The Mastaba of Ptahshepses at Abusir
Just to the south-east of Sahure’s pyramid there is a large mastaba tomb belonging to an important high official of Sahure’s court. The owner is named in his tomb as ‘Prince, Councillor of Nekhen, Guardian of Nekhen, Priest of Nekhbet, Supreme Judge, Vizier, Head of all Royal Works, Beloved of his Master, Sole Friend, Secretary of the Morning House, Highest Lector Priest, Right Hand of the God Duau, Ptahshepses’. Many important officials of the Dynasty V bore names which included the element of the Memphis god Ptah. One of these was Shepses, who held an important position in the earliest Sun Temple at Abu Ghurob.
The magnificent mastaba is second in size only to that of Mereruka at Saqqara. It was first discovered by Jacques de Morgan in 1893 and more recently investigated by the archaeological mission of the Czech Institute of Egyptology at Charles University of Prague, who have been carrying out restoration of the tomb. When the most recent excavations began, Ptahshepses’ mastaba was buried under eight metres of rubble which took seven seasons to remove. The tomb is now sometimes open to visitors although recording work is still continuing.
The mastaba contains two elements consisting of a superstructure, which was constructed from mudbrick and masonry and seems to have evolved and been enlarged over a period of time – and the partly rock-cut subterranean chamber which is now open to the elements. The grand front entrance to the tomb, which has recently been reconstructed, includes a portico flanked by two unique lotus columns. A raised room with three niches which would have contained statues of the deceased was probably used for offerings.
To the south is an enormous courtyard, surrounded by a portico which was supported by 20 square limestone pillars, decorated with reliefs of Ptahshepses. The huge pillars can still be seen in the now-open court which is annexed to the tomb structure. In the north-west corner of the court a sloping corridor leads to the burial chamber, which has a lintel decorated with the palace-façade motif. A huge granite sarcophagus belonging to Ptahshepses still remains in the burial chamber.
To the south of the courtyard there are two boat-shaped pits, probably intended to represent solar boats and possibly even containing actual boats – which would have been an unusual feature in a private tomb. Ptahshepses obviously held a very important position in the court.
How to get there
The Abusir pyramids are situated to the south of Cairo on the west bank of the Nile, about 12km south of Zawyet el-Aryan. Take the road for Saqqara and turn off to the village of Abusir, from where a track leads to the edge of the desert. It’s not clear whether this site is officially open but on the occasions when visitors are allowed in, tickets are available from the Saqqara ticket office for EGP 20.