King Djoser’s step pyramid.
Saqqara has the distinction of being the site of the first large stone structure built in the world. The place where humans began to strive for the impossible, where the imagination gained the power to transform reality.
The first tombs of the pharaohs were large, unimpressive, bunker affairs called mastabas. They were made from sun dried mud brick and most have long since crumbled to dust. This all changed around 2630 BC with the erection of the step pyramid. It was made for the pharaoh, Djoser and began as a normal mastaba, but was subsequently enlarged by adding one mastaba on top of another until it consisted of six terraces some 200ft (60 meters) high. The surface was originally encased in smooth white limestone which must have caught the sun light and reflected its rays.
The chap responsible for the step pyramid was Imhotep, Djoser’s vizier. He is credited as being the inventor of building in stone and was a man of many talents – Architect, physician, master sculpture, scribe, and astronomer. He must be the first true genius in recorded history and his impression on the Egyptians was profound because later generations revered him as a god of wisdom.
The Tombs of the Nobles
Some of the loveliest works of art I have ever seen are to be found at Saqqara, in the tombs of the nobles. The limestone walls are delicately incised with myriads of animals, fish, birds, insects, vegetation and people – hunting, herding and farming. Some of the forms still retain their original paint, after 4,500 years! The quality of these compositions demonstrates that the Egyptians had attained, at an early stage, an artistic culture of a very high order.
Cattle Crossing is an etching made from sketches done at Saqqara. The medium of etching – itself a process of erosion seems well suited to capturing the time worn quality of the relief carving.