Pyramid of Merenre
Merenre (Nemtyemsaf) was the son of Pepy I, who came to the throne at a young age and reigned for only a few years before he was succeeded by his younger brother, Pepy II. We know that Merenre must have reigned for at least a period of nine years, possibly in a co-regency with his father. He is reported by the contemporary biographer Weni, a Governor of Upper Egypt during Merenre’s reign, to have visited Aswan in his ninth reignal year to receive a group of southern chieftains. The remains of Merenre’s pyramid lie to the west of the pyramid of Djedkare-Isesi at South Saqqara, but it is badly destroyed. and there is now little to see.
Perring investigated the monument in the 1830s and reported casing blocks of white limestone, but these are no longer visible and the whole of the ruins are now covered with drifted sand. The Brugsch brothers at Gaston Maspero’s request, entered the pyramid in 1880 and so made a second discovery of the hieroglyphic inscriptions known as the ‘Pyramid Texts’. (The first example had been found in the Pyramid of Pepi I in the same year). The clearance of the burial chamber in January 1881 also revealed the remains of the owner – the oldest known royal mummy.
The underground chambers of Merenre’s pyramid are similar to those in his father’s monument. The entrance is in the north wall, where cornerstones of an entrance chapel have been found. A sloping passage led to a small vestibule and a horizontal corridor blocked by three granite portcullis slabs. Robbers had entered the pyramid in antiquity by tunnelling around the stone slabs, and the Brugsch brothers also entered by this route. The corridor led to an antechamber with a niched statue chamber on the east and the vaulted burial chamber on the west. The ceiling of the burial chamber was decorated with white stars on a black background. The west wall contained a colourful relief of the reed-hut motif and in the debris, many fragments of Pyramid Texts were found which are thought to have differed little to Pepy I’s texts. Merenre’s greywacke sarcophagus was found against the west wall of the burial chamber, in good condition and with its lid complete but pushed back. The mummy was removed to Cairo Egyptian Museum and proclaimed by Maspero to be that of a young man, still wearing his hair in a ‘sidelock of youth’. The mummy was for many years thought to be an intrusive burial, probably from the New Kingdom because of the style of the linen wrappings, but now Egyptologists consider it to be Merenre’s remains, although it has never been properly studied.
The pyramid is now so destroyed that the plan of the mortuary temple, causeway and valley temple is unknown. Perring noted remains of a mudbrick enclosure wall and 250 metres of causeway which went around Djedkare-Isesi’s complex, towards the eastern edge of the desert. There was no mention of a valley temple. In recent decades the French Archaeological Mission at Saqqara have been continuing the investigation of Merenre’s complex and have uncovered limestone paving from the mortuary temple, with some fragmentary reliefs and traces of an offering table. It is suggested that the temple was incomplete at the time of the King’s burial as some of the reliefs were sketched out but not carved. So far there has been no full survey of the area. The Pyramid of Merenre is not open to visitors and is difficult to get to.
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.