Egypt: Secrets of an Ancient WorldGive a year of history
   
STEPPING TOWARD A TRUE PYRAMID

Intended to hold his mummified body, Pharaoh Djoser's Step Pyramid at Saqqara began as a traditional, flat-roofed mastaba. But by the end of his 19-year reign, in 2611 B.C., it had risen to six stepped layers and stood 204 feet (62 meters) high. It was the largest building of its time.

Extensive use of stone—here and there carved to resemble wood, reeds, or other softer materials—made the tomb more durable than its mud-brick forebears. Such pioneering techniques led many ancient historians to credit the chief architect, Imhotep, with inventing stone architecture.

The Step Pyramid complex was enclosed by a 30-foot (10-meter) wall and included courtyards, temples, and chapels covering nearly 40 acres (16 hectares)—the size of a large town in the third millennium B.C.

As in earlier mastaba tombs, the Step Pyramid's burial chambers are underground, hidden in a maze of tunnels, probably to discourage grave robbers. The tomb was nevertheless plundered, and all that remains of Djoser, the third king of Egypt's 3rd dynasty (time line), is his mummified left foot.

CLASSIC FACT: Imhotep—architect of the Step Pyramid, physician, priest, and founder of a cult of healing—was deified 1,400 years after his lifetime.

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Introductory Step Pyramid photograph by Stephen St. John. Step Pyramid and Pharaoh Djoser photographs by Kenneth Garrett. Photograph of complex wall by Farrell Grehan. Pyramid complex art by Chuck Carter.

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