall. The entrance passage, which was originally paved over, descended in the form of a ramp with a staircase in its centre (similar to the later stair-ramps in the royal tombs at Thebes) and changed levels four times, winding around the underground chambers of the pyramid. The portcullis slabs intended to block the corridors were never put in place. Eventually the corridor led into the burial chamber which was formed out of a single huge quartzite block into which the sarcophagus was placed and then the ceiling blocks were lowered onto the top of the chamber. The pressure of the superstructure was relieved by a saddle ceiling of limestone and another vaulted brick ceiling.
The mortuary temple was located on the eastern side of the pyramid, but is now completely destroyed. Only a few fragments of reliefs and columns were found in the debris, but Jequier also discovered pieces of a black granite pyramidion covered in hieroglyphs, which has now been restored. The name inscribed on the pyramidion was that of a king, Userkare, which may have been Khendjer’s throne name.
Khendjer’s complex was enclosed by a double perimeter wall. The inner one was constructed from limestone blocks and decorated with niches and panels. It is thought that this may have been a replacement for an earlier ‘wavy’ wall of mudbrick.
On the northern face of the pyramid there was an offering chapel which was built on a raised platform reached by two staircases. A yellow quartzite false door was built in an unusual position on the northern wall of this structure. An outer enclosure wall constructed from mudbrick was built around the whole complex and within this, at the north-east corner of the pyramid, a satellite pyramid was found, which is thought to have been prepared for the burials of two of Khendjer’s queens. Jequier also found shaft tombs nearby, which may have belonged to other family members.
The Unattested Pyramid of South Saqqara
A little to the south-west of Khendjer’s pyramid is the substructure of another elaborately planned monument thought to date from the same period, but whose owner is unknown. Although the substantial mudbrick core of the pyramid was unfinished, its subterranean chambers were not only completed, but finely decorated with rows of black painted stripes on white limestone. The burial chamber seems to have been built to a similar plan to that of Khendjer, with huge granite blocks forming the base, sides and roof of the chamber. It is almost certain that no burial was ever placed in the chamber as one of the blocks forming the cover of the sarcophagus was never put into place.
There is no evidence of cult buildings inside the enclosure wall, but two black granite pyramidions were found in the debris. Both of these were unfinished, although one of them had been polished. The other pyramidion had a truncated top and was only roughly dressed. It is not known why there were two such pyramidions, or why they were at the site of a pyramid which had hardly been begun. There were no inscriptions on either of them, and Egyptologists are still debating their purpose.
How to get there
To reach the South Saqqara Pyramids, visitors can hire camels or horses near the rest house 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 but as the South Saqqara site is not officially open, visits in this area may not be alowed. A taxi from Cairo to Saqqara can be hired for the day.